BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter email@example.com
BORN again ex-convict David Chang, 46, who has been jailed over 100 times, has 36 convictions, and has served eight years in prison for manslaughter, is now asking that his record be expunged so that he can serve his community as a Justice of the Peace (JP).
"I have gone to prison four times. I went to jail over 100 times and is one time out of all that time I went to jail innocently. I used to be in and out of jail, because I was an allround criminal," Chang told the Jamaica Observer in an interview on Thursday. "I used to pick pocket, grab chain, break into house, rob people, loitering — I get charge for all those things — name them and I was charged for them."
But according to Chang, who is now the pastor of the 50-member Majesty Transformation Fellowship Church in Majesty Gardens, his sole desire now is to serve his community and give back to the nation as much as he possibly can.
"I have been out (of prison) 15 years now. I am a reverend, I have a visa, I travel overseas. I have been doing a lot of community work and I can recommend anybody like any other pastor. But what is happening with me is that the conviction is still in the way," he said.
"The community need a JP and they have recommended me because they do not have any JP down there in Majesty Gardens because the community has developed now and I am an active pastor in the community right now, but there are certain things that a JP can do that a pastor cannot do. And there are certain things that a pastor can do that a JP cannot do. The law says if you spend over five years in prison your record cannot be expunged," he said.
According to information from the Ministry of Justice, expungement is the process of having a conviction removed from one's criminal record after a specific period of time has elapsed, and certain requirements are met.
The statute authorising expungement is the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, 1988 (Act 18 of 1988). The principle underlying this provision is that a person who has made a sincere and successful attempt to live down a conviction should be given the opportunity to start afresh without being haunted by his/her past.
In order to qualify, two essential conditions must be satisfied by an individual: namely that the offence in question must be one which attracts a non-custodial sentence or a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding three years.
And two, that the person in question must not have had any other convictions during a specific period of time referred to as the "rehabilitation period".
"My desire is to also become a chaplain for the prison one day because I want to give back to the prison the same way I am giving back to this nation," Chang said. "And in order to become a chaplain in the prison I need to clear my prison record."
Chang said that he made an attempt to have his record cleared four years ago but was told he had to re-apply.
"But I believe that men like us need to get a chance. I could probably be the first one who is making this request," the ex-convict said. "Maybe there are others out there who have similar requests but for me it is a need... Even if I get a green card to go overseas you need a police record so I really need to clear my record. And I have people in high places who can recommend me," he said.
Chang said that he was in fact guilty of the murder for which he served two years in remand and six years and one month in prison. The crime was committed in Montego Bay after he and two cronies broke into a house and shot the female occupant.
"I used to do crime for a living. That is what I used to do to survive. I never know any other way. I ran away from home since I was eight. So I was young and in the streets," Chang said.
He explained that he ran away from his Red Hills home because he didn't have a father figure after his parents separated.
He then went to live with his grandmother in Jones Town where he saw other men committing crimes. That influenced his decision to become a gunman.
"That was my dream. Because the gunmen had a lot of girls and it was like the gunmen got nice things and they were respected, so as a little youth I said I wanted to become a gunman. And this is where I grew up and fulfil that dream as a teenager," Chang said.
At the age of 15, Chang was arrested for breaking into a club in New Kingston. He spent one year in the Half-Way-Tree lock-up before returning to the streets a more hardened criminal.
"A lot of people think that prison soften a man, but prison only made me become a better criminal. So when I came out after a year I was terrible. When I was there other inmates taught me to pick pockets, fire gun and all those things. So when I came out I felt I was a better criminal at age 16. And so this is where all the mess really start. It was like I graduated from a college. So now I was all over the place, couldn't read and write or anything."
It wasn't until his last incarceration at the South Camp Adult Correctional Centre that Chang focused on his education. He left the institution with two CXC subjects — Mathematics and Physics. He later continued his studies and earned another two subjectes — English and Principles of Business.
Chang completed his first degree last year in Theology and is looking forward to starting his Master's degree next year, after which he intends to pursue a doctorate.
"I believe that the Government should have some leniency," Chang said. "I am not telling them to change the law. But when a man can be recommended then they can look into it. For example, I went to the (American) Embassy and they asked me if I was ever arrested and I told them yes. I confessed my crime to them and they gave me a 10-year visa. And I have been travelling back and forth, just like that. So if the US Embassy can do that to a Jamaican, then the Government could do the same. So they could take a leaf from the US book. Because a man like me they shouldn't hold back on me because I am already out there. People in high places can recommend me. Some of the top superintendents in this country and I are friends. And I believe I can give back," he said.
Chang, who was 27 when he converted to Christianity in prison, said that while he is busy in full time ministry, he is active in his community as well as adjoining communities helping young people. He said that over the last 15 years he has helped over 100 persons to fulfill their dreams to become nurses and teachers, while others are still in college, courtesy of sponsorship sought through him.
"I got persons into high schools, universities, into practical nursing, got employment for persons, so I am doing great work down there. I have sent young men overseas to places like Africa, China, United States — God has favoured me. God is using me to do great things. I believe that God has a plan for my life," he added.
He said too that when violence erupts in the community, he is the one called in as the gunmen listen to him.
"I believe that the Government should have men like us who are rehabilitated and that people can recommend to work along with them to help solve the crime in Jamaica," Chang said. "Police get the training but we have the experience. So the Government need more men like us to help."
Chang explained that having a criminal record exempts him from government work or getting a licence to operate a public passenger vehicle.
Michael 'Sleepy' Adams, who works alongside Chang in spreading the gospel, said Chang has truly changed from the juvenile he once knew and is now making a difference in the lives of many.
"As a juvenile he was searching. Those times he was cross, miserable and him red!" Adams said. "As fast as you can turn you would hear Chang do something again. But those are the things I look back on to say that people can change. Because when I listen to his testimony now it make me grow even more. People can change and at the end of the day you have a conscience and a mind. I work with him and he is doing a lot in the community."
Chang, who was on the country's most wanted list in 1990, said persons in the community are even asking that he serve as councillor and have recommended that he serves on the constituency executive of the ruling People's National Party. He has, however, refused.
Chang, who revealed that he was a hitman during his ciminal days, said he regrets his actions then, but while he cannot change the past he wants to change the future.
"I'm sorry and wish I was never involved in crime, but things like this happen. But all of my intention now is to give back. So I am not here pretending I was never a rude boy. But I see where God has been so good to me and I want to give back. So my whole heart wants to just give back.
"I don't see how I could be involved back in crime," he said. "All the little youth them now look up to us, so we have to try to mold them. I really want to help with the crime rate. I believe that we as ex can help big time with the crime. Because we were the problem so we need to be the solution."
He said he is presently forming a Christian group, named 'Men on a mission', whoiise members will go into the prisons and into communities to speak with criminals about changing their lives for the upliftment of the country.
He has also started writing his book From prisoner to a pastor, which he hopes will be a testimony to others.