Interview With Dwayne Fields | From Victim Of Violent Crime To The Magnetic North Pole
The first black Briton to reach the magnetic north pole believes experiences in the outdoors could help reduce the violent crime problem on our streets
Merrell, the leading outdoor footwear brand, has partnered with Dwayne Fields to tell his story on why he believes experiences in the great outdoors could stem violent crime in the UK.
Meet the man who believes experiences in the outdoors could help solve the violent crimewave that’s never out of the news cycle. Meet the man who went from being the victim of knife and gun crime to being the first black Briton to reach the magnetic north pole. Meet London’s Dwayne Fields. Dwayne has partnered with outdoor footwear company Merrell, as part of a series that reveals inspiring stories from trails across the UK.
Raised in Hackney, after moving there from Jamaica as a youngster, Dwayne knows more than most about the devastating effects violent crime can have on young people in Britain.
Speaking at a time when escalating gun and knife crime is second to probably only Brexit on the national news agenda, Dwayne believes in the power of the outdoors and thinks it could be used to help curb the shootings and stabbings happening in cities across the country.
Dwayne, who’s survived being stabbed and shot at on two separate occasions, feels violent crime doesn’t need to be cyclical. The Arctic explorer, and first black Briton to reach the magnetic north pole, wants to get the message out there that young people dying on our streets doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Working with young people from inner-cities to show them that a life away from violence is possible, he’s currently helping to provide safe and inspiring experiences in the outdoors.
Q & A with Dwayne Fields
Tell us about your first-hand experiences of violent crime
When I was about 19, maybe 20, I built a moped. I built it in secret with my younger brother. I test drove this moped. Crashed, obviously. Because it wasn’t built properly. I then rebuilt it and had my younger brother test drive it this time. It worked perfectly, would you believe it? And anyway, he was pushed off of it. And the boys who did it took it into an estate near where I lived. I walked onto the estate, which is something you probably shouldn’t do, and demanded the bike back.
They were tearing it apart and one of them decided he was going to keep some parts, and I snatched it out of his hand. He pushed me. I pushed him. Embarrassed him because he kind of fell backwards, and a minute or two later, he came back and he had a loaded gun. He pointed the gun at me and he pulled the trigger. And then he cocked it back, and I saw a bullet come out the side, and he pulled the trigger again. And that was the gun incident.
“He pointed the gun at me and he pulled the trigger. And then he cocked it back… and he pulled the trigger again”
The time I was stabbed came about when a friend of mine was working on a media project, and he said ‘Guys, can you come and help me out. I want to make the shot seem like it’s the inside of a club.’ We used the community centre in Tottenham and when some of the local guys heard the music they thought there was a party going on. They came in there, they realised there wasn’t a party going on and decided they’d be a nuisance rather than just leave.
So my friend was packing up and said ‘Look, you guys go ahead. My friend will drop me home, I’ll see you all later.’ Between us leaving and trying to get to the car, one of them tried to rob my friend… who managed to run off. I was the only one left. They chased me. I ran to the end of the world and started walking when I thought I’d outrun them. As I waited for my pick-up to come down the road, they crossed the road and I ended up being stabbed. Twice.
Did you know these people?
Nope. Didn’t know them at all. Never met them before.
I grew up on an estate and, like it or not, if you’re in a group from a particular estate you almost get linked to these gangs directly and indirectly. Directly because if someone walks onto your estate, they see you together and assume you’re together. If you say publicly ‘I’m from such and such estate’, you’re bundled in with everyone else from that estate. Whether you like the people you’re on an estate with or not, you’re seen as part of that group.
How would you say the gun and knife crime incidents affected you as a person?
I was so used to fearing the violence, and hearing about the violence, and living in a place where violence was the norm that me getting stabbed was… more of an inconvenience at the time. I had no interest in getting the person back, I had no interest in any kind of retribution whatsoever. But it was an inconvenience. ‘Damn it’s a night in the hospital, a load of stitches, and then I have to go back, and I won’t be able to my arm, and my lower stomach hurts, and I’ve got everyone saying we should do this and we should do that.’ But I had no interest in it.
“I was so used to fearing the violence, and hearing about the violence”
The gun incident was slightly different because my younger brother was with me at the time and I thought to myself ‘Well this is someone I really care about. This is someone who means a lot to me and who’s now in harm’s way. And I need to do something to change this because it’s only a matter of time before he comes up against someone with a gun.’
What were the injuries of these attacks?
I had a stab wound in my lower stomach. About four inches below the belly button. And I had one in my left shoulder. That one was worse, funny enough. Even nowadays, it feels like it’s hurting. I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing but that one was worse because it stopped because it hit my rib. My second rib down stopped the blade from going into my chest cavity.
What was the outcome of all this? Were the people charged?
I never saw those people again. The police interviewed my friend who called me Chris in his statement. You see, everyone but my partner calls me Chris. I gave my interview and said ‘Yep. My name’s Dwayne. Dwayne Fields’, and they said ‘We can’t investigate further because we were given wrong information’. And that’s how that ended. It should have been pretty easy for them to find the guy but that’s how that ended.
How old were you at the time?
I think I was 19. Maybe 18 years old.
Based on your own experiences, how easy do you think it is for kids in major cities to fall into the violent lifestyle?
The truth is, it’s so easy. You can grow up in it, grow into it. You think about it. On an estate, you’ve got people of all ages. The one’s you tend to see outside are the early to mid-teens. And there are kids who are seven, eight years old who will come out and see these early to mid-teen guys and think ‘Ah, yeah. I want to be part of that group. I want to be part of that older group.’
