To inspire Cayman’s youths to make better choices and take positive steps in the upcoming school term, former Northward prison inmate George Roper took the opportunity to address more than 50 youths at the FC International Football Camp last Wednesday at the George Town Annex Field.
Mr. Roper, who was released last year after 23 years of incarceration, talked about his past potential and the influence of his flawed decisions. He also talked about the difficulties of life in and after prison.
Mr. Roper said in his address, “I chose to be a criminal when I should’ve chosen to be a career-minded person. I should’ve chosen to be a doctor or a lawyer, or a policeman or an auto mechanic. Something. A plumber. But I chose the wrong people, and the result is I have ruined my life.”
Mr. Roper talked frankly about life in jail.
“They say prison is a hotel,” he said, “but it is a lie. It’s a hell … prison is all about taking your freedom.”
Mr. Roper, who has witnessed students graduate from high school and end up at Northward, encouraged students to remain in school and learn as much as they could to make their parents proud.
“Go to college and get that degree,” said Mr. Roper, “and come home and get a job and see what you deserve.”
Lavinia Doctor, who attends the camp for her love of football, thought Mr. Roper’s talk was “very inspirational, and a lot of kids should really look to him as what not to do,” she said.
Ms. Doctor, 15, who is an aspiring oncologist/obstetrician, said that Mr. Roper has set a good example for young people.
Another person to find Mr. Roper inspiring was 13-year-old Jason Kerr.
Currently visiting the island for the summer, Mr. Kerr, a student of Wolmer’s Boys School in Jamaica, decided to join the camp and found Mr. Roper to be very encouraging.
“In life, you have to make decisions, and the decisions you make, it tells on who you become in the future,” he said. “I have an interest in piloting and law as a career, and I’m not sure just yet what I want to be,” said Mr. Kerr. “But I have to have a focused mind and do the right thing for what I want in life.”
Mr. Roper said, “it’s always a pleasure when I get the opportunity to talk to young people to let them understand the mistakes I have made and where I am coming from.”
Wednesday’s speech was one of many he has given over the years, including while he was an inmate.
“It’s all in the effort so they don’t have to make another mistake or make the mistakes I have made,” added Mr. Roper. “If I can do that so that they can understand the downfalls, the pitfalls of prison and what it is to be a criminal and commit crimes, that is why I am out here – just to raise that awareness.
“I know a lot of ex-prisoners wouldn’t do it because they wouldn’t put themselves out there like that. But we have the future of Cayman at stake and we cannot have the entire future of Cayman locked up in a prison,” Mr. Roper said.
Acting Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis, who was invited to attend Mr. Roper’s talk, said “it was riveting, to say the least.”
He said that people coming out of prison and sharing their experiences with the community serve as a positive contribution, as they encourage young people to take their choices seriously.
“We need more people like Mr. Roper,” said Mr. Ennis.
Since 1994, FC International has hosted football camps annually, and featured different speakers to address the young footballers.
“Most of the speakers that come out carry a sentimental value, not only to the sport, but the Cayman Islands,” said Kennedy Ebanks, president of FC International.
In addition to Mr. Roper, other speakers included Renard Moxam, a former player on Cayman’s national football team; Cayman Islands Football Association President Lee Ramoon; Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Wil Pineau; and the acting commissioner of police.
“To have someone who had that experience and had that testimony to speak with the young people, you couldn’t ask for a better person, [and] he should be applauded for speaking to the young people the way he did,” said Mr. Ennis. “And I just commend him for that.”