I am Junior Smart and different newspapers have had various things to say about my history. Some focus on the criminal history stating that I was a gang member, whilst others state that I was a young person caught on the periphery. Regardless of whichever one you choose to believe, the culmination of negative choices I made led to me being sentenced to twelve years originally for a serious drug related offence.
Nothing prepares you for the reality of prison. Irrespective of the position you take that prisons are too soft, and that people should be locked up for longer or that prisoners are lazy and will never change, prisons are a place of paranoia, fear, loneliness and oppression. Whilst in custody I resolved that I would help others in the same situation. This led to me first being trained as a 'Listener'; a group of prisoners trained by the Samaritans to support other people in custody going through times of crisis.
As a Listener, while providing support I came face to face with the crucial deficits and helplessness of those in custody. The endless revolving cycle where basic skills and support are lacking. This led to me setting up the reading scheme 'Toe by Toe' to teach people how to read and write and seeing this grow gave me a thirst for helping other people change. I also went on a journey of change; to make myself a better person for the very few that had stayed by me. I witnessed first-hand the reality of many people I had looked at as friends and chose to call my family disappear and all that remained beside me were a few closest people who continued to value me as a person and my sisters and brother who took it upon themselves to support me. I retook all my failed GCSE's and turned them into successes.
Eighteen months before my release I gave up my perceived freedom in a semi-open prison to mentor young offenders in a YOI. The young people there were very challenging but incredibly bright. It was the success I had here which led me to meet the Head of NOMS and a once chance meeting with St Giles Trust where I proposed the model of SOS Project. An ex-offender led gangs intervention project offering intensive, tailored one-to-one support for young people caught up in the negative vortex of gangs and weapons crime. Initially starting as a small south London pilot, SOS grew over the years to become London’s largest gangs exit project;assisting over 500 young people annually to break free from gang, gun and knife crime and lead positive, productive lives in the community.
The project won multiple awards including The Charity Awards 2014, The Third Sector Excellence Awards 2011, the Centre for Social Justice Awards 2010 and The South London Press Awards 2008. I was listed in the Evening Standard’s list of 1000 Influential Londoners in 2014 and 2015 in recognition of the necessary campaigning work around the issue of London’s gang and serious youth violence problem.
Going back to education I managed to achieve a First Class BA Hons in Youth Work and a First Class Distinction MA in Youth Crime and Justice. I also undertook numerous other qualifications in areas including Conflict Resolution, Youth Work, Gangs Work, Substance Misuse and am an accredited PTTLS trainer.
I am interested in violence desistance in all its forms not just Serious Youth Violence but conflict that can exist within the family home and relationships. I was very fortunate to work with the NHS on revising their NVR (Non-violent Resistance) programme for families with young people suspected of having involvement in gangs. In 2018 whilst undertaking my PhD at University of West London I received the Honourary Doctorate for teaching from Greenwich University and in 2022 I was recognised by HRH with an OBE for my dedication in tackling youth violence.
I continue to mentor young people on lifestyle choices and business, helping them raise their aspirations and it's made easier for me because I understand not only the reality and the consequences but what it takes to establish something from nothing. I have never come across anyone who hasn't got transferable skills, or those with nothing to offer society. They just need the guidance, motivation and will to do the work that is necessary to remove distractions and perseverance to overcome obstacles.
The idea behind the Training and Consultancy came about because there was a real need to improve people, practice and policy. With my experience and knowledge I don't shy away from the reality but I can demonstrate where just small adjustments to processes can make huge differences to outcomes and lives that matter. Youth is my passion. There is always time to make a difference.