Former Death Row Inmate Turns Disciple for Peace

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By the age of 17, Anthony Currie was deep into a life of crime, slinging guns in sections of Kingston.

At age 18, he was on the police most wanted list for murder, and at 20 he had resigned to the idea that he would take his last breath at the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre where he was sentenced to death.

After escaping the gallows and given a fresh taste of freedom, the former gangster is now a disciple of peace, working with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), to steer the nation’s youth away from crime.

The PMI was established by the government in 2002 as an alternative approach to the use of force and to reduce violence in communities across Jamaica.

“I use myself as an example when I am speaking to them (youth). I tell them ‘I used to fire gun even more than unnu, but at the end of the day it’s your life against the prison, the hospital and the dead house,” said Currie, who spent 22 years behind bars before he was released on parole.

How It Started

The former death row inmate said he grew up in Clarendon, attended Denbigh High School and, while in high school, had dreams of being a political journalist. His career choice, he said, was fuelled by his love for politics, and a desire to help his community.

After moving to Kingston some years later, he got involved in community activism, and from there he started hanging with the “wrong crowd”. Consequently, he became the target of gang members.

He turned to the gun to defend himself.

“Somebody told me about some people who had some guns and me and a group of boys go in about 2 o’clock one morning, raid the area and found three guns. Coming out of the yard we got into a shootout and that’s where it started for me.”

“My main thing was to assist people. All during them time I was still trying to assist, but when the hits were out for me I braced more on the gun to defend myself.”

At age 20 he was nabbed by police during a curfew in the Gordon Town area of St. Andrew and was charged for four murders.

Three of the charges were later dropped when he went to court, and he was tried and found guilty on one.

“December 1978, I was sentenced and sent to Spanish Town District Prison to be executed.”

He was on death row from December 1978 until his death sentenced was commuted to life imprisonment in 1987 following a successful appeal.

“While I was on death row, 53 youths got executed. Of that 53, 40 of them came there after me, and the other 13 were there before me.

After being removed from death row, he was transferred to the General Penitentiary (GP) in Kingston. While at GP he became more socially involved in activities and successfully formed a football organization. He also got a job in the bakery, making bread to supply other prisons and police lock-ups.

Always hopeful he would one day be released, Currie said he took the opportunity to learn a marketable skill.

“While in GP, a local Kiwanis club brought in some architects from Canada to teach a course. I did the two-year certificate course in Blue Print Reading, Metric Measurement and Construction, and got my certification.”

After 22 years behind bars, Currie got his taste of freedom on June 15, 1999 following a successful application for parole. He went to live with relatives in Spanish Town, and got a job as a construction supervisor, utilizing the skills he learned in prison.

Community Involvement

Still driven by his passion to help others, he joined the Benevolent Society in the Shelter Rock community in St. Catherine and started voluntary work. He later got involved with the PMI and was trained as a violence interrupter to help steer youth away from violence.

“You can’t just see a youth and say ‘done with the crime’. You have to bring them to the table, and get them to understand the situation around them, and that’s what I am doing with the PMI.”

“I tell them ‘when you get caught up in crime you can dead at any time’. I was one of the lucky ones,” he said.

While admitting that he regrets venturing into a life of crime, Currie said he still believes there was a purpose.

“If I could do it all over again and avoid the prison I would be a political journalist. But, sometimes it’s not everything you want you going to get. I love journalism and politics, but there was a first love, which was to help people. I am out of prison now and still trying to help people.”

“It’s not about money; about getting paid. My dream is to see these youth learning to read and write, get a trade and stay away from crime,” he said.

Related Article: PMI Working with Ex-Offenders to Interrupt Violence in St. Catherine

-Nedburn Thaffe

JIS Social