Inside the mind of a criminal
It was on May 8, 2003, exactly 11 years ago, that I met 'Chen Chen' -- real name Bashington Douglas -- at his hideout in the hills above Crawle (some call it Kraal) in Clarendon, the day after the Crime Management Unit (CMU), under the leadership of SSP Reneto Adams, had shot and killed two men and two women at a small house from where the police said they were greeted with gunfire.
At the time I had my talk with Chen Chen he was wanted by the police and, after signalling that he wanted to meet me, the lead-up to actually meeting with him at his little shack was like something out of a B-rated movie.
First it was by cellphone after I had arrived for the second time in as many days in the sleepy rural district.
CC: Weh yuh deh now?
MW: Past di house coming up a hill, near to a turn
CC: Yuh si a likkle goat track pon di left?
MW: Yes, mi see it.
CC: Yuh si a donkey tie out?
CC: Stop deh so.
In a minute I saw a man coming along the track, and as he waved to me I exited my car, locked it up, and made my way up the incline. Chen Chen's hideout was a wooden shack of about eight feet by seven feet. It had a small bed, a little wooden table, printed matter lying all over the floor, and posters with the faces of his heroes form the walls of the windowless shack; Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Haile Selassie, Mandela, and many more of those of black heroic stature.
The printed matter was more than an anomaly, because Chen Chen was illiterate and his dreadlocked friend who sat with us was his teacher and mentor. It was not so much about teaching him to read and write as it was about imparting to him the philosophies espoused by the faces on the walls.
My mission in meeting him was the purely simple one of breaking a story, and the secondary one of trying to break into the mind of a gunman. He was short, about five feet three inches, and had a most unpleasant looking face. As we spoke his friend lit up a chalice and Chen Chen puffed on a ganja spliff.
My line of questioning: Where was he when Adams and his men approached the house? "Mi did deh pon di verandah, and as mi si dem mi jump off, run round di side a di house, and tek off inna di gully as mi hear nuff shot a buss."
"Did you have a gun and did your guys fire on the police?" I asked.
"My gun way up inna di hill unda a stone," he said as he began to cry unashamedly. This was quite surprising to me. In another minute his personality did a rapid turnaround as he told me that he had retrieved his gun, sneaked back to the death house and, through bushes, had been watching Adams and his men in the aftermath.
His faced went through a range of contortions, which went from pure hate to despair as he began to scream. "Ah wonder if the boy Adams did know seh mi coulda shoot him r..."
Then his voice tapered off as the heavy sobbing began again. "Him murder mi woman, murder har!" as his voice rose again and the sobbing gave way to a most evil twist of his mouth and another scream.
"Mi haffi murder di bwoy Adams! Mi haffi murder him!" Then the crying began again. He was getting me quite scared. But to ease the tension I reached across and beckoned to him and he handed me the spliff. I took two puffs, inhaled, blew out the smoke, and gave it back to him. I slowly began to ease into trying to penetrate his mind.
The trajectory of his life from childhood was a picture of poverty, criminality, nasty politics, arson, and gun deaths at every juncture, and is basically a template for the making of a criminal. If my memory serves me right, growing up in the inner-city pocket of Homestead in central St Catherine, his father was absent from the beginning and he was raised by a grandmother whose house was torched when Chen Chen was just a boy. An uncle who was close to him was involved in community criminality that was mostly politically based and managed in the 1970s and 1980s.
"From long time Adams seh him want mi, and him mus' get mi. And mi leave Homestead and come up yah and a cool out and nah gi nobody nuh trouble, and di man still come yah so and murder mi woman." Then the blood-curdling scream again: "Mi mus murder him!"
As to Chen Chen 'cooling out' as he called it then, he told me that the gold-mining outfit in Crawle, known as AusJam, had 'employed his services' at $30,000 per month to protect their equipment at the river close to where they were operating. According to him, it was close to a place near the river that he kept his gun stashed away.
Others said that he was extorting the company, but beyond that, no one was saying much. It was obvious that in such a sleepy district, Chen Chen had no reason to stir up animosities and attract the police. On the other hand, he would easily be the most feared man in the district, coming as he was from Homestead where his criminal credentials had preceded him.
A factor which made Adams the darling of the disconnected middle class in Jamaica is that he drove fear into the hearts of organised criminality and their head honchos. But the downside was that as he and the CMU dealt with one particular community. Some of the gunmen who lived to tell the tale fled to other districts, some as sleepy as Crawle, until they were not so sleepy anymore.
Chen Chen seemed to have invested a lot of faith in the dreadlocked attorney-at-law Miguel Lorne, who he spoke of in glowing terms and believed was the only person who could assist in freeing him from what he saw as many unfounded allegations against him. To Chen Chen, he was the misunderstood victim who was never ever given a chance to lead a quiet life. To him, those who had come out on the wrong side of his gun had had it coming to them because they were the ones who had come gunning for him. He saw himself purely as a grand victim of circumstances, and that sentiment came out especially when he was in another of his sobbing phases.
In what would have been the most obvious and final part of the trajectory of the life of Chen Chen, three years later in 2006 in the nearby community of Pennants he was cut down by bullets and met his death. I am certain that even to the very end he saw himself as a most misunderstood victim who was made so and had no choice but to play the hand that was dealt out to him.
When he died there were many others who rejoiced.