Nelly Mayele

Photography by Sam Ashley.

When I think of Nelly I think of a hyperactive kid flying around Southbank, chatting copious amounts of shit between tries. I think of that contagious high-pitched laugh you’d hear resonate around the place most evenings. I think of those red shorts he wore almost every day one summer. I don’t think of a person capable of repeatedly hitting someone in the head with a skateboard.
A few months after coming out of prison for ABH (Actual Bodily Harm), Nelly asked me for a chance to tell his story in an interview and cautiously, I accepted. I say cautiously because he’s my friend and knowing what he’s been through, it’s hard not to worry that putting it out there might not be the best thing for him. But almost as soon as we got into it I got the feeling that laying everything out on the table was therapeutic, that he needed it to move on.

– Arthur Derrien

How old were you the first time you went to Southbank?
Nelly Mayele: The first time I went there I was 14 and I’m about to turn 22. Erik (Lennox) took me there from Mile End skatepark after taking all my money in pounds in games of skate, ha ha. I’d been skating for about seven months and I was pushing mongo, ha ha. I ollied and kickflipped the stairs though!

What?! No you didn’t… After seven months of skating?
Ha ha yeah I did! I was crazy back then…

And you’ve been going there almost every day since right?
Yeah pretty much… Even when I go to Mile End or something in my head it’s always on the way to Southbank. Sundays are usually the only day I don’t go. It’s my day off ha ha.

Which is crazy given you don’t actually live in London. Someone was telling me about your commute and it sounds insane.
Yeah I live in Essex man. The train takes like 45 minutes to an hour to get into London. That’s why I was so late today…

And you’ve been doing that twice a day since you were 14: passionate.
I guess let’s just dive into this: explain what happened that evening on the bus.
Alright so basically that night I was on the bus and this guy came and stumbled or something and elbowed me hard straight in the eye. Straight away I was like ‘that was not an accident…’ And I asked him, ‘Are you not going to apologise?’ And he was like ‘nah I’m not’. He wasn’t even some hench guy or anything; he was just some like trendy neek. I hadn’t slept and had four beers so I was pretty aggy. I wasn’t having it. ‘Are you going to apologise or not? ‘Cause otherwise I’m going to do shit to you!’ And he kept it up: ‘No I’m not, no I’m not…’ So I snatched his wallet and phone out of his hand and next thing you know the bus driver was like ‘this bus ain’t moving until this shit gets resolved’. So me and my boys decide to get off the bus and just walk, as we weren’t too far from the gaff where we were supposed to stay. The guy gets off as well and asks for his shit again… So I give it back to him but he starts screaming in my face, telling me that I still have his wallet. At that point I flinch on him, like pretend to kick him without actually touching him so that he’d steps back a bit and his instant jerk reaction was to just bang me in my face. At that point I completely lost it, grabbed my board and started hitting him non-stop. To this day I don’t know what happened, I couldn’t stop. My friend had to stop me from hitting him… And I’d never hit someone with a board before. Never ever in my life. It’s something I never imagined I’d do… Then we ran away and I realised I still had his wallet in my back pocket, so it was obviously my fault.
Then two weeks later the feds cornered me at Dalston Junction station, they sat me down and told me I had to wait with them until this shit got sorted out. Apparently they’d been looking for me for two weeks…

Did they show you what you’d done to the dude?
Yeah… When I was in probation there’s this thing they make you do before you go to jail where they show you what you’ve done and depending on your reactions you can get a lower sentence. They showed me pictures man… And it was really fucked. Just underneath his eye there’s a bit where you could see the bone. I didn’t even know I was hitting him in the face…

Sounds like you’d switched off and didn’t know what you were hitting.
Yeah… It was not me at all. I don’t know what happened… I was just going HAM, like shivering with rage. As I ran away I was instantly like ‘what the hell did I just do…’ I’d gone mental.

That realisation… Fuck.
Yeah. And obviously my boys spoke to me about it right after and shit… But towards the end of those two weeks I’d sort of somehow started to block it out. Until yeah, probation and seeing those photos. That’s when it really hit me again. Like ‘jesus christ what have I done…’ In their report it even said that I was in complete shock when I was shown them.

What was going through your head during that time you were on bail and waiting for your court hearing?
So much was going through my mind, I guess just preparing myself for the worst. Telling myself I was definitely going to go inside, so that if I actually did, it wouldn’t be as bad.

That’s when you had that whole thing at the London Am contest right? I had no idea what you were going through so I was a bit like, ‘Why the fuck is Nelly drinking straight vodka in the middle of the day at a skate comp?’!
Yeah… Quite a few people were like, ‘What the hell is going on with you bruv?’ Basically I wanted to skate the comp and signed up too late so couldn’t. Then I got in some argument with Denny Pham ‘cause his board shot into me, Keld from CPH stepped in to break it up, I punched him in the face, Vaughan (Baker) and loads of people got involved… It was a mess. All because I kept thinking ‘I’m going inside, I don’t give a fuck anymore!’
And then when it all ended I went around and apologised to every single person in the skatepark… I was so embarrassed. It wasn’t a good time for me…

Wasn’t your court hearing right after NASS?
Yeah, so I ended up going there and treating it like it was the last time I was ever going to have fun, doing mad pills and shit.

