Let's maximise and promote Mr Elvis Thomas's message
THOMAS... mi wouldn't want anybody fi end up a prison; nobody at all. (Photo: Oneil Madden)

Given the pervasive nature of crime here, we wouldn't be surprised if the first response of most Jamaicans to Mr Elvis Thomas's story in this week's Sunday Observer was an absence of sympathy.

After all, Mr Thomas, who is now 41 years old, spent 24 years in prison on a murder conviction.

Based on the information he provided to our correspondent, Mr Thomas was what most Jamaicans would call a "bad pickney", and when he was 11 years old his father decided that he had just about had enough of his trouble in the house.

The upshot was that he became a child of the streets, becoming a regular resident of juvenile prisons, the last one being Hilltop Juvenile Correctional Centre in Bamboo, St Ann.

Unfortunately, after he had completed his time at Hilltop and returned home, his father, he said, told him there was no place there for him, so, at age 17. he found himself back on the streets.

True to the play book of many teenagers who find themselves in similar circumstances to Mr Thomas, he started associating with the wrong people in his community. The natural outcome was a life of crime, which led to his murder conviction.

We could never condone Mr Thomas's action that put him in prison. At the same time, though, we note his expression of remorse and the fact that he used his time inside to sit five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects — English language, human and social biology, information technology, mathematics, and principles of business — and obtained a grade one in all of them.

Luck came his way through a woman who, he said, visited him in prison for more than four years and, on his release, got him enrolled at Excelsior Community College, where he pursued an associate degree in automotive engineering.

Today, Mr Thomas has assured us that he is a changed man. In fact, in our story on Sunday he issued an appeal to young people to learn from his experience.

"Youths should learn to obey adults," he said. "It may sound like they're trying to hold you down or cramp your style now, but when you reach another 10 or 15 years you're going to realise that everything that the adults had been saying is true. Just learn to trust people who have been set to guide over you."

He also implored youngsters to resist the urge to get involved in scamming, telling them that the best way to empower themselves is to acquire a skill and an education.

"Don't try to end up in prison for 20-odd years before you learn," said he.

That's sound advice.

This message, though, could be even more powerful if the authorities are able to develop a formal and sustained programme under which Mr Thomas, and other Jamaicans with similar experiences have frank discussions with young people in schools, community groups, and other places where youth gather, all in an effort to sway them from deviant behaviour.

At the same time, based on Mr Thomas's testimony, there is work to be done to improve conditions in the prisons, even as the correctional service provides educational opportunities for inmates.

Humane treatment of those in our prisons is essential to the rehabilitation process.

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