He began telling me of his dreams to be a musician. He sings really well - like a lark. He writes songs with potent love lyrics. And his reflection on life, which becomes lyrical content for his music produces more than just the usual poor, hungry ghetto youth and corrupt system ethos. He reflects on how humanity fights against itself; On peace in the world; on youth making a better life; on spirituality.
I listened intently as he recounted his life as a notorious assassin and criminal as a member of one of the most ruthless gangs in Jamaica.
His life, a familiar ghetto-boy narrative: guns, girls, gang and ganja. His actions as a notorious gang member,repugnant. But underneath it all is a story of how the poor and the powerless negotiate risk in the inner-city. We all negotiate risk. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
DAMIEN: Tell me about your life growing up?
HIM: Well, to honest wid yuh,Sar, mi grow up iina church still enuh. Mi madda is a evangelist iina di church, so mi use to guh a Sunday School an' always know right from wrong zimi?
DAMIEN: So what happened? How comes you end up a "shotta" (gunman)?
HIM: Mek mi tell yuh di choot still. A never bad compiny or anything like dat.Dem bway dem (Members of Rival gang) did kill mi uncle, who was area don and usually when dem kill di don dem does go after him fambily. So mi never wanted dem to kill me so mi join dem!
DAMIEN: You joined the gang of men that killed your uncle!!? Why? Didn't you want revenge?
HIM: Well, a dat mi did a pree still enuh but mi did more fraid fi mi life.
DAMIEN: How old were you when you joined that gang?
DAMIEN: 10!? My yute a lie yuh a 10! What a 10 year old could do iina gang?
HIM: Well, dem start out by giving me gun to drop off. yuh know, so dat di police wont stop mi kah mi a pikni. Dem initiate yuh too. Yuh drop off weed an' a get fi yuh. Yaav earn dem trust dem time deh. All mi a pree seh mi nuh waant dem man deh kill mi, suh mi do whatever dem seh.<
b>DAMIEN: So, how you got involved in actually having your owna gun and going pon mission?
HIM: Well, dem did see mi did brave, I guess.
DAMIEN: How did you feel about hurting people?
HIM: Mi wasn't that evil still enuh. Mi never did a kill innocent people, Ooman, ole people. Mi nuh believe iina dat. We must respect elders and di ooman dem and good gawd man, wa kinda man will kill likkle pikni? Yuh affi av a beast heart fi do dat. Mi really did a deal with dem wicked man dem in other gangs...Some details are omitted so as not to incriminate myself or the young man who trusted me with his truth.
DAMIEN: So what make you change?
HIM: Well, mi is a godly yute still. Mi ever used to prayer. All wen mi a go pon mission, mi a pray and when mi come back mi a prayer. mi never did really comfortable still. But it wasn't until police hold me and den dem threaten fi kill me, mi seh mi kyaahn continue fi live suh...
This particular young man would, on many occasions, come to me and sit for hours because he was resisting the urge to pick back up the gun. The gun and the gang afforded him power, respect and money. Now that he had left that life behind, subsistence proved difficult. Armed with no skills and a police record, no-one would hire him. At least he had money while in the gang. His only hope was in finally making it as a musician (Perhaps this explains the annex between violence/criminality and Jamaica's music industry) and God. He shares some of his material with me and I am blown away by his undeniable talent - talent that many may not have even seen or expect.
He hopes to give back; to help the youth understand that there is no real life with the guns, girls, gangs and ganja. He writes and reads English well, though very fluent in Patwa. He has dreams like everyone else. When questioned about what he thinks will help prevent the youth from a life of crime, he responds, "Guidance, man, guidance AND opportunities."