Lives going up in (ganja) smoke
There was a boy I knew in high school who came from the tough community of Homestead in St Catherine, located off the Old Harbour Road in the parish. The boy was a superb footballer and had no less talent than many who are now plying their trade in Europe and the USA.
The boy wasn’t so good with his maths and English, but knew how to bend a ball over a wall and into the goalie’s net and, at his best, appeared to have eyes in the back of his head, which he used to spot the darting runs of his supporting full back before pinging a pinpoint pass into his path, without even lifting his head. The boy was good.
Given his talent and the fact he came from a garrison community where the thugs basically raised him, the boy developed a disdain for authority. He saw teachers as things set on him like duppies, trying to get him to conform to school rules and settle well enough in class to absorb his lessons.
But his company from his community gave him the brashness to disrespect any teacher without fear of sanction. His crew also gave him ganja. And, more than anything else, that appeared to hasten his demise.
Soon the vision he had on the ball field disappeared. The smoking took a toll on his fitness and he was no longer able to shuttle box to box as he used to. He disappeared from school, and, by the time of graduation, was forgotten by most.
He became a fixture at the entrance to his community, like a rubbish heap, sitting in the company of several men. Many mornings, as I passed him on my drive in to school, I could see the boy, grinding the ganja in his hand middle, laughing with a spliff jammed into the corner of his mouth, with a cigarette lodged behind his ear for use as the ‘blem’ or ‘grabber’ for the weed.
I saw him for several months until he just vanished. I asked about him and was told by another youth from the community that he had been shot and killed in a gun battle with the police in a place called ‘Africa’ in Spanish Town. I know his life may have been ended by a taxpayer-bought bullet, but in truth he had stopped living from the moment he became addicted to the ganja.
There was another boy at our school who was a fearsome fast bowler, regularly knocking over the best batsmen in schoolboy cricket. He hailed from March Pen Road in Spanish Town. He wasn’t a bright spark, but was reputed to be good in technical drawing and electronics. Because of his talent with a ball in his hand, even the posh girls in his grade fancied him, with many saying it was rare to see a cute cricketer.
The boy was on the verge of a national youth call up when he decided to get married to ganja. Long and short of it, the last time I asked about him years ago, he was working as a loader man on a truck transporting animal feed across the island.
The thing is, I could write all day about these real examples. Of real young men whose futures darkened quicker than their lips and fingertips were by the flame of the spliff, burning between their fingers and in their faces night and day.
I cannot mention one youngster who I grew up with who survived the ganja addiction of their teenage years and emerged to be productive members of society. Not one. There were brilliant sportsmen, scholars, artisans and artists damaged irreparably by the weed.
So in this period of weed decriminalisation, I ask our Government, where is the intense public education to try and save our young men? If we lost so many when the law was oppressive, how many will we lose now the law is relaxed?
When will the State start working to assist young men with promise escape the fate of the weed and ending up as labourers with incomplete formal education and a lack of marketable skills? When, Missa Minister?