And they’ll slowly become acquainted with them, start spending more time with them, and before long they’re being sent to the shop. And before long, they’re being sent to bring bits round the corner. And before long, they’re being told to hide ‘this’ underneath that bush over there or in their house. And by ‘this’, I mean knives and even guns in some cases. That’s how it all starts.
At what point after being stabbed, did you think about making a change?
It was actually the gun incident that made me consider making that change. I remember walking home, after it happened, constantly checking myself to see if I’d been shot. The guy’s fired it at me from five, maybe six, yards away and I’ve heard a sound. The incident was bad enough but the fact that everyone phoned me afterwards saying ‘What are you going to do? We should do this. We should do that’. They were making all kinds of suggestions. Telling me where I can get this, that, or the other. This is what we should do. And let’s call this person. And let’s meet him.
“He was on his way to doing really well for himself and he was shot in the back, and killed”
And yeah, I just thought to myself: ‘I’m happy to be here. I don’t want anything to do with that kind of life. And I don’t want anyone I love to be at risk so I need to make a change.’
About a year or so after, a friend of mine was shot and killed about twenty metres away from where my incident happened. And believe me when I say this was such a good guy. He was really excited. He’d just got a job as a lifeguard at the local leisure centre. He played football for Dagenham and Redbridge, as a reserve. Part of their youth team. He was on his way to doing really well for himself and he was shot in the back, and killed.
That’s what gave me the kick up the backside, made me realise that I needed to do something.
How did you make the change?
I no longer wanted to be ranked amongst these people. I wanted to be seen as separate and that’s why I’m here. So I went off and did a half-marathon, or a 15k or whatever it was, and you know I was like ‘This feels good’. I raised some money for charity. It was a charity called Mothers Against Violence.’
After that, because it felt good, I wanted to do some more so I went off and did the Three Peaks. And I thought, this feels great. I need to do more. And then I heard about Ben Fogle and James Cracknell saying, ‘We’ve just rowed across the Atlantic. We’re now going to be walking to the South Pole, and we need a third member to join our team.’
“I thought well… a pole’s a pole. It’s ice. It’s cold. It’s windy. Why not? And that’s how my journey to the North Pole started”
I applied a few weeks later and they said ‘Unfortunately selections have started. It’d be unfair to let you in now, but would you consider going to the North Pole?’
At this stage, I thought well… a pole’s a pole. It’s ice. It’s cold. It’s windy. Why not? And that’s how my journey to the North Pole started.
What advice would you give to people who find themselves in a similar situation to what you were in then?
Take time to think about what you really, really, want. And think about what the outcome is of what you do. Rage is a useful reaction. Anger is a useful emotion. But if you take your time, you can control it and then you can decide an outcome based on what you truly want to achieve.
Prime example. I chose to use my anger, or redirect my anger into achieving something maybe other people hadn’t thought of doing. And I used the anger to help me get through it. I was angry at people saying ‘we should get this guy.’ I was angry at people trying to kill me, trying to shoot me, trying to stab me. I was angry at all of them.
Every time I was out and it got hard, I thought to myself you know what Dwayne you’re tired, you’re upset, you’re hungry but just keep going. You’re angry. You’re angry and this will prove to all these people that they shouldn’t be living like that, and you can be an example. That’s the way I channeled my anger.
To The [Magnetic] North Pole then, what was that experience like?
The experience was amazing and the reason it was amazing is this. So many people told me all the negative things about doing it. It was difficult to find any single person who had anything positive to say about me embarking on this journey. The vast majority of people said you can’t do it. People from Hackney don’t do this. Black people don’t do this. You’re Jamaican, you don’t do the cold. Why don’t you walk somewhere else? 400 miles? What are you going to achieve doing this? There’s no point.
That was the constant messaging that I got. And, for me, when I arrived at the pole it was like a middle finger to everyone who said I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or wouldn’t.
Getting there was a release. I was elated, and I proved to myself that I could do something tough. I’d done something purely for myself, done something on my own. I’d come up with the idea on my own, pursued the idea on my own, worked towards it on my own. And yes, we achieved it as a team but my inner drive is what helped me to get there.
What kind of message do you think being the first black Briton to do this sends out, and do you think it’s important?
When people say you’re the first black Briton to do this, I think well that’s just a matter of time, and a bit of luck, and maybe I’m just one of a group that would consider pursuing this. But I think, it’s a difficult question, I guess it shows that regardless of who you are, where you come from, what your background is, what your experiences are, if you set your mind to a specific target and work towards it you can achieve anything.
Do you think young men who are currently in the position you were then have enough role models in the outdoors?
No. No. I think, over the years and over the decades people have looked to adventure and the outdoors as, let’s be honest, a white man’s sport. And we can drill that down further, a middle class white man’s sport. There’s loads of women that aren’t represented as much as they could be, and loads of black people and ethnic minorities that aren’t represented as much as they could be.
“Over the years and over the decades people have looked to adventure and the outdoors as, let’s be honest, a white man’s sport”
And it’s not because the media don’t represent us [black people and ethnic minorities in the outdoors]. I actually think it’s because there’s so few of us. And the reason there’s so few of us is because we didn’t see anyone doing it when my mum and dad were young. There was no black or ethnic minorities doing these kinds of things because their focus was get your head down, get a trade, get some work, get some money and that’s it. All these additional things were ‘That’s a rich man’s game. Don’t indulge in that’.
But I do think times are changing, and hopefully I’m part of that; helping that.
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