BY CALUM FRASER
When Kofi Donker’s friends were getting their GCSE results and doing work experience, he was stuck in Feltham young offender institute.
As the 16-year-old stepped out of HMP Huntercombe, where he had been transferred, he decided there was no way he was going back to a life of petty crime and “nonsense.”
The Plumstead Common resident said: “It’s not something I’m proud of, but I was exposed to South London gang culture, exposed to prison life and I then I thought, ‘hang on a minute, this can’t be me for the rest of my life, that’s a crap life.’ It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.
“It didn’t matter what route I took, I was going to fight my way out. I could have gone into education, college or a city job. But, as it turns out, boxing was already a passion.”
The 29-year-old was first inspired to become a boxer when, aged 10, he saw Mike Tyson in Brixton.
Tyson was due to fight Woolwich-born heavyweight Julius Francis.
Kofi said: “Everybody was going mad in Brixton. Tyson was being held in the police station and people started kicking down the doors to break in.
“Tyson then got out a megaphone and shouted ‘f*** the police.’ Everyone went crazy. I’d never seen anything like it.”
Kofi started training after that, but then ran into trouble in his early teens. He was expelled from Crown Woods secondary school, in Bexley Road, Eltham and started getting into trouble outside of school as well.
By the time he was 15, he found himself locked up in Feltham.
After six months he was moved to HMP Huntercombe to serve another four months.
During his time, he would pick up Boxing News, read about the latest pro fights and check the back page to see who the up and coming amateurs were. When he came out his sight was set on becoming a professional boxer.
He said: “I met a really good coach, Steve Roach, I could look up to him and ask for guidance. “I could see I had a path to take and if I stayed on that path who knows what could happen. “Boxing isn’t like football or cricket, where there’s a team and you can be a bit more casual.
You have to live boxing, eat the right food, run at night or early in the morning and get your rest. It’s a lonely path. “You can’t be out drinking and on benders with your mates.
After a while you actually don’t want to be around all that. It doesn’t appeal to you, you’re hooked on your journey.”
It wasn’t easy for Kofi to leave his past behind. He would encounter people who still had problems with him in around Plumstead.
He said: “Little by little I managed to detach myself from my ego. When I bumped into people, we managed to settle things in a cordial manner. They could have easily taken out a knife and killed me.
“Boxing teaches you to keep control.
If you’re sparring three or four times a week you’re exhausted. There’s no motivation to start swinging fists outside of the ring. “What if you injure your hand?
In a street fight you’re punching bone on bone. Then you can’t train the next day. “If anything, I wanted to take the fearless mentality from the streets of Plumstead and Woolwich and take it into the ring.
“But boxing will always put you in your place. As a young man, our ego can get us involved in the streets and put us on a power trip.
“In a boxing gym there will always be someone who has been fighting for longer than you, is a weight above you, who will give you a bloody nose and hand your arse to you.”
The question is, how did Kofi stay on the right track, while many other young men in South London have been sucked back into a life of crime.
He didn’t have many older male role models around when he was young as his mother brought him up on her own.
He said: “I didn’t have brothers, fathers or uncles around for me to be a fly on the wall and learn how to conduct myself. “Maybe that would have helped me when I was involved in nonsense. But then maybe it was good that I didn’t have bad influences.
“There are men in their 40s and 50s who are going in and out of the system stuck in the vicious rat race. “I had to work it out by myself. I was determined.
“There could be a degree of luck as well. I could have had a bad coach who didn’t recognise my effort. “Then I could have fallen back into my past life.”
Kofi made his own luck though. He took steps to stay away from bad influences, moved to West Norwood and Surrey before moving back to Plumstead when life was more settled.
He had a goal to become a professional boxer and a plan to make that happen. He made this dream a reality on September 15 when he faced Ivan Godor at York Hall in Bethnall Green, east London. He beat the Slovak in points over four rounds.
He signed a three-year management agreement with Goodwin Boxing in April and is looking ahead to more professional fights.