At last month's gang summit in Lambeth, the Peel Dem Crew (PDC) was named the largest gang in the borough. CARA LEE met PDC's leader and found out how its founders have turned their lives around.

Growing up in a nice house, with a stable family on the south coast of England, my happy childhood seems a world away to the grim one that 28-year-old Elijah Kerr, known as Jaja, described to me at his home in Brixton's Angell Town estate.

While I read books with my parents, played with dolls and made sandcastles, Jaja and his friends living in Angell Town were watching the drug dealers lurking around the estate and getting involved in robberies themselves.

Jaja moved to the estate from Birmingham with his siblings after his mum decided to leave his dad, who used to beat her. They were housed in a former crack den and left to do as they pleased while their mum worked several jobs to support them.

"Not having a father around has a big impact on any child, especially as a boy," said Jaja, who has three young children all aged between one and two. "If he's not around, you look to the streets instead for a father figure. That's how I got into trouble.

"There were no property developers living next door to us on the estate - we just had ex-bank robbers and drug dealers."

And it didn't take long before Jaja became caught up in what he saw around him, helping the dominant gang on the estate - the 28s - with burglaries and dodgy deals.

He says he slipped into a criminal lifestyle because of "young frustration and anger" and to make money to support himself and his family.

"At the same time it was an adventure and I was putting my energy into something," he explained.

By age 15 he was sent to Feltham Young Offenders Institution for three years for taking part in a bank robbery in Bromley. Although he vowed to clean up his act he was back dealing drugs soon after his release.

It was around this time, in the mid 90s, that Jaja and his friends with street names Phat Si, Inch, Ribz, Bloods, Birdie, formed the PDC, or Peel Dem Crew. "Peel dem" comes from the Jamaican street slang for "steal from them".

The PDC became notorious on the estate, selling drugs and threatening any other dealers who ventured on their patch.

A drug raid in 2002 sent Jaja and most of his crew back to prison. This time he turned to Islam for help and achieved City and Guilds qualifications in English, maths, accountancy and business studies.

It was in the adult cells he decided the PDC should focus on music and turn away from crime. He wrote a business plan for PDC Entertainments, an underground record label, which he formed with the others in 2005 and now runs from Shakespeare Business Centre, in Coldharbour Lane.

"I've been out of the criminal lifestyle for six years - it doesn't appeal to me anymore," said Jaja, leaning forward to expose the PCD tattoo on his neck. "Five of my friends have been shot dead. It hurts but after a while you get used to people dying.

"Now we're creating avenues for people to create their own books, music, dvds and helping kids go to performing arts schools. We're the kids' new next-door neighbours and are better role models for them."

As well as their music, the PDC have worked with an author on a book about their lives, Street Boys, released last week.

"We want positive stuff in the media, such as seeing ex-gang members doing good, rather than the hype about gang crime which puts pressure on kids to join them," he adds.

Jaja thinks kids need support from a younger age, being told about different careers, to stop them turning to crime. He also says money needs to be ploughed into youth facilities and performing arts schools.

"Once you're created in the system it's hard to get out," he said. "But we've turned a different chapter and switched the game. You can do anything you want to do - we're living proof of that. There are no excuses."

Street Boys by Tim Pritchard is published by Harper Collins and costs £12.99.

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To watch an edited film of Cara's interview click here.