Prince of peace
The knife crime campaigner and boxer Mark Prince talks to Stephen Tomkins
Mark Prince is not a stranger to loss. He was a successful professional boxer, with 20 wins in 21 fights, until an injury brought his career to a sudden end in 1999. His 15-year-old son Kiyan, a budding player with Queens Park Rangers football club, was stabbed to death after intervening in a fight in 2006. In the aftermath, Mark lost his marriage and his home.
One thing he never lost is the faith that kept him going through it all. Having found his own way through abuse, homelessness and crime, today Mark Prince works in schools and prisons tackling knife crime, and, through the Kiyan Prince Foundation, helping young people find their own escape route. Reform heard his inspiring story at the foundation’s office in Finchley.
When you talk to kids about what’s going on in their lives, you can say you’ve been there, can’t you? Can you tell me about your family?
Dad was a boxer and came over here to make it as a fighter. He was a Guyanese champion. My mum was in Jamaica and came over to be a housemaid in London. We were three boys and one girl.
Racism was more open. I used to get people touching my hair, making weird comments, cars driving past and shouting out: “Woah, nigger!” You just defend yourself. My dad taught us how to fight.
He was extremely strict, which was the only thing that spoilt my childhood. He beat to the point of emotional damage. It affected us, but in those days even the authorities didn’t realise that. My dad beat my sister one time so she couldn’t see out of one eye, and when we went to the doctor’s, he was angry but he just told my dad off – he didn’t report it.
Is that why you ran away from home?
Yes; I was on the streets at 15, bumming around, sleeping in cars, just surviving really. I was a hurting kid, wanting love and attention. I met new people; they introduced me to weed. All my problems seemed to go away when I was smoking and drinking. More friends and more drugs came into the picture – it’s not a good remedy for someone who was brought up to know God.
I got into the mindset of the streets: The only way to “make it”, and get the clothes and the cars, was crime. I was doing fraud, robberies. I had this warrior mindset from my dad of: “I’ll do whatever it takes.” But it was wrongly placed.
What changed that?
At 21, something happened to me. I remember waking up, looking my friends smoking a crackpipe, and just felt like a waste of life. I used to believe I was going to be somebody; where’s all that gone? I had this crazy thought: What can I do? Well, I can fight. Why don’t I use what I’ve got? I wonder if I can transform my reputation from the streets into the ring as a professional.
People said I couldn’t do it, but I had this one track mind, because I had [my children] Tannisa and Kiyan at the time, and I thought: I’ve got to do something to make them proud. I began to eradicate those drug habits until I felt I was in total control.
It was crazy. Most amateurs carry on for quite a while to build up their reputation, gain experience. I wanted to be paid for the work I did. I had four fights, then entered the national amateur championships with the best fighters in the country in my first season – guys with 70 fights. Boxing people warned me against it, but I went in for it and I shocked everyone. I beat the number one, and I beat the guy tipped to win the whole competition, Monty Wright. I put him to sleep. He should have had a sleeping bag and a pillow.
Can you tell me about the day Kiyan was killed?
I got a phone call: My son got stabbed. My daughter Tannisa was screaming down the phone. I picked her up, went to the hospital. I said a prayer getting into the car, to save my son from getting killed, but what I said was: “Please help me to accept it if this does happen.” I thought: Where do you even have the sense to come out with that? But now I’ve gone through it, I look back and I know it is accepting what’s happened in life that allows you to move on. Many people are in still the same place – in pain and in hurt and angry – because they can’t accept what’s happened.
I went down to the hospital and began this really disgusting journey of seeing things that will never leave my head, experiencing pain unlike anything I ever experienced. But it wasn’t just something that happened – I was asked very real questions in my relationship with God: Do you trust me to bring something good out of something horrible like this?
After the second court case fell through, I told God I can’t fight this anger, and feeling I have to kill this guy [Kiyan’s killer], but I had to let go of that. I had to accept that God is still in charge. God gives and God takes away. I prayed that prayer and I cried like a baby, and said: “Show me what you need me to do.”
The court case finished with him getting 13 years. I thought that was quite disrespectful, that you wouldn’t even give a year each for my son’s life, but by then I already knew that you’re not going to get justice here in this earth.
You started a foundation in Kiyan’s name. Is that because you wanted some good to come out of all this?
Yes. I began getting invitations to speak. Why? I’m not a speaker! I have this huge, massive fear. But I felt this was God working and I just needed to say yes.
I spoke to the governors of the prisons, addressing the issues of how many black guys are in prison, and the treatment of them by a system governed by mainly white people who don’t understand. I didn’t speak in a judgemental way, because we’re all men with something to learn, and I think they appreciated that. I reminded them that these are people who’ve made bad mistakes, but you need to leave them feeling like human beings.…
This is an extract from the May 2015 edition of Reform.