Shown that prison, gangs aren’t cool
No job, no money, no real friends, no freedom and a life of fear and addiction. High school children were introduced to some of the consequences of gangs, guns and drugs in a new programme aimed at cutting youth crime.*
Year 8 students at John Gray High School in George Town were the first to experience Crime Awareness Day – a pilot programme put together by the new Youth Anti-Crime Trust.
The students were put on “lock down” in a prison-style environment for the day with police and prison officers shepherding them between seminars from experts including a drug counsellor, a gang investigator and a magistrate.
The children also heard from a real prisoner about life in Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward and were shown a video interview with convicted gang member Sheldon Brown.
“I don’t know which kid in their right mind would contemplate being in a situation that I am in right now – 22 years in prison,” Brown said in the interview, played to youngsters as part of a presentation from gang investigator Chief Inspector Patrick Beersingh.
The detective said it was critical to get the message across to children about the real consequences of gang activity.
“We don’t use terms like ‘the don’ when we talk about gang members. We call them what they are – losers,” he said.
“I’m trying to tell these kids it is not cool to be a gang member. These guys spend a lot of their lives in prison, getting shot at or hiding from other gang members. A lot of them are broke most of the time. This is the reality.”
In another seminar, substance abuse counsellor Sydney Williams talked to youngsters about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
“It is not a case of scared straight, it is asking them to look at the logical consequences of the decisions they make,” Mr. Williams said.
He said he was trying to hammer home the message that taking drugs and alcohol could result in addiction, crime and disease.
“These choices will result in these consequences. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” he added.
Another classroom was converted into a mock court room for the day, with Magistrate Kirsty Gunn presiding.
Ms Gunn outlined some sentencing guidelines to the children, telling them they could face jail for threatening someone on Facebook or verbally attacking their teacher.
A real inmate, dressed in the orange prison jump suit, also answered questions from the youngsters about life in Northward. There were also presentations from a sexual trauma specialist, a senior police officer on firearms and a specialist from the family resource centre.
Tasha Ebanks Garcia, who helped organise the event for Youth ACT, said the idea was to give students information from experts who lived with the consequences of gangs, drugs and anti-social behaviour every day.
She added: “Part of it is experiential. Each group was assigned a prison guard and a prison officer. Some of them have a glorified idea of prison life. It’s important for them to see it is no fun having someone tell you what to do, tell you when you can and can’t go to the bathroom.”
Friday’s event was the first project organised by the new nonprofit organisation. Modelled on a similar programme in the UK called “Prison! Me! No Way!”, Youth ACT aims to take proactive measures to help keep youngsters out of crime.
Bonnie Anglin, chairwoman of the group, said the organisation had been set up in response to concerns over growing juvenile crime rates in the Cayman Islands. She said hearing from real life experts and people who had made bad choices regarding gangs and drugs could have a profound effect on children.
“We are not expecting overnight results. Our goal is to see a reduction in anti-social behaviour, detentions and suspensions with a long term aim of seeing a reduction in youth criminal prosecutions.”