Former armed robber who shot shopkeeper now preventing children turning to life of crime

Dwayne James, the founder of B-EZI.
Dwayne James, the founder of B-EZI.
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A former armed robber who shot a shopkeeper and was handed two life prison sentences has turned his life around to prevent young people across Yorkshire turning to a life of crime.

Dwayne James, from Leeds, was 23 when he held a gun to a shopkeeper's head while raiding his shop in Elland Road in November 2004.

Founder of B-EZI, Dwayne James

Founder of B-EZI, Dwayne James

With the gun pointed to his neck, the shopkeeper was taken into a back room, where Mr James lost patience with him and fired a bullet into his left leg below the knee.

Mr James was found guilty of wounding with intent and possession of a firearm, following a trial at Bradford Crown Court and was sentenced to life with a minimum of nine years.

Just a year earlier Mr James had also been given a life sentence for an armed raid on a takeaway shop in the Chapeltown area of Leeds.

In that raid, a staff member at the takeaway was punched and kicked before being told he would be shot if he did not hand over the night's takings.

Speaking about his crimes, Mr James said: "At the time I wasn't thinking of anyone else but myself, it was the way my life was set up at the time.

"I didn't have a job, I was the victim of racism and I didn't have any positive relationships, although none of this is an excuse for what I did.

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"I started getting involved in low level crime and then in just escalated. I got more selfish and I didn't understand the impact my actions had on others."

The turning point for Mr James came when he and other prisoners took part in a Victim Awareness Course whilst behind bars.

"As part of the course, victims of crime spoke to us about the trauma they had experienced," Mr James said.

"The crimes committed against them were not even as bad as what I had done but I really began to understand the ripple affect my actions had.

"One of the victims was a grandmother and it really hit me that this could have happened to my own grandmother."

Mr James served 12 years in prison in which he had time to reflect on his crimes.

He said: "I became disgusted in myself and my actions.

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"My son was only young at the time and he was always asking me when I was coming home.

"I realised I had been in a lose, lose situation and my crimes had not just affected the victim, but had a knock-on affect on their family life and work life.

"I also realised that I was doing dead time in prison. Other people were living their lives and progressing and I wanted to do the same."

Upon his release from prison, Mr James began enrolling on a number of courses including graphic design and painting and decorating.

He then came up with the idea to set up a business to give something back to young people and B-EZI Enterprise was created.

"B-EZI is all about encouraging positive choices, through motivational quotes, garments and understanding your life choices have actions and every action has a ripple effect," Mr James said.

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"Everyone makes mistakes, I did. I'm promoting the B-Ezi message to encourage you to think before making your day to day choices and sending out positive messages with a view to change mentalities.

"I know B-EZI can’t change the world but if my message can change the mindset of just one person it will be worth it. This is something I am extremely passionate about having learnt the hard way."

Mr James, now 35, has held a number of workshops to inspire young people across West Yorkshire.

He has also visited schools across Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, and met with council members, community leaders and local MPs to spread his important message.

Mr James said: "When I look back at my past I am disgusted by what I did and I still feel guilty, but I am trying to move on with my life by helping others and paying my debt back to society in a positive way."