How prison changed one young man’s life

BY JEDIAEL CARTER Staff reporter carterj@jamaicaobsever.com

Saturday, July 23, 2016

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Incarceration is not often paired with gratefulness, but for Jevan Smith, it is what changed his life for the better.


Smith was who some would term a juvenile delinquent. At age 17, he was charged and placed at the Metcalfe Street Juvenile Remand Centre.


His transformation came last year April after his release, when the now 18-year-old benefited from the ‘New Path’ programme — a project designed by the Organization of American States (OAS) aimed at improving the lives of at-risk youth and youth in conflict with the law.


"They are some good people to help juveniles like me because they change me," Smith said in praise of the programme.


"My past life was very bad," he admitted. "[In] 2015 I was in Metcalfe. I spent four months and two weeks there."


Launched in 2014, the project seeks to offer support for youth to address their emotional, social, educational and economic challenges to enable the successful economic and social integration of the affected party. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the project also targets detainees at the South Camp Juvenile Remand and Correctional Centre.


Smith, who is from Seaview Gardens in St Andrew, said that the programme has made him into the man he is proud to be today.


"I got locked up for robbery with aggravation and was incarcerated," he hesitantly told the Jamaica Observer with a look of disappointment across his face.


Ironically, Smith noted that he turned to crime as a means of funding his education.


"I did get signed for six subjects and Government pay for mathematics, my mother pay for English, and my sister pay for business, so I had three outstanding fees and so that’s why," he stated.


"But it didn’t work out anyway and I didn’t get to sit any of the CXCs," he added.


While incarcerated, Smith was selected to participate in the OAS programme and was interviewed among other detainees. After his release, he said he was immersed into the New Path programme where he received life skills training, behavioural expectations in the workplace, résumé writing, dressing appropriately for the work environment, and interview techniques.


He said that although he was released in April, members of the A New Path programme constantly called to check on his progress and even got him into a job at Ping’s Fabrics in Kingston.


Employed to the warehouse, Smith said he is responsible for unloading containers, among other warehouse duties.


"They got me this job and believe me, I walk off it enuh. Me walk off a di job," Smith said. "Cause a mi first time working an di work complicated at times an mi get frustrated an me young, me walk off a it," he told the Sunday Observer.


"Den mi girlfriend got pregnant an me neva have no way to get money, an me neva want go back to weh me did a come from (crime), so I call her (Lorna Ford, one of the persons involved in the project) and tell her say, ‘Miss Lorna, you know that I got someone pregnant and I do not have the support to maintain my family,’ and she said it’s ok and she say me must go back to Ping’s, but me neva want do dat," added Smith.


"And she a pest mi ‘go back to Ping’s go ask for a second chance’, but me in myself did a say dem goodly shame me ‘cause me walk off a yuh job an den me ago show up back myself an ask fi a second chance. But mi hide mi fear an go back an dem willingly tek mi back an ting," he said with a smile.


Now Smith is looking to start his own company in a similar industry.


"Well I was considering to sell fabrics like how me deh inna it and me know it now," he told the Sunday Observer after stating his participation in the OAS’s Pitch It initiative.


Under the framework of the New Path initiative, an entrepreneurial project aptly dubbed ‘Pitch It’ offers youth like Smith an opportunity to start and operate a small business.


The OAS has set aside $9 million to provide grant awards to fund entrepreneurial ideas of the youth involved in the project.


An OAS document stated: "In order to access the resources, the participants will present their business idea to a panel of judges who will pick the best ideas. These candidates will be awarded with the grant [and will also be provided with training, and mentorship in how to set up and run a small business. Training included the development of the business plan, financial forecasting, marketing (including market segmentation, branding, labelling) and life skills and their importance in the business environment."


Smith, a candidate in this initiative, is vying for a grant award of up to $500,000 interest free.


"Me a have a little more interest in di fabrics. Di way me did a pree fi do it, if me a do fabrics me wouldn’t sell weh dem have, so you cyaa go there to get it, you have to come to my store. An you cyaa go Pablos go get it an you have a next fabric store, you can’t go there go get it either, yuh affi come a my store," he revealed.


‘The Pitch It’ initiative is an additional activity comprised of three different phases that seeks to engage the youth in entrepreneurship ventures.


Smith also told the Sunday Observer that he intends to attend CXC classes in September, in a bid to complete his high school education.

  

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