London charity amplifies voices of real-life transformed “Top Boys”

Award-winning London prison rehabilitation charity Switchback has launched Time & Again, a powerful new podcast series that lifts the lid on the hidden world of youth crime, doing time, and going straight. Listen to the trailer and the episodes released so far here.

The series, produced by Switchback and independent radio production company Beautiful Strangers, provides a fresh and searingly honest glimpse into the thoughts and experiences of six young men who have recently been to prison and built a new life away from crime on their release.

It launched on March 18, the same day as Netflix debuted the fourth season of blockbuster British drama Top Boy and provides a powerful and poignant factual take on the same terrain: how it feels to come of age in some of the UK’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the personal choices and social and racial factors that drive inner city crime, and how hard it is to make a fresh start on release from prison. New episodes are being released on Fridays.

In six self-contained first-person testimonies, the young men, Serge, Nick, Guellor, Mike, Chris and Omar speak with unusual candour and maturity. Each 15 minute episode is striking for its emotional depth – running from sorrow, fear, grit and grief to hope, warmth, innocence and humour. Listen here

“Making a podcast is a complete departure for Switchback,” says Alice Dawnay, the award-winning charity’s founder and CEO. “Youth violence, drug crime and county lines get so much airtime in the UK, but we so seldom get the voices and perspectives of young prison leavers themselves.

“The stories in Time & Again underscore what we know from 14 years of running Switchback: firstly, what a massive impact social and racial injustice has on young Londoners’ lives, and secondly, how the current system of release is failing.

“While Switchback’s focus remains supporting as many young prison leavers as possible to make a fresh start, we believe their experiences provide a crucial insight into the factors driving and perpetuating youth crime. The human and economic cost of reoffending is huge in the UK. All of us stand to massively benefit from addressing these failings within society and the justice system.”

Based in Tower Hamlets, since 2008 Switchback is a charity supporting young Londoners to find their way out of the justice system and build stable, rewarding lives. Switchback Trainees are often from the poorest areas of the capital – a third are from the London boroughs of Islington, Newham, Hackney and Haringey which have some of the highest levels of poverty, crime and knife crime in the country. 75% of Switchback Trainees have been convicted of a violent and/or drug-related offence. In stark contrast to the national average, which sees around half of those leaving prison back inside within 12 months, just 9% of Switchback Trainees reoffend. 55% go into long-term employment, while 65% reach Switchback’s unique benchmark of real, lasting change.

In the UK it is still young men from poor urban and ethnic minority communities who are disproportionately stopped and searched, arrested and imprisoned, and most Switchback Trainees grew up facing multiple, complex barriers to a stable, fulfilling life – from school exclusion to violence, poverty and trauma. A quarter were in care, a third have no qualifications and nearly half have never worked before. Many have been caught in the justice system since childhood and experienced multiple prison sentences.

Switchback works one-to-one and intensively with the young men – Switchback Trainees – with an average total contact of 16 months. Unlike most rehabilitation providers, Switchback puts equal emphasis on 10 ‘switchback pathways’ that together support change that lasts: from health to finances, attitudes to relationships.