Chris Syrus: Creatively reducing youth crime
Chris Syrus, 34, has spent the past five years since leaving prison realising his dream of helping get young people into work, education or training. He now runs his own business, Syrus Consultancy C.I.C, using the arts, coupled with his personal experience, to motivate disadvantaged 13-24 year-olds nationally and in the Croydon community where he grew up.
Right at the beginning of his sentence in 2004, Chris decided to change his life and with support from PET he started an Open University degree in Psychology.
Chris said: “Studying gave me a sense of achievement; working to complete assignments every month, getting a grade and passing each time was really motivating. Continuing to read, learn and write essays also kept me focused on my goals. The fact that I achieved what I set out to do in prison helped me on release. With my business I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do 5 years ago. I continue to think like that now - I know if I set my mind on something I can do it.”
During his sentence, study helped him stay close to his family, who sent him books and gave him lots of support. Towards the end of his sentence Chris used the temporary day release scheme to get further qualifications for a career working with young people. Soon after, he was awarded a ‘Learning and Skills Council achievement award’ making his family proud. In 2010 he won the ‘Peace award’ from London Mayor Boris Johnson. These experiences gave him the confidence to establish his social enterprise. He says: “This combination of psychology and creative arts worked for me and helped me learn about myself. This became the vision for my business.”
Chris’s earlier attainment in education hadn’t been good and because he didn’t have the grades to go to college, he lost his confidence and aspirations. Without any positive goals to focus on, he got involved in crime. This experience helps him to identify with the young people he currently supports. Chris said: “A lot of young people don’t believe they are intelligent enough and they think crime is the only way to make it. I use my personal experience to help them think differently.”
One of Syrus Consultancy’s newest programmes is ‘Building Young Entrepreneurs’ which trains a group of young adults to develop their artist skills and organise creative events such as ‘Open Mic’ nights. Chris offers advice, access to professional recording studio and his network of producers, videographers and artists. The participants learn practical skills as well as creative as they market their products and organise event logistics, such as booking the venue, producing flyers and promotion. Many also perform themselves. Chris says: “We use the arts - creative writing, public speaking and drama to develop, engage and encourage people. The only way to learn is to do. I try to make things as practical as possible. They run the projects and we support them with whatever they want to do. I see a huge change in them, they put hours in because they feel they are part of something.”
Chris also delivers crime prevention, ‘LoveLife6958 Workshop’ which includes motivational talk and spoken word performance of his poetry, based on his experience in prison, from the book he self published on release ‘LoveLife6958 Memoirs from the pen...’ He says: “I talk about the reality of my experience, how it affected by mum, about not having birthdays or Christmases, what the strip search was like. I don’t want to glamorise prison.”
Chris is also a patron of the charity Mothers against guns. Find out more about Syrus Consultancy.