Joshua Luke Smith felt like an alien on the school playground because he had never heard of David Beckham. He had spent the first decade of his childhood in an impoverished area of Pakistan with missionary parents and had just returned to England.
“There were moments in the markets where people would come up to you and pinch your skin, because it was the novelty of white skin, but that’s all I knew,” Smith says as he recalls his childhood in Pakistan. “I have felt different my whole life. I have never known where I belonged. I lived in 14 different houses by the age of 15. I don’t know where I’m from.”
Smith is working towards finding his place in the world – as a rapper, poet, pastor, husband, father and recovering gambling addict. He teaches poetry to men in prison, giving them the chance to use words to navigate their anger and pain, because it is through writing that he has been able to come to terms with his own suffering.
It took years for Smith, who is now 33, to admit he had a gambling problem. “The first step was denial,” he says. “There was anger and a sense of frustration that you’ve got stuff to deal with and not everything is OK. For me it was an experience of acknowledging I don’t have a clean sheet. I’ve made mistakes and I need to acknowledge them.”
It started on the school playground, challenging his friends to a game where they would throw coins at the wall and whoever got closer would get to keep all the money. That sparked something in him, at just 12 years old, and gambling became his most dangerous vice.
Smith got a call from a debt collector during his godson’s birthday party in 2019. “I remember looking across the room at my wife and thinking that she doesn’t know there’s going to be a debt collector at our door today,” the rapper says. “That was the beginning of realising I had to make a change.”