BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer Staff Reporter email@example.com
A 1991 Gleaner newspaper headline read: 'Sleepy to hang for murder'. Today, Michael 'Sleepy' Adams is out on parole, after 24 years in prison, and determined to keep as many youngsters on the outside as he possibly can.
Only two months short of his 50th birthday, Adams, now a Christian, is going from community to community speaking to the youth and leading them down the opposite path to crime.
[It is] "my aim and my determination. I am trying my utmost best and I will put my life on the block not to see a next youth go to prison for 24 years or reach the dead house because of crime," Adams told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.
Adams said that one of the most-effective tools which the Government could use to curb crime in Jamaica, by releasing elderly prisoners, 50 years and older to reach out to youth bent on making crime their livelihood.
"The government is saying that there is no space in the prisons and that it is costing them one million dollars a year to care for one prisoner. Let them out, because they would have done their time and they can come out and be more effective. When you keep them in there until they are 70, what are they coming out to do? They can't give back anything to society at that time," Adams reasoned.
"When I look at it, you have guys who are presently in institutions right now who are elderly men who can give back, because they were a part of the problem and after a man reach 50, 55 and 60, let them out. Every day you bawl that the crime rate is going up, but the solution to the problem lays right behind bars — use them back into the system to motivate the youth. Because if you check the population of the institutions, you have a lot of men who have done their time."
Adams said that, from his experience, many young men enter into crime because of the mindset that they have of wanting to make a name for themselves.
"When you look at it, those guys are just searching, they are hungry for socialisation," the murder convict said.
"They just want to be able to relate. They want to be somebody, they want to know that their names are at the top of a list — any list! That is what it is about. They just want to know that 'I am' and it doesn't matter which list they end up on and by what route," he said. "Because I have seen where it is like the guys dem having a race to see who can reach the funeral parlour first, or who can go to the prison first we have to talk it like it is."
But, Adams said, not all those behind bars are guilty of the crimes for which they were charged, but they are there because they were unable to afford lawyers to defend them.
"A lot of guys are behind bars who are innocent. A lot of them! But because they cannot afford a lawyer, a lot of guys who are innocent are on death sentence," he said. "You literally have one law for the rich and one for the poor. I see the person who doesn't have money heading in one direction, because there is confusion in the system. So the law is there, but for who? If you look clearly, only one set of people going in prison — the poorer class."
In fact, while admitting that he ran with persons like Jim Brown and Claudius Massop, notorious gang leaders, Adams said that he himself was among the statistics.
"I was sent there for murder only because I was standing somewhere when something occurred," he told the Sunday Observer in an interview last week. They asked, and I could not give the information which they needed, and the police officer told me 'I know it's not you, but if I cannot find who do it you are the one who is going to pay the penalty', and because financially I was not in a position to defend myself. I had a lawyer, a prominent lawyer, but he walked off the case while I was in court because the judge told him that he should have been in court earlier. So he walked off the case," Adams explained.
"I was given a death sentence, and up until now no one has said I killed anyone. Any charge that I should have been charged with is conspiracy. But I was given a death sentence and spent 24 years behind bars," he stated.
But rather than being bitter to a system that cheated him, Adams said that he has remained positive by ministering to other inmates in the Spanish Town Correctional Centre and other institutions that he has visited. His aim was to get inmates to change their ways of thinking.
"To be frank, it is not a bed of roses," he said. "But, despite the circumstances in there, you can make it what it is. But I can tell you that prison cannot change anybody. It wasn't because of prison why I became a Christian. It was because I was there looking into myself. Because really and truly the same things that happen outside the prison happen in the institutions — murder, crimes, same way."
Adams admitted to being one of those who got guns through politics during the 1976 and 1980 political uprisings that hit Jamaica when persons strongly believed that guns were given out in the garrison communities to win votes by politicians.
"I am not going to tell you that I am an angel. I was involved in crime. In 1980 and 1976 when the politics occurred, a lot of things happened. But at the time you young and you were searching for a life, which I can now say is no good. Now I can testify that it's no good. But at that time I was inexperienced."
He stated that it is the same scenario that is reaching many young men who are looking for a way out of their situations today, especially those who feel that education is useless, since they can earn more through crime.
"Because you know and I know that no 16-year-old can buy a gun. None!" he said. "Where does the gun come from? We all know. We don't make guns here (in Jamaica), so how come we can find so much guns? And we talk about it every day. Why something else apart from the guns not coming in?" he asked rhetorically. "You have boys 13, 14 and 15 who are doing the crimes right now."
Adams said that, while the Government is bent on giving the police more guns, more vehicles and building more prisons as a way of fighting crime, the number of persons behind bars could be greatly reduced if those who have been there are allowed to reach the youth.
Adams, originally from Cockburn Pen, said that he lived the life of a refugee moving from community to community without calling any his home.
"I just did what I used to do to survive. So I did whatever it took. So everything that you can think of in the way of survival, I did. If you know about 1976 and 1980 you would know that the country shut down. It was like dog nyam dog. And you had to learn to survive. And if I overcome 1976 and 1980, I can overcome anything," he said.
And, while Adams, who has been out on parole since May, is busy doing what he can in transforming lives, he said that he is able to be effective because his name was known in earlier days and has been on the lips of many, even while he was behind bars.
And with no role model to look up to, and with crime seemingly being the way out for them, many have been waiting his return to hear how he was able to do the things that he did in order to learn the craft.
"Now that I am out on parole I have to be talking to the youth, because they hear about 'Sleepy' and many of them were looking forward to meeting me. So now I have to take them back to school because they are listening to people and they are being used for the wrong reasons," he said.
"All the youth in the community now look up to us, so we have to try to mould them. It's not easy, but it can be done. I'm telling you if fish come up and say shark down there, believe him. I lived it. Is not anybody live it and tell me. Is me live, it so I can tell you. People can change. I have lived a life — a dirty life in a sense — and where did it put me? I believe that we as ex cons can help big time. Because we were part of the problem so we can be a part of the solution."