Wed | Aug 5, 2020

Coke convict gives youths new lease on life

Published:Friday | July 31, 2020 | 12:10 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Gary Simpson, security guard at the Rollins Enterprise Centre in Rose Town, on July 28.
Gary Simpson, security guard at the Rollins Enterprise Centre in Rose Town, on July 28.

Being caught with 38 kilograms of cocaine in the United States in the 1990s landed Gary Simpson prison time and a one-way trip back home to Jamaica. But instead of harbouring regret and wallowing in self-pity, he has helped steer the children of Rose Town away from a life of crime.

Simpson, a member of the Rose Town Foundation, is the security guard at the Rollins Enterprise Centre at the corner of Dove and Hamilton streets in the community, a haven for children in the usually violence-plagued area. It is also one of two locations from which the foundation operates within the area.

Simpson enrolled his son in the centre’s learning programme a few months ago. That chance decision made him realise just how hard it was for teachers and caregivers to engage with behaviourally challenged children.

“In these types of communities, the kids like to gravitate to the negative direction,” said Simpson. “They already grow up in a community that is violent, and we don’t want the rest of the kids to grow up the same way the elders did.”


Simpson said that he uses his personal narrative of failure and recovery as a source of inspiration for children. He pointed to the need to nurture confidence and self-esteem in children who are often victims of peer pressure.

He remembers the rough and tumble of growing up in the United States in the 1970s. Assimilating into American society was difficult, he said, especially among that country’s black minority.

“I didn’t have problems with white people. I had problems with black people. They used to style me as banana boat and all kinds of things. I used to cry to my mom that I wanted to come home.

“... You start following and acting like them and start doing the same things that they do, for example, not going to school all the time, going into the store to snatch candies and run out. It led from there to selling all kinds of illegal narcotics,” he added.

Simpson’s advice to youths in poor, gritty communities across Jamaica is to tap into skill programmes and to stay away from crime.

Ruth Jankee, executive director of the Rose Town Foundation, said that since its establishment in 2010, with support from the Prince’s Foundation in the United Kingdom, the community has benefited tremendously from its services.

The foundation acts as a bridge between Rose Town and other communities and offers to transform deep-seated negative values.

All the employees and volunteers are residents of the community.

The foundation began its focus on infrastructure, particularly on the high-value issues of roads and water. The Rollins Centre facilitates an education programme and a backyard urban farm.

Jankee’s organisation has collaborated with the National Land Agency to help people to source background information to support their applications for land titling.

“We also support community members in terms of getting access to the services at government ministries, agencies, and departments, whether it is your TRN, birth certificate. A lot of work is done with HEART to provide training, job skills, and we provide those linkages as well.”