High on drugs, he committed his first murder at the age of 14 to prove his bravery in an initiation ritual to become a member of the Ugly Americans gang.
Eighteen years later, 17 murders to his name and a few years in prison, Lee Adams (32) is a wanted man back home in Cape Town – but in Eldorado Park, he has found refuge.
Adams said despite its crime and drug abuse, Eldorado Park has offered him a second chance in life.
He arrived in Johannesburg two years ago fleeing from other gang members seeking revenge for the deaths of their friends and family members.
This week he stood among drug addicts in Extension 1, Eldorado Park, listening to them sharing their stories of despair.
For a recovering addict who has recently been to rehab and who took his last hit in November last year, Adams could only shake his head. He did not agree with the young men that they could not run from drugs and crime.
“I was deeply involved in gangsterism. I sold drugs and was paid to kill people and now I’m a recovering drug user. If I could change, then anyone can do it,” he told them.
“I found hope right here in Eldos where everyone is thinking there is no hope at all. Back in Cape Town I was one of the most feared in the community and respected in gangster circles, and I could have continued with that life here in Joburg, but I chose not to.
“I still live among drug users and criminals, but I still choose not to get involved.”
On the Cape Flats, Adams said he belonged to the Ugly Americans. The letters UA remain tattooed on his wrist. The gang’s insignia – a mark of his rank as captain – remains tattooed on his shoulders.
His left arm is covered in tattoos earned through spilling blood.
“They are 17 [stars] and I earned each of them after killing someone. I have killed people, but have only been to prison for attempted murder because when you are connected in the police service, everything disappears,” he said. There is a large star on his arm with a smaller one inside it. “This was a father and son. I shot both of them dead,” he said.
“I am not proud of all that ... I can never be proud of taking lives and terrorising my own community. I have attended funerals of at least seven of my closest friends who died in the streets while others are serving life sentences for murders, but here I am outside and I have Eldorado Park to thank for saving me.
“Eldos is battling drug abuse that leads to crime and I believe with the right attitude and commitment from the police, this can all be curbed before it gets totally out of hand. There is hope everywhere ... I found hope in the midst of despair, right here in Eldos.”
Desperate and helpless faces of Eldorado Park
R eleased from prison four years ago after serving eight years of his 15-year jail term for robbery, Watson said he is back to using drugs “just to ease up”. “I have not broken into anyone’s house since I walked out of prison and I do not intend to, but life in the township without a job and with a criminal record is not easy.”
JEROME ABRAMS (31)
He was released from prison after serving 18 months for business burglary. “I was a heavy drug user and had to rob people, steal and break into people’s properties so I could get something to sell to buy more drugs. I don’t intend going back to that life at all after my time in prison,” Abrams said. “Things have turned for the worse now with children as young as 10 using drugs.”
ELRICH THOMPSON (25)
‘Ijob use drugs because there is nothing for me to do ... no
or anything to keep me occupied. I know very well that drugs are bad for me or anyone, but do I have any choice?” he asks. “I am willing to quit drugs, but what do I turn to? There is nothing for young people to do here in Eldos.”
PAUL BROWN (32)
He is desperate to quit drugs, but lacks hope. Brown said he was also worried about escalating crime in Eldorado Park, which is mainly due to drug abuse.
“We wake up every day to reports of people being robbed, stabbed or at times killed, all because of drugs. I don’t think anyone wants to be a drug user except that moment when you are high on the substance ... honestly. I’d rather be sober, but it is difficult quitting on my own,” he said.
SAVED? Recovering drug addict and former gang leader Lee Adams shows off his tattoos on his arms