First published back in February of 2011, ‘The Lost Boyz’ formed the ex-South London gang leader-turned-author, Justin Rollins’ brutally honest autobiography, offering a unique insight into his violent and self-destructive past as a gang member on the streets of London.

DLS Synopsis:
Justin Rollins was just twenty-four when he wrote his autobiography.  Some would undoubtedly point out that at such an age he had barely even embarked upon his life.  However, it is perhaps by pure luck alone that Rollins’ life hadn’t already ended before then.  After all, he knew of and had been close to a number of similarly aged youngsters who hadn’t been so lucky.  Those who had died before they even had the chance to reach adulthood.  This was the utterly brutal life on the uncaring streets of London.

Born in Epsom General Hospital in Surrey back in 1984, from the age of two Rollins grew up without a father figure in his life.  His mother had partners, but Rollins never felt close to any of them.  And sadly, the same also applied to his mother.  She worked hard to ensure that she could provide for her children.  And that meant that Rollins and his sister would often be placed in the care of a child-minder.  One of which was an abusive girl called Karen who tormented Justin on a daily basis.

To say that Justin had an unhappy childhood would be an understatement.  And as a result of this lack of attention; the lack of love, affection or guidance, it would understandably have a dramatically detrimental effect on the developing boy.  At just five years-old Justin stabbed a fellow schoolboy in the face with a pair of scissors.  This would prove to be the first of many desperate cries for help that went unanswered.  And it would be Justin’s first adrenaline-pumping taste of dishing out violence.

At ten, Rollins took up graffiti writing – starting out tagging under the name ‘Fes’.  It’s at this stage that he began to hang out with his cousin Tony.  A pairing that would last for years and one that would lead the two together into a life of violence, alcohol, drugs and criminality.

As Rollins took to the cold streets of London, his graffiti tag changed to ‘Aliez 706’ and then simply ‘706’.  Soon, his street name became infamous around the streets; gangs and fellow graffiti artists referencing Justin as Sevens.

And then Justin, together with Tone and his friend Joe Smith and a few other graffiti writers from the Morden and Mitcham areas, formed a street graffiti-writers gang under the name Waste Land Warriorz or ‘WLZ’.  This was soon shortened to just ‘Warriorz’ or ‘WZ’.

Morden was their home turf.  Its cold concrete streets their war zone.  And gradually their name and presence became notorious around the streets of London.  However, it wasn’t just graffiti-writing that the gang were involved in.  From early on, the gang began to delve into violence.  Robberies, theft, criminal damage and gang violence became a day-to-day occurrence for the members of WZ.  Their rival gang members, the ‘WK’, taking the brunt of the anger

Then in 1998, at the age of just fourteen, Justin committed his first robbery.  The victim was a similar aged boy, who Justin threatened with a hacksaw.  By now the escalating degrees of violence had gotten utterly out of hand.  But this was just the very start of the vicious cycle that was gathering speed by the day.  And far far worse was yet to come…

DLS Review:

From reading the above synopsis, or indeed the blurb on the reverse of the actual book, you know that ‘The Lost Boyz’ is more than likely going to be a tough read.  And you wouldn’t be far wrong.  By his own admission, Justin Rollins has had a pretty screwed up life – up until he wrote this book and turned his life around that is.  And so, as you would expect from a book covering the first twenty-or-so self-destructive years of Rollins’ life, there’s a hell of a lot of anguish, hurt, pain, remorse and sadness exhibited within its pages.

In fact, for 99.99% of ‘The Lost Boyz’ the reader is confronted with a seemingly endless barrage of criminal and anti-social behaviour.  I’m sure Justin Rollins wouldn’t mind me saying that for the first twenty-or-so years of his life, he was nothing short of a vicious and downright dangerous thug.  And this sheer volume of violence and unrelenting criminal behaviour, underneath an oppressive cloud of stark and painfully difficult-to-swallow scenes of self-harm, self-hatred and self-destruction, makes for what can only be described as a deeply tragic and hard-hitting insight into what it is to be a youth in a London street gang during the 1990s.

