Clifton Hunter High School opened its doors to the Youth Anti-Crime Trust on Friday for a series of lectures on the causes, consequences and penalties of a life of crime.
Throughout the day, Year 8 students were shown what offenders face on a daily basis.
The theme of the Youth Crime and Prevention Day was “Loss of Freedom.” It included videos and lectures addressing such issues as the use of guns and offensive weapons; gangs and the dangers of gangs; bullying; life in prison; sexually transmitted diseases; and crime, drugs and sexual trauma.
Students also watched “Unspeakable,” a video that confronts sexual abuse of children in the Cayman Islands.
Anthony Stewart, a police presenter, said it was important to get the message of the dangers of firearms “the earlier the better.”
On the subject of video games that often focus on guns and violence, he warned that “guns are dangerous weapons and guns kill. There is no coming back from it,”
He said parents often avoid speaking to their children about gun violence. “If you are going to get them games [that] have anything to do with guns, you need to make the child understand this is just a game. The reality is, having a gun in your possession is a crime; use it, it is a crime,” he said.
Personnel from the Family Resource Centre, the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, Her Majesty’s Prison Service, local churches, Hope for Today halfway house, and social services shared their experiences in dealing with behavioral problems and crime.
Youth ACT, a nonprofit organization, created the program to address and implement effective responses to antisocial behavior and to reduce and prevent youth crime. It was formed in 2012, and the first pilot programs were delivered in May 2013 to students of various government high schools.
A drug addict’s dream is never to become a drug addict, Pastor Mitchell Exctain told students, adding that their dreams once had been just like theirs – to be a footballer, lawyer, accountant, game creator, film star or gymnast.
Pastor Exctain and Brent Hydes, director of Hope for Today, a halfway house in West Bay, spoke with students on the subject.
“A lot of things come into life that steal and destroy your dreams, but you need to protect your life, and protect your dream, be your own best friend,” said Pastor Exctain. He described what happened to him – a person with big dreams who became a drug addict, criminal and prisoner.
His best friend offered him crack cocaine and he was foolish enough to try it, he said. “I lost everything,” he said.
Now free from crack cocaine addiction, the pastor gives thanks to God that his life has been restored to him. “I had to make [the] right decision for myself and be my own best friend. Protect your destiny,” he told the students.
Addicted to cocaine for 32 years, Mr. Hydes told the children that once a person starts taking drugs, they often don’t know when to stop – the best decision is to just not start.
“If you choose to do wrong and make bad choices, there are consequences,” he told them.
He started high school telling himself it would not happen to him. “I too wanted to become a professional football player and the opportunity did present itself, but because of my activity, and all the drugs I had put in my body, other things in my head seemed more important,” he said.
Mr. Hydes left Cayman to go to Chicago to play football and when he got there, he went out to celebrate. One drink led to another until he wanted the harder substance.
“The progression of illegal substances can be detrimental to your health. When you put drugs in your body, we don’t know where it will takes us,” he said.
Over the last 19 years, there have been 37 murders committed in the Cayman Islands involving guns – 23 of the offenders have been convicted and are serving time, the students heard.
Police Officer Stewart gave students an opportunity to see a gun at close range and to learn how offensive weapons cause death and injury.
He said acts of violence in a district create a stigma which can affect the whole community, and which can eventually broaden to other communities. “Firearms have no head, heart, feeling or respect. It is not a toy. Once a person pulls a gun, it is lethal,” he said.
Students were also shown a training pistol – a replica of an original handgun – and a 9 millimeter bullet, which Officer Stewart said cost just 15 cents but can cause untold mayhem.
He told students gun convictions can ruin travel plans. “If you get involved in gun crimes and convicted you will pay the consequences,” he said.
If found in possession of illegal firearms and found guilty, you will automatically go to prison for 10 years, he warned. A criminal record below six months may expire after seven years, while a sentence of less than 2.5 years can lead to a 10-year criminal record. If convicted for 2.5 years or more, your criminal record stays for life.
“You can be treated as an adult for gun crimes as early as [10 years old] – once you know right from wrong,” he said. This had students asking a lot of questions.
“This is the stage you take on responsibility, bearing in mind you do something bad, you will pay the consequences,” he said.