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07 September 2022

From Gangster to Good Guy

— Milan Murray

Finding ambassadors for our September campaign #ownyourstory was a sensitive search. Not everybody is comfortable with the darker side of their story, but Ivor Swartz is owning his… big time!

Our founder, Milan Murray interviewed him on our podcast Inbetween Things. Here are some of what they spoke about:

“Ivor, before we get to your life story and the reason why we chose you as an ambassador for our hashtag campaign this year, tell us about Fatherhood! You have the cutest little boy! What surprised you the most about becoming a Dad?”

What surprised me the most was the intense emotions I was able to feel! From the time Nadine told me she was pregnant, his birth, even now…The beauty, the fear, the joy, the intense emotion I feel as a man and being able to express it… wanting to express it!
And then of course, another big surprise was just how much those diapers can stink!It seems impossible. But that poo stinks!

“Yup! Parenthood brings good surprises and bad surprises! What you said about your intense emotions reminds me of that Elizabeth Stone quote:

”Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walk outside your body.”

But let’s get to a darker side of your story. You turned your life around. Tell us about that?”

“For a lot of kids in South Africa growing up without a father is giving you a narrative that you didn’t ask for. My father died when I was 3 and I was given this subconscious narrative that I am rejected, not wanted and that I will forever struggle to belong.
I had an older brother who tried to provide a space of belonging for me and my mother and my younger brother, but he knew only one emotion. Anger.
He was a gangster from an early age and would come home and hit out all the windows, or get onto the roof and make the biggest holes in it.
So that was what I learned: The only way to get things done was through violence. The hopelessness, the poverty in the streets I grew up in didn’t match up with the hopes I had for the future.

I was 13 when I left my mom’s house in search of who I wanted to be. The best possible place to find that in my area was amongst gangs. You feel a sense of belonging, a sense of safety. You are given a new story. One that says: ‘You are a part of us. We will take care of you. We will protect you. We will give you food.‘

So we broke into people's homes and robbed people on the street. We hurt people. I was on drugs, fuelling this seething anger that I was growing up without a father. What angered me the most was that I was given this story and I had no say in it.

So I chose my own story… In the worst possible way.

One night my friend and I shot and killed my brother.

I was sentenced to prison for 6 years. All the time searching for this story that I can be proud of. It was there in prison that a teacher gave me a different view. She used words of affirmation. She quoted a song by Robbie Williams:

“I have so much life running through my veins, going to waste.”

She used those words to say that there is more to me. There is more to my story.

I ended up completing my Matric in prison, came out and studied Theology.
Today I am owning my story by using the scars as a vehicle to heal others. Where you start is not necessarily where you will end.”

The My Story Tribe feels honoured to have this inspirational man supporting our #ownyourstory campaign. Follow the hashtag and share your story too!
For more inspirational stories and conversations about mental health and our tweens, subscribe to our podcast Inbetween Things.