Tough road back for an ex-con
Having served time in prison, Raymond Brown thought he would have completed paying his debt to society upon his release. But he has found that living with a criminal record is not easy.
The 36-year-old father of two told the Jamaica Observer that after his release in 2011, he has been unable to secure a stable job because of his record and some “antisocial” behaviours he learnt while incarcerated.
“Mi have a criminal record weh a create some serious, serious setback fi mi. Mi actually kind of give up on the corporate world,” said Brown. “Mi tired fi deh here and a say a when dis ago change. Mi try whole heap a things; a whole heap a rèsumè mi drop off fi di past three years, enuh. One an’ two place might respond and say dem no have no space available.”
Brown, who said he attained four CXC subjects while incarcerated, added: “Mi coulda a sell insurance now, enuh and ’cause a di criminal record di man say, ‘Raymond, you a one a di perfect person mi interview for the position’ …but is in the last part of the interview him just casually say, ‘you nuh have no record though, Mr Brown?’ and on the basis that I have a record, mi couldn’t go further,” Brown, disappointment in his eyes, stated, adding that the same has happened in other interviews.
Though he has received counselling, Brown said it’s still a struggle to suppress his prison flashbacks.
“Mi did get work one time with [a popular hardware] but you see the experience with prison leave mi a battle with some antisocial issues like anger, aggression, short temper, sometimes depression and isolation. So mi deh a work and sometimes when mi deh deh mi a have prison flashback, and is like the antisocial thing start wake up inna mi; so like on the second day mi start work, me and somebody catch up under the camera and mi did affi end up at HR,” he said.
Despite the struggles, Brown expressed his determination to succeed and recently opened his own business — a restaurant that serves $100 box lunches in Fletcher’s Land, Kingston.
“Is a food and beverage business weh wi do some chicken and fries, some $100 cooked food, rice and peas, French fried chicken neck, curried turkey neck,” he explained. “Wi try fi cater mainly for the grass root people weh we know can’t really afford the $300 or $400 food.”
Initially Brown had started the business in his yard on Mark Lane in the community. However, he has relocated the two compartment wooden structure to Stable Lane, which until recently was riddled with garbage before Brown said he cleaned the area.
“Mi go find the lane in a completely deplorable condition, in terms of pure rubbish and dead animal with maggots. The road was like a rubbish heap, piled high with rubbish from top right down to the bottom, plus whole heap a bush and stones,” Brown related. “So mi go with mi little cutlass — not even gloves mi have — and mi actually clean up the entire lane till all the principal so impressed, him allow mi the opportunity to set up the cook shop on the school (Kingston High) property outside a him perimeter fence near the football field.”
For Brown, the restaurant is more than just an income earner as, though he is settled on a small plot, his dream is to give his community a facelift.
“Mi use it as a kind of platform to really serve my purpose in life,” he said. “The business might be slow now and wi nuh do nothing about three weeks because wi nuh have nothing to sell, nothing to cook. But mi kinda tek the business operation off mi mind for now and a try see if mi can get some help where mi can get legal connection with light, legal connection with water so mi can really get fi fulfil or recognise the dream, which is to give the place a complete facelift and also promote the area as a restaurant, farming therapy site.”
That, Brown figures, could help the depression he said he experiences daily.
“The name of the restaurantis Culture Twist Restaurant, and the whole concept is to try to create that indirect twist to the kind of negativity and gun violence in the Fletcher’s Land community,” he told the Sunday Observer.
He noted that his two-year-old son is his chief motivator to succeed and help bring change to the inner-city community. At the same time, the hopeful entrepreneur said he does not want his current location to be the permanent place for the business.
“A him mek mi swallow pride and ego and all dem ‘stupidness’ deh and mek sure say mi live according to how God want me fi live, and fi provide fi mi family and fi contribute seriously to nation -building,” Brown said.
“Mi feel like him future threatened once him inna the Fletcher’s Land community because of the negativity that takes that central position in the culture for the community, and him very sensitive and him grasp things very fast,” Brown stated, adding that because of his time in prison, he was not able to bond as well with his first son who he said is now studying natural sciences at a university in Singapore on scholarship.
Although he has started his own small business, Brown said that he is still facing obstacles in realising his dream.
“It’s a struggle,“ he said, pointing out that over the past few weeks the restaurant has been idle because he was unable to replenish the stock. “Mi still find myself haffi out on the road a walk up and down and beg,” he admitted. “Mi beg so much that mi a get tired and it a affect mi self-esteem and attack the core of mi manhood weh as a big old 30-odd-year-old man mi walk up and down a stretch out mi hand and mi have mi whole heap a qualifications. It really mek mi feel awful inside and mi feel angry more time and frustrated.”
He even confessed that he has been so desperate that he has watched people at an ATM and contemplated robbing them.
“A dah level deh it reach, and mi nuh want fi see mi a mek di news inna no negative way,” he said. “Mi think mi go through enough negative already weh affect even mi relationship with me first son, weh mi couldn’t bond with him good because a pure prison, prison. Mi waan done wid dem thing deh.”
Though he has received a refrigerator and a deep fryer from Missionaries Of the Poor for the business, Brown said he was grateful, but noted that the business still needs more help.
Pointing out that his “family is at stake” and “on the verge of walking out on him”, Brown said that he is dire need of assistance for his business or with employment otherwise.
“Mi think mi a try fi employment too long and cyaan get nothing. A no one nice feeling when yu little son a jump up inna yu lap with him bright, pretty eye dem an him a say ‘bag juice’ and you can’t even buy him one bag juice — big old man. And your baby mother deh deh and she have the patience with you; if you go out and beg and you come in with one $500, she patient with you,” he lamented.
Brown said he completed a short course at B&E and Training Institute in bar tending, waiting and food preparation. He said he started to pursue a bachelor’sdegree in entertainment, culture and enterprise management at the University of the West Indies. While in prison, he also completed a course in automotive technology.