Cokes turn to Christ - 'Sandy' now evangelising; 'Dudus' pursuing theology course in prison
Six years ago, the tough-talking Camille 'Sandy' Coke was regarded as one of the most influential women of the troubled and poverty-stricken West Kingston community, where she and her siblings grew up.
So, when the security forces were sent to execute an extradition warrant on her older brother, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the former Tivoli Gardens strongman, in May 2010, she was among a number of persons who were rounded up and taken into custody. Languishing behind the bars of the Duhaney Park Police Station lock-up for several months, and with her hopes of freedom fading, she became desperate. With nowhere else to turn, she said she fell into the comfortable arms of God.
Today, the prayer warrior is no longer influencing people in a negative way, but is busy in the streets praying and encouraging others to follow in the path of Jesus Christ. But she is not the only one of the Coke clan who has decided to turn to Jesus.
Her sibling, Dudus, who was extradited to the United States on drug-related crimes, is pursuing a theology course in prison, she said.
Camille Coke did not provide details about her brother's theology course. However, she said, "I have been praying for them (Dudus and another brother Leighton 'Livity' Coke). I prayed and ask the Lord to transform the heart of Dudus when he is about to be released. It is the same prayers I prayed for Livity when he was in jail for four years. Look at him now. He is not the same person. He has been attending church, and if you ever hear him pray, you cannot believe it is the same Livity."
Her prayers are to one day see her two brothers, Dudus and Livity, become powerful men of God, preaching the word.
The hunt for Dudus provoked violence among his supporters in West Kingston. More than 70 persons were killed controversially during an alleged gunfight between men loyal to him and members of the security forces. Scores of persons, including his siblings and spouse, were hauled behind bars, as law-enforcement officers went all out to find him.
In 2011, he pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges in connection with drug trafficking and assault. On June, 8, 2012, he was sentenced by a Federal Court in New York City to 23 years in prison.
It was while in jail, Camille Coke said, that Sharon James, the mother of Tesha Miller, shared the scripture with her and that prompted her to make a change in her life. Miller was the alleged leader of the St Catherine-based Clansman gang, one of the most notorious gangs in the country.
"During the months in jail, at points I became so emotional because I did not even know why or what I was arrested for. One day, they took in a lady who was much older than me. I beg of them to put her in my cell. That lady turned out to be the mother of Tesha Miller. She was a praying woman, and when my hope was fading, she was the one who encouraged me and let me know that only God could fix the problem. She would pray at least three times per day in jail. I was convinced and later decided to give God a chance in my life," the 44-year-old businesswoman told The Gleaner in an interview recently.
According to her, it was not the first time that she was turning to Jesus Christ.
"On my birthday on October 1, 2009, I woke up in tears for no reason. I could not contain myself. There was this strange feeling inside of me. Not sure what to do, I then called up some of my friends and told them that I was not going to die in sin, I was going to get baptised. They did not believe me. The following year, I found myself in jail during the incursion," Coke explained.
She said while detained, she wept and kept asking God to reveal to her why she was in jail because she had done nothing wrong.
"But when God wants you, he puts you in some places to let you know that now is the time. So if God has washed and cleansed me of my past, who are you to judge me? There is a stigma attached to the family name Coke. When people hear the name, they immediately create a negative picture in their minds. Does nothing good come out of Nazareth? Well, I am one of those souls and I can testify to that. I am active in my church. I give God all of the glory," the self-styled evangelist said.
Though the stigma still hurts at times, these days she ignores the negatives. It is a survival strategy she said she learnt from her late father, Lester Lloyd Coke, alias Jim Brown, who was often referred to in the 1980s as the Tivoli Gardens enforcer. He died in a fire at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre while awaiting extradition to the United States on drug- and murder-related charges.
"My father was a very disciplined person. He was the one who would do the flogging. From a tender age, he taught us that you cannot chose the family you want to be born in; that is left up to God. What can I do? I cannot do anything but to just prove myself. I am living for my God. When I was in the world, I was more shaky about stuff, but now that I am with God, it's not what you think. It is about God and his glory," Coke said.