‘It wasn’t me’
Neither talent, skill nor intention could save Michael Gardine from himself and a life littered with jail time and hard knocks.
Having grown up in the tough east Kingston community of McIntyre Villa (Dunkirk), Gardine admitted to running with the wrong crowd, but said it was not something that he did which resulted in him spending some two years in prison back in 1974 when he was almost 19.
"I was riding a bike on North Street with the owner on the back when police stopped us, but I didn't have a licence, so I panic and ... jumped off the bike and jumped a fence, then I noticed that my leg was bleeding as I had been shot," Gardine recounted, as he showed The Sunday Gleaner what appeared to be a bullet lodged in his leg.
"I ran, because it was a Friday and I didn't want to go to jail as I wouldn't get to come out until Monday. So I ran into a house and hid under a bed, but the persons were frightened and ran out screaming and the police came and dragged me out. Same time I hear them say a place got robbed, so because them di shoot mi they frame mi.
"But dem time deh, as a young youth, mi did mix up inna things, so mi did just have to just take that as my calling (punishment)."
Linked up Bob Marley
According to Gardine, when he was released from prison he linked up with music icon Bob Marley, whom he credits with saving his life. Today, Gardine still holds the late reggae superstar as his mentor.
Gardine ventured into music under the stage name Kush Dan I, with his most popular song to date being Jah Law of Love and has also made appearances in two films: Heartland Reggae and Jam Down. He, however, said for all the music he has done he did not receive royalty payments and has not been able to profit financially.
"They sing over eight of my songs in Canada in French right now and all now mi nuh get no money," Gardine claimed.
Gardine landed in prison again in 1988 in the United States, and this time for a crime he admits to having committed.
"I sold crack cocaine to an undercover agent, something I was so ashamed of, because being of the Rasta faith I should never have got caught up in that," said Gardine. "But I was smoking it and got soaked up and get all gunshot in my neck, so I spent a year on Rikers Island.
After serving his prison time, Gardine was deported and arrived in the island too late for his father's funeral.
Gardine thought he had found somewhere for his family to live when they moved into the unoccupied house at Upper Ivy Road. He lived there for 14 years before he was eventually evicted in November of last year.
This was not before he had sued the owner of the premises he was squatting on for $50 million for all the work he said he had done on the property and the duress he allegedly suffered during the titleholder's attempts to have him removed, and the years of taxes he had paid.
He lost the case, with bailiffs eventually putting him and his family out on the street.
Gardine is now claiming that some of the money he invested in the property belonged to his son, a former strongman for incarcerated area leader Donald 'Zekes' Phipps. His son is now serving time in prison overseas and Gardine is worried about what will happen if he is unable to repay the money.
"When my son come from prison a foreign what mi a go tell him say? When him come and ask 'weh di $100,000 weh yu put down fi mi'? Weh mi muss tell him say? Mi spend it off over dah yard deh. I am praying say mi son don't come back a Jamaica, that dem just mek him stay a foreign."
Accused of vandalism
Since being evicted from the premises he had called home for more than a decade, Gardine has been accused of vandalising the property, but this is a charge he has rejected.
According to Gardine, because he no longer occupies the premises on Upper Ivy Road on the edge of Arnett Gardens in south St Andrew, it is being vandalised by men from the area.
"You are going to put me out of the place and I must watch it same way? I must be responsible for it same way? I must kill people over it?" questioned Gardine.
He said it was a similar story when he moved into the unoccupied premises in early 2000, as it was then "infested with thieves and murderers who were plaguing the community and taxi operators".
But the property owner, whose name is being withheld, is not convinced that Gardine, well known for being in conflict with the law, was not involved in the recent removal of several windows and doors from the property, and pointed out that after he was evicted from her property he moved into premises nearby.
"Every time I try to sell the place he drives away the potential purchasers with threats and he takes down the signs and run away the real estate people," charged the property owner.
"I sent somebody down there recently and they said he was over there and have key and a go in the place like him live there. I chained up the gate, because I don't want anybody over there. He is the one that stripped the place, other people told me that. He believes because he was fixing up and doing whatever he is entitled to whatever is over there.
"I just want this man out of my life. I don't know which back door him come through come in my life and I just can't get rid of him," declared the property owner.
But Gardine, now 59 years old, says he is done with that property as he struggles to ensure that he has somewhere to shelter his common-law wife, five-year-old daughter, son, stepson and himself.
According to Gardine, his stepson, 30-year-old Orville Bentley, was left mute and in a vegetative state after being shot, while allegedly trying to help an injured person, during the 2010 security forces operation in Tivoli Gardens.
But the challenge of dealing with a stepson who is unable to help himself is not daunting to Gardine, who confessed to our news team that his reality includes being shot on two occasions, wrongful imprisonment, rightful imprisonment and deportation.