Ex-Con Using 20-Year Prison Experience to Save Youth

Special Features

All it took was a homemade “one pop” gun for Dave Sewell to earn the respect of some persons in the St. Catherine community of Lakes Pen, and the ultimate title of ‘Area Don’ during the 1990s.

Over two decades later, the former Lakes Pen don looks back with much regret, revealing that he paid the “ultimate price” for his life of crime.

“My experience in prison would never allow me to go back in anything involving criminal activities because I not only felt it; I felt it the wickedest way.  Death row was the ultimate. The only thing I didn’t face is death itself in prison,” said Sewell.

The 50-year-old, who was sentenced to death for murder at age 27, escaped the hang man’s noose and is now working with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), under a Violence Interruption programme, to bring peace to troubled communities in St. Catherine.

The PMI was setup by the government as an alternative approach to the use of force and to reduce violence in communities across Jamaica. The PMI works closely with the Ministry of National Security.

Dave Sewell’s story began in the Lakes Pen community in St. Catherine at a time when the area was torn by gang violence. He recalled that after witnessing several gun attacks on his community by men from other areas, he decided to do something about it.

“Me and mi friends decide that enough is enough, so we build a thing them call ‘one pop’ (gun) out of iron and start defend wi turf, until we got a barrel gun.”

“From firing guns, I became one of the dons, or area leader in my community. Because of that, any crime that took place in the community I was the first person police held on to when they come in the area,” said Sewell.


After years of criminal activities, Sewell and an accomplice were charged with murder, convicted and sentenced to death.

“While on death row I had many friends taken to the gallows; my co-accused was taken to the gallows. When you lock up somewhere and you know you can dead any day you just give up.”

“Being on death row at the time was like being in hell. I hear people talk about hell; I think I have been there.”

He spent five years on death row, before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

After 20 years and six months behind bars, Sewell was released from prison in 2013, following a successful application for parole.

He told JIS that after he was released from prison and returned to his community, many were expecting a battle for turf, believing he would have wanted to reclaim his don status.

He was never interested.

“Most dons who come back from prison would want back (control of) the community, so other people expected it would be a battle for turf, but my experience in prison; what I have been through taught me a lot.”

“I tell every man I am not here to run anywhere. I am here to just live; try to be near to my family and kids.”

 Work in the Communities

Sewell said even before he started working with the PMI he was on the ground in the various communities spreading the message of peace.

“When I just got out of prison I kept a party in Lakes Pen and people from Quarry Hill, Lime Tree, Cross Road who never crossed borders for years because of gang war, I went out and invited all of them.”

“People start crossing borders now since I am back in my community,” he said.

The former death row inmate-turned-violence interrupter said with assistance from the PMI he has also established a successful football tournament in Lakes Pen to help maintain the peace. He has vowed to use the ordeal he experienced in prison to help youths stay away from crime.

“My vision is to use my experience in prison, impart it to the younger generation and see if I can reach even a few of them.”

He added: “If I could relive my life I would stay far from gun, far from crime. To how I hate gun I wouldn’t even want to be a police officer. I have a special hatred for gun.”

JIS Social