No more ‘WICKED HEART’! - Former schoolboy gangster urges Jamaican youths to avoid a life of crime
Andrew Taylor was like scores of other Jamaican teenagers, full of energy and a determination to make a better life for himself.
But like so many other young Jamaicans, the challenge of living in a depressed inner-city community saw him being caught up in the alluring web of gangsters who promised a life of respect and economic salvation.
To compound his challenges, Andrew was being raised by parents who were both legally blind, with the socio-economic pressures just too much for him to resist the criminal lifestyle.
But unlike many of his peers who are now dead or behind bars, Andrew was saved by the love and dedication of his parents and the support teachers at his high school.
At age 24, Andrew is now a respected barber and a dedicated family man, who has seen some of the worst school violence, having been in the heart of it while associated with the 'Wicked Heart Gang' - a high school clique which had its origins at a prominent high school in the heart of Kingston.
"It was strange, as I actually passed my exam from Lannaman's Prep for Mona High School, but because my parents are Catholics and Daddy wanted me to get involved with a Catholic school, he used his links to get me into (a prominent Catholic school) in 2005," recalled Andrew.
A deadly turn
It was initially going smoothly for him there, as he navigated through grades seven and eight, doing well academically, but by the time he had settled in grade nine, things began to take a deadly turn.
"By then, it never mattered to me about learning anything at school, because all I cared about was having fun with my friends. I started experiencing certain things, like skipping classes, jumping the fence to go into nearby communities," told The Sunday Gleaner.
"And then my grades began to fall. But even then I never had much concern," added Andrew, who lived with his parents in Greater Portmore, St Catherine.
His father, Arthur, a deacon in the Catholic Church, a music teacher and guidance counsellor, is blind while his mother, Marlene, is visually impaired.
Being raised under those circumstances was a challenge for the young man. He said walking on the road with both his parents elicited laughter and jeers from some people, but that only made him strong mentally.
"Those were really tough times because although Daddy teaches at a good prep school, we never had it financially. But he is a trying man and he is always looking for another way just in case Plan A doesn't work," said Andrew.
The gangster lifestyle he embraced while at high school made him tough and uncaring, but he was also quick to identify the dangers that lay in wait for him and his friends.
"This gang, like most, I suppose, started out quite innocently. We were boys just hanging out together and defending each other against enemies, but it quickly evolved into something else, a more serious creature that was very hurtful to people," said Andrew.
"Many people suffered tremendously from being attacked by members of the Wicked Heart Gang, and things got worse around Champs (ISSA/Grace Boys and Girls' Athletics Championship) time for a number of years," added Andrew.
He said the gang had its tentacles in other Corporate Area high schools, providing a toxic mix of violence pushers.
"Gang members used to link up in Half-Way Tree; that was our spot and that's where many of the wars took place.
"It was a serious time back then. But I was lucky not to have been hurt and neither did I hurt anyone, but I had friends who were hurt and it slowly began to impact me."
With a life seemingly set on becoming a fully fledged gangster and with efforts at pulling him back in line with the norms of the school failing, Andrew was eventually expelled from the prominent high school.
Through his father's influence he was accepted at a nearby, less prominent school, and that was where the transformation began. Andrew was now guided by tough teachers who were determined to steer him on the right path.
He graduated with passes in five Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) subjects and was sent to an HEART Trust/NTA institution where he did barbering.
"That was not what I had planned to do with my life at all. I wanted to become an architect but we never had the money to further my study in that field.
"Barbering is what I live by now. It is what is paying me and I am grateful to my employers for the opportunity to be part of their team. So far it's been great. I am enjoying it and I love it now," said Andrew.
Now he is urging young Jamaicans not to be lured into a life of crime by gangsters, scammers or other criminals.
"It is not worth it. It nuh cut it. Being in a gang and a pree violence nuh worth it at all. I would urge young people to stay in school and get an education. Make mommy and daddy proud. Even if you are not a lawyer or doctor, you can make a positive difference in life," said Andrew.