Which short term must have helped block it all out but probably didn’t make it any easier when it came to the big day…
Yeah man, imagine! They just told me: ‘16 months’. Like that, in one line basically. I hadn’t even spoken to my mum about it. She didn’t even know I had court or bail or anything like that… I’d hidden it from everyone. I had to tell my solicitor to let my mum know…

Fuuuck. How did she take it?
Probably not well. I didn’t speak to her the whole time I was inside.

Are you and your mum not that close?
We are, we are! I just couldn’t… She’s already had a son that’s been to prison. There’s only one way to take it and she knows how.

So one of your brothers has been before?
Yeah he’s in there now for like hardfoods. Like selling coke or crack…

Was he in the same one as you?
He was but when I got put in he got moved to a higher category.

Does that mean he spoke to some people to keep an eye out for you and shit?
Yeah. And I was in Pentonville. I knew about that place… Anyway as I was walking up the stairs on my first day I heard ‘Emmanuel, Emmanuel, is that you?’ I instantly think ‘if that’s someone calling me that it’s definitely someone from my ends, not a skater’. And I turn around and it’s one of my brother’s boys, who used to be my neighbour. Instantly I was like ‘oh thank god…’ Obviously it’s still prison but that made a big difference. He told me there was a bunch of other people inside from my area and asked we what I was in for. When I told him he was fully like ‘What?! You?’ Same with other inmates I met in there, they were always a bit confused about it…
One time this one guy came up to me and asked what I was in for. I said: ‘ABH, I hit a guy with a skateboard.’
‘You got any previouses? Where you from?’
‘Nah man, I’m a skateboarder from Essex.’ He just walked off like ‘pff you’re none of my business…’ ha ha.

Thank god you had some people you knew in there…
Yeah… I think you can be alright without that though.

What by just keeping to yourself?
Yeah just keep yourself to yourself. I mean you can socialise if you feel like it sometimes just don’t be an idiot. And don’t smoke spice. That’s the main thing. DO NOT SMOKE SPICE.

Is it easy to get drugs in there?
Not really. I mean in Pentonville it is ‘cause it’s old fashioned but in ISIS (Editor’s note: HMP/YOI Isis Prison), the one I got moved to quite quickly, nah it isn’t. People obviously still manage though…

Backside 50-50

What’s the deal with money, how does that work?
You can have money in there, like people can send some to you in letters and shit as long as there’s a return address on the back that doesn’t seem dodgy.

What about buying stuff in there?
Everything’s expensive as fuck. But there’s this computer thing you can use that’s basically Costcutter, like a corner shop where you can buy your essentials. You’re limited though and there are different levels. Like if you’re on ‘basic’ it means you’ve fucked up, you get your TV taken away from you and you only get five pounds a week on there, which is gnarly. Especially when you get your drinking water from pressing this button you can only press four times with a limited amount that comes out each time… After that you’re drinking warm water. I had that at one point and I was thirsty as fuck.

Were you well behaved in there?
Yeah I was but I saw a lot of bad shit go down.

Go on…
Like my third day in Pentonville I saw this one kid get his whole stomach sliced open. He was like 18, had a big mouth, and thought he could run the place ‘cause he had a few boys inside but none of them did anything. You can’t act the same when you’re surrounded by a bunch of rapists and murderers. And I had to walk right past him man… It was fucked.

Did you make any friends inside?
Yeah I made a lot of friends. Like my cellmate, I really back him man; he’s a G. Or this guy Silas who was also from the Congo; I had like an instant connection with him.

Do you still talk with those guys?
I did a bit when I was fresh out but not anymore. In my head I was always a bit like ‘when I leave this place, I’m done, I don’t want really want to have anything to with it’, you know?
It’s sort of like what I went through with schools… Like I went to three different secondary schools and because of that I never kept my friends from them that close. I skate, that’s what I do every day. I wouldn’t want them to just come chill at the skate spot and watch me skate… That’s already what ends up happening when I go on dates ha ha.

That explains why you lost your virginity at SB…
Ha ha why not man? It’s my favourite spot!

How do you even get into a situation like that?
I don’t know it’s when we were supposed to be filming with Austin (Bristow) for that Summer In The City thing and I met a girl that I liked, and she liked me! I was hyped! One thing led to another and she asked me where I wanted to do it and was like ‘don’t ask me, I’d do it right here on the cheese block luv’.

Please tell me you didn’t.
No we went upstairs to this garden bit. It was much nicer, much quieter, romantic.

