'Badness a madness' - Ex-convicts give students reality check
Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
STEER TOWN, St Ann:
MEN WITH A Message, a group of reformed gang members and ex-convicts brought a reality check to hundreds of high-school students in St Ann recently, as the Community Safety and Security Branch of the St Ann police department held its symposium at the Steer Town Academy.
Students from Ocho Rios, Marcus Garvey Technical, Ferncourt, Aabuthnott Gallimore and York Castle high schools were transported to join their counterparts at Steer Town Academy to listen to ex-inmates describe their life in crime, time in jail and subsequent reform process.
The account by Daniel Barnes, aka Jah Lava, was particularly riveting, as he relived his experiences in Southside and his personal inner struggles between good and evil.
"I was once a gangster, a bad man, a don, but not anymore," Barnes told the students.
Barnes was charged and found guilty of murder and spent 24 years on death row before being released. He recounted his life experiences that culminated in his imprisonment, then his release and enrolment with the Citizens Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) and his fresh chance at life.
GRATITUDE TO GOD
"Glory to the Almighty, with Him all things are possible," Barnes said, as he urged the students to stay away from badness.
He said during his life of badness, his brother and father were murdered. His father, a former gangster, was shot 12 times, once to the head and 11 times to the body. But they were killed at a time when Barnes had started seeking a change so he did not retaliate. Because he did not retaliate, people started calling him 'soft'.
"There was a war inside of me, a negative and positive force," he disclosed.
With the conflict inside of him, he finally made the conscious decision to leave the community in order to make things better there.
"I chose to make a sacrifice," Barnes disclosed.
After a year of living "on the border line", Barnes said it was "the Almighty mi haffi turn to again; with Him all things are possible".
He enlisted with the CSJP and it was that programme that started the process to bring about a positive change to his life.
The CSJP is a multifaceted crime and violence prevention programme of the Ministry of National Security which focuses on building community safety and security. It is involved in some 50 vulnerable and volatile communities across eight parishes, providing crime- and-violence prevention services.
The Men With A Message come from some of these volatile and vulnerable communities.
Today, the CSJP has allowed Barnes to turn his life around.
From a gangster, bad man, don and convicted murderer, Barnes is now a certified welder, landscaper and customer service representative.
"Don't make the wrong choices I made," Barnes warned the children.
Corporal Natalee Williams, of the Community Safety and Security Branch, St Ann police, who organised the symposium, said the response from students was positive.
"The response was favourable and we believe that at least one youth will be saved," Williams said.
Barnes ended his presentation with a poem, 'Badness A Madness!'