Rollins is brutally honest with his frank admissions of what he and his gang members got up to each and every day of their young disaffected lives.  He doesn’t shy away from the bare bone facts of the matter.  He doesn’t pull any punches in the brutality involved.  And it paints one hell of a dislikeable picture of the man.  Or I should say – the man that he was.

From the start of the book a clear image of a vicious cycle becomes apparent.  On just the first few pages, when Rollins was just a few years’ old, details of abuse, neglect and a severe lack of guidance start to cumulate.  And as with all vicious cycles – it just keeps on getting worse.

Inject in a whole host of bad influences, irresponsible adults and similarly dysfunctional family units, alongside a desperate need to be recognised, accepted and somewhere other than at your uncaring home – and you’ve got the catalyst for joining a street gang (or in Justin’s case forming one).

By now things are on a near vertical slope downwards into an abyss of self-destructive criminal mayhem.  Rollins continues with his frank admissions of robbery, theft, violence, drug-abuse, excessive alcohol consumption (verging on dependency) and a constant need to be seen as a vicious nutter.  Rollins details how he and his gang would pretty much do what the hell they wanted – to whoever they wanted.  They would fight, steal and destroy whatever it was they came into contact with – without a thought for who they were affecting or the repercussions of their actions.

Knowing that Rollins was the instigator to most of these horrendously vile acts is hard to accept.  After all, you’re sitting there reading these detestable accounts from the very man who instigated them.  It messes with your head and your emotions.  At times you want to hate Rollins.  You want to see him pay for everything he has done to others.  The hurt he has caused.  The complete and utter disregard for anyone’s life other than his own and that of his immediate gangs’.

However, Rollins is clearly filled with regret for what he has done in his past.  Throughout the entirety of the book, his honest admissions of guilt can be seen.  And having this constantly at the back of your mind is the one thing that helps you to keep reading on.

As you press on through the book, and Rollins becomes that little bit older, it’s hard to believe but the violence and uncontrollable viciousness just keeps on escalating.  Rollins’ young friend and fellow WZ gang member, ‘Crazy Steve’ is perhaps the worst example of how terrifyingly dangerous these kids were.  Indeed, from the moment the thirteen-year-old half-Irish-half-Scottish boy turns up, his actions are so utterly over-the-top that their lives simply become a maelstrom of pure unadulterated destruction.

The end result seems almost unavoidable by now.  This vicious cycle of violence couldn’t continue forever without the ultimate consequences finally catching up with them.  Sadly, it’s not long before the first deaths start to appear.  And even amongst such a colossal barrage of violence, this ultimate in destruction is still a bitter pill to swallow.  Nevertheless, Rollins manages to tackle these emotionally heavy moments with an honest delivery that successfully encapsulates the loss and remorse that is clearly felt pretty much perfectly.

The final chapters of the book are just as hard to swallow as the absolute tsunami of violence that came before them.  By now Rollins is behind bars, but the hurt, pain and self-loathing has built up inside him to near-catastrophic proportions.  And what you get, crying out from each and every page until the final chapter, is a man who is beyond caring – and one who is clearly close to that final pathway to ultimate self-destruction.

Luckily Rollins has turned his life around.  It takes all the way to the final chapter to arrive at these final glimmers of a life that is finally making something out of itself.  It’s not all clichés and Disneyland lessons learnt – instead the book ends with an honest admission of regret for his actions, and a promise of a new life.  Rollins has accepted what he was.  Through his undoubted honesty in this book, he has faced up to what he was, holds his hands up to the misery he has caused, and is now clearly embarking upon a whole new life.

It’s a book that will more than likely affect you on a very emotional level.  Don’t expect to be able to put the book down and then instantly feel great about life again.  It’s a powerful and deeply emotive read.  It repeatedly hits you in the face with its utter brutality.  It grinds you down with the constant destruction on show.  But through it all it has some incredibly important messages.

This is a book that I’m incredibly glad I’ve read.  I don’t profess to now know the mind of those that cause such violence and destruction on our streets.  But now I can at least in some way understand what is probably driving a good portion of the anger.  I can appreciate that there are complexities to what is fuelling these deeply disaffected youths.  And with that, there is the hope that others can also – and that we will not all simply give up on those who desperately need us the most.

The book runs for a total of 160 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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