Ha ha yeah really sounds it…
I remember reading that letter you sent to Slam when you were inside and being pretty moved. Can you tell me a little bit about sending and receiving letters, how that helped…
This one guy Justin sent me so many, I couldn’t have gone through prison without him man. He’s a legend for what he did for me. Then a few other people did… Curtis Pearl sent me one where he did this big graff piece thing but he spelt my name wrong ha ha. Nah but seriously I was going through a rough time, feeling really lonely… I’d only been receiving ones from Justin at that point and the other inmates, they really get into your head, telling you ‘this is when you know who your real mates are’ and shit like that. So when I received this really long letter from him it was really good for me. And you know what he sent me? Stickers bruv! I was so hyped. I took one of the Palace stickers and put it on my mirror. It made me feel like I was still part of the crew, like I was still a skater.

Backside lipslide to fakie.

Were you thinking about skating a lot in there?
It was tough man; the time was making me forget about skating… There were points when I was over it.
I swear when you came out (March 2017) for like a week you didn’t really want to have anything to do with skating.
Yeah when I looked at my rusty old skateboard I was like what the hell is that? That’s not mine. Tried to ride it and ate shit straight away and was over it. So I chilled on it for a bit… But then I went to Slam one day and they hooked me up with a board, Supreme hooked me up with some shoes and I kind of felt like I had to get it together and start skating again. (Editor’s note: Nelly served nine months in total.)

What have you been doing apart from skating?
Trying to find a job but it’s been pretty hard. It sucks, I’m really bad at reading…

What about all the acting stuff?
Yeah I’ve been doing a bunch of that. I was in a short film… And then there was this kind of bigger thing with more rehearsals and I had to learn like six pages of lines in two weeks, which was really hard.

How did that come about?
The first one someone came up to me at Southbank. The second someone came up to me outside the toilets at Alibi (former club in east London). I was washing my hands and let out a shriek ‘cause the water was freezing and someone came up to me and said: ‘Have you ever considered acting?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah I want to do it but it’s hard to get in there,’ and she gave me her contact and said to hit her up!

Ha ha no way! Did you take on any classes or anything when you were inside?
Nah but I was trying to read quite a bit. I did want to do this film/performance thing when I was in ISIS though but didn’t in the end.

Damn it’s sick that you can do a course like that in there.
Yeah ISIS prison is very good. Terrible name but very good (Editor’s note: Isis is Young Offenders Institution for male inmates under the age of 25). If I hadn’t gone there and stayed in Pentonville, I guarantee I wouldn’t be skating right now. I wouldn’t be speaking to you. Or if I would it would be to try to get your money or something.

What would you say is the main problem with Pentonville?
Pentonville you don’t get jack shit to do: that’s the main problem. You’re just banged up the whole time apart from when you get your food and that’s what’s fucked. That place really needs to get shut down man. In ISIS the cell doors actually open, you dine and socialise with people.

Did you take on any jobs in there?
Yeah of course, you want to be out of your cell as much as possible. I worked in the kitchen. You’d do two to four hour shifts in there and get paid two pounds which sounds crazy, but that’s actually a lot in there…
In ISIS there’s two sides of the prison: Meridian and Thames. The people from those two sides can’t mix no matter what or it kicks off as it’s people from different gangs. That’s why they separate them; they’d instantly fight otherwise. So when the guys from Meridian are done eating, they get banged up and the guys from the Thames side get to come out and eat. That’s a lot of time out of your cell. And even when everyone’s done eating and everyone’s banged up, you still haven’t had a chance to shower and shit so you get to do that while the cleaners clean the wing.

Reckon it’s the best job in there?
Nah, cleaning is for sure. That’s where you get the most freedom. They get banged up like twenty minutes after everyone else gets banged up. I’d clean anything.

You have a routine for when you’d be banged up?
I’d get banged up, watch Home And Away or Neighbours. Actually no I’d do the fattest work out first. Like a hundred pull-ups with this plastic chair I’d fill up with water every two weeks.

What do you mean fill up a chair with water?
It was like hollow so you’d have to burn a hole in it to fill it up. It was sick like I could really feel it getting lighter so I’d fill it up more and more.

No wonder you were massive when you got out.
I mean that’s the best way to occupy your mind. It’s something to do. People either do that or wank all day.
Sometimes I’d just be praying: ‘Please, can’t someone just send me a Grey Mag!’ Instead I’d get random messages like Seb (Tabe) saying to me Nyjah got Skater Of The Year and ‘I’d go mental ha ha, throwing everything in my room like ‘you’re joking?! Nooo!’ And he was joking that little slag. I found out later it was actually Kyle Walker ha ha.

Ha ha what a weirdo. Alright we’ve been chatting for ages now so we should probably wrap this up. Any last words?
I dunno… I’d just say whatever you do, if you’re involved in a fight, do not hit someone with a skateboard. Ever. Obviously you shouldn’t be hitting anyone in the first place but if it comes to it, remember that. I think about it every time I see a fight…

Shortly after we did this interview Nelly was hit a family tragedy that few of us can imagine having to cope with. The sort of trauma that could easily send someone into a destructive downward spiral… But today Nelly has a job at Supreme and is skating the best he’s ever skated. He’ll still stop at nothing to make you laugh, embarrasses himself day and night on social media and will chew your ear off about how sponsored he is at any given chance. Some of the innocence that characterised him for so many years may be gone but he’s still (and probably always will be) that endearing kid in the red shorts.