Faron Paul flexes the tendons in his neck: “Watch this,” he says. On the right side, his throat stretches in the visceral, unnerving but perfectly natural way you’ve probably tried in the mirror.
On the other, a lop-sided mesh of sinew and muscle, straining to carry out the basic task, is revealed. It’s incomplete, and the reason is anything but natural. When he was just 19, Faron was stabbed nine times whilst defending his sister from an unprovoked attack.
Three years later, he was stabbed again. Again, nine times. Again, defending a loved one.
After the two incidents, Faron had felt the unrelenting steel of a knife’s blade penetrate his skin and cleave through his flesh a total of 18 times.
Watching as his father demonstrates the merciless damage caused by his assault is Chance, Faron’s cherubic 11-year-old son. Explaining the long-term damage he still suffers 14-years after being stabbed so violently, Faron describes the feeling you experience after waking from a dream in which you are rich, successful or living a life that typically feels beyond your reach.
The sinking disappointment as reality washes in with daylight.
For Faron, that disappointment comes as he wakes and realises that, in reality, he can’t swim anymore. His shattered nerves won’t swing his arms.
“It’s not only that,” he continues, “after I got stabbed, my mum wasn’t the same person; it broke her. My brothers were angry, my dad was angry, I was sad. I didn’t want to live. This all happened before him [Chance, Faron’s son, being born]. Imagine what would have happened if I’d committed suicide, my son would not exist right now.
“What kind of Daddy am I?” Faron turns to Chance, smiling and playfully pushing his forefinger into his son's chin.
“A good Daddy,” comes the beaming response; a child’s pride in their father causing him to sit up straight with energy.
“He’s never been in trouble at school,” Faron says. “We haven’t even tested what it’s like when he’s in trouble yet. He’s going to secondary school after this holiday. It’s a transition. It’s where his future friends will come from, a lot of them.
“How are kids experiencing death and so much pain before they’ve even experienced love and happiness? It’s just crazy, man.”
And so, having started to post online vlogs discouraging young Londoners from carrying knives, Faron is taking a far more physical stand today.
“I came up with the idea to take knives off children in exchange for vouchers. I thought to myself: ‘it’s not kitchen knives they’ve got, it’s designer knives and if it’s designer knives, they clearly paid for it. So maybe if I can give them back half of what they paid for the knives, they can hand it in to me.’ I’ve taken over 200 knives off the street, easily.
“I take a knife off a child and then I get a message from their mum saying, ‘ever since you spoke to my son, you’ve transformed him. I can’t thank you enough.’ That’s the kind of thing that fuels my drive. I think of my mum in that position, being grateful to someone that got me on the right path. It genuinely pains me to see these youths just wasting their life. It hurts and that’s why I do this.”
But just in the space of a few months, Faron has already taken his campaign several steps further: opening a youth market in Hackney that teaches young adults the skills of business and the value of earning legitimate money with pride.
He’s also opening a bike park to provide a safe, protected and productive place to go for young adults who may otherwise have nowhere to turn.
All in all, following his own harrowing trauma, Faron is changing Londoners’ lives.
Faron spent a morning discussing his experience with Crystal Palace Academy's footballers as part of the young players' wider education programme . He finished the session with an inspirational message to the group, “What I’d say to a young person is... ‘Life is too short to be making silly decisions. The first thing to do is if you’ve got a passion for anything in the world, grab it with all you can and ask the people around you to help a bit. Because time’s not going to wait for you.
“This is the time right here to elevate yourself and anchor down in your career or your passion. Make sacrifices now to live a stress-free life forever or you can be making sacrifices for your whole life.’”
Watch Faron's empassioned talk with members of the Crystal Palace Academy in the video below.
Crystal Palace FC is also extremely proud of the work which the Palace for Life Foundation carry out to support young adults across south London. Working one-to-one with young adults, 38 of 42 participants have avoided reoffending following a targeted intervention programme aimed at reducing youth violence in south London.