When he was 12, William Palmer joined a gang without even realizing it. To him, he was just hanging out with his big brother and their friends in their Easterhouse neighborhood in Glasgow. At first, he stood and watched as his friends defended their 200-sq-m territory from rivals. Lining up military-style, both sides would lunge and retreat until someone, usually drunk, engaged, and the fight would begin. Soon enough, Palmer was fighting alongside his brethren. By the time he was 20, he was selling drugs — mostly ecstasy — to younger kids in his neighborhood, taking care to avoid other gangs’ territories lest he get jumped.
Now 29, Palmer regards himself as lucky to have survived his youth. One of his brothers, a heroin addict, is in prison. Palmer himself did a two-year term after attacking a rival gang member with a hatchet. That led to an epiphany, and he joined Alcoholics Anonymous to dry out. Today he mentors kids at risk of joining gangs, even though the charity for which he works still has to carefully smuggle him through enemy lines — five years after he left his gang. He is also wanted by the Glasgow police, but in a good way. They regularly ask Palmer to talk with new officers about how to get through to gang members. The role reversal amuses him. “We used to phone them up just to toy with them so we could get a chase off them,” he says of the police. “Now they’re phoning me up for advice.”