Hard road to an honest living
I don’t want my son to remember me as a criminal, says Westmoreland man
At 10 years old, he watched as both the police and gangsters invaded his home in search of his two older siblings, who were criminals.
By age 15, he was left to fend for himself after his mother left to seek greener pastures in the United States, and one year later, he became a father when his high-school sweetheart gave birth to his son.
Age 26 and now a single father, Jason Cargill* is desperately seeking employment to avoid the growing temptation of entering a life of crime, but the opportunities to earn an honest living seem frustratingly far off.
“I am raising my son by myself from he is nine months,” Cargill told The Sunday Gleaner. “The very day she took him off the breast, she handed him to me and said she was not ready for such responsibility and left.”
But having grown up without ever meeting his father, Cargill was determined that his boy would always have him around.
“The opportunity to rob or kill or even scam is right there at my fingertips. It happens around me every day, and it is easy loot for some, but I cannot explain where the strength come from to stay out of it. I don’t want my son to remember me as a criminal,” he said.
“My mistake of getting her pregnant so early should not be a sentence of doom for me or cause my son to suffer,” Cargill argued.
At one point, Cargill left his son with relatives and sought work in neighbouring parishes, but the cost to sustain himself, pay the caregiver, and provide for his home defeated the purpose.
“I will do anything that is honest living. I saw how the police handle my brother’s situation and how even those who were not involved suffered because of their actions, and I don’t want that around my boy,” he told our news team.
Earlier this year, Cargill got a six-month stint as an attendant at one of the public hospitals on the south coast just as his now-10-year-old son was diagnosed with glaucoma, but despite the increased pressure on health facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was released from his job, and his plea with the hospital administration for consideration after they rehired others who were sent home fell on deaf ears.
“I understand that it was a contract, but I was enjoying my job and it was putting food on my table, and I was able to provide him with the eye drops that he must use until I can get his test glasses,” Cargill said.
“I did not care if it was cleaning the floor. I felt happy when he asked me for anything, and I could provide it because he is used to having very little. It makes me wonder if it is because of where I am from or if I did not clean the floor well,” Cargill said. “It makes illegality (crime) a viable option, especially when your child is hungry.”
Residents of the Coke Street area of Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, have been embroiled in a bloody war with neighbouring communities for decades, and community leader Bishop O’Neil Russell, pastor of Ark of the Covenant Holy Trinity Church, said that there are several well-meaning youngsters like Cargill in the seaside village, who have faced discrimination because of their address.
“They say it is a community that murders and robs people, so when the youngsters who want to make an honest living go to seek a job, they are being rejected,” said Russell, who is also the president of the citizens’ association. “It is not everyone want to be in a life of crime. Some just want an opportunity, someone to believe in them, but the system has failed them, especially the police.”
Clinical psychologist and transformational coach Dr Susaye Rattigan, founder of Thrive Behavioural Health and Wellness Services in Montego Bay, St James, says Cargill’s determination to be a law-abiding role model for his child should be supported.
Rattigan pointed out that a child who is raised in an environment that does not foster one’s optimal functioning could result in the wrong role model being chosen.
“If they don’t see a lot of people leaving that environment, and there is a lot of suffering and violence, then you will feel that the possibility for you is quite limited,” Rattigan explained. “Most kids tend to have a lot of aggression and irritability and they do not learn adequate coping skills or how to deal with situations as they arise, and that diminishes their self-esteem and self-efficacy that they can be different.”
Rattigan noted that the constant rejection in seeking a job can also act as a trigger in one’s mind, a reminder that they are not valuable in society, pushing them to seek relevance in any form.
“If you are being told every day that you are not worth it by people not hiring you or discriminating against you or talking down to you at the interview, then you are left to find alternate ways to build your self-esteem, and that for some people is grasping at anything, including criminality.”
For such persons, community-based intervention measures can be a life-saver, and the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) is one entity credited for helping to transform some of Jamaica’s most volatile communities, including western Jamaica.
“PMI provides life skills training, livelihood support, as well as do visitation and offers mentorship,” said Lindon Baldwin, administrator of PMI Western. “We also have a feature called ‘Pon di Corna’, where we give them an opportunity to express themselves.”
The 19-year-old entity also channels community youths in areas that they can find training opportunities at the HEART NSTA/Trust, the Social Development Commission, or local extra classes.
“We also help them to get back in school,” Baldwin told The Sunday Gleaner about intervention measures for high-school dropouts or at-risk youngsters. “Because of the antecedent, at times, they are expelled or placed on long suspensions, so we would work with the guidance counsellor, principal, and parents to ensure that they are back on stream and able to function.”
*Name changed to protect identity.