KINGSTON, Jamaica — Incarcerated dancehall veteran Ninja Man is asking the government to assist him in the formation of a rehabilitation program he says he will be more than willing to spearhead. In a four-page letter addressed to Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding, the deejay shared that talent and skill are abundant within the confines of prison which he says is only going to waste under the current rehabilitation system.
“There are a lot of unused skills that are going to waste. I feel that I being institutionalised should be more than just for punishment. I am not here to buy guns or form gangs, I am here to change the mindset of the youth and I am asking the government to assist me with restarting a rehabilitation program that I am willing to spearhead,” a part of his letter read. “We have great tradesmen (mechanics, body-work professionals, carpenters, furniture makers, etc) in institutions across Jamaica who simply wake up in the mornings, take a shower, get fed, play football and get back into lock-up,” the letter read.
Ninja Man is serving a life sentence for the 2009 murder of Ricardo “Ricky Trooper” Johnson in Kingston. He was found guilty in November 2017.
In his detailed correspondence to the country’s leaders, Ninjaman said he’s already communicated his thoughts and ideas to the prison’s Superintendent and the Deputy Commissioner of the prison and has requested a meeting with both. He expressed that following that encounter, he wishes to meet with Prime Minister Holness, the Minister of National Security and the Chief Justice.
Highlighting that a vast majority of prisoners enter the system at a young age, the entertainer said the justice system needs to find a better way to utilise the talents of these young people.
“A huge percentage of the people inside these prison walls came in at an early age; their best years are spent there. Their chances of making something good of themselves are tarnished…while we understand that a prison system must be in place, I do believe that the system, in the interest of all Jamaicans, should find a way to rehabilitate those who are at some point scheduled to return to the general populace,” he wrote. “The men and women who are incarcerated should be given some hope that when they return to society they will have options, or more than likely a great number of them will return to the very thing that got them locked up in the first place, maybe worse.”
“Computer classes, technician classes, mechanical among other things, should be implemented. There are furniture makers who could make furniture, the furniture could be put on the auction block by having a yearly auction. A system could be set up where the general public can have their vehicles repaired, painted, accessorised etc at a cost lower than what is being offered on the outside. The prisoners involved in these work programs could benefit from a percentage of the proceeds; the greater percentage goes into an account for the institution that could be used for repairing the buildings among other things,” he added.
Ninja Man, whose birth name is Desmond Ballentine, noted that if a prisoner has a child, a portion of the money could go to that child and a small percentage could be deposited into an account for that prisoner for when he leaves the institution.
“He (the prisoner) will have something to give him a new start, thus reducing the risk of him going back into society penniless and resorting to crimes in order to survive,” Ninja Man said.
In response to Ninja Man’s letter, leader of the Opposition, Golding agreed with the incarcerated musician, stating that emphasis should be placed on the importance of rehabilitating individuals in the prison system.
Outlining that the deejay’s insight is “worthy of serious consideration with a view to action,” Golding said he believes the Government should embrace and explore the ideas outlined by the entertainer.
“Your insights, stemming from first-hand experience, are worthy of serious consideration with a view to action. The issues you have raised regarding the inadequate attention to rehabilitation, and the lack of post-release employment or other income-earning opportunities, are pressing matters that demand the immediate attention of the Government, with support from the Opposition and Civil Society.”
Golding also highlighted his willingness to help facilitate rehabilitation efforts.
“I therefore hope that the Government will facilitate a bipartisan and inclusive process to move this matter forward. I am ready and willing to play my part.”
Golding thanked the deejay for his willingness to spearhead the rehabilitation efforts and encouraged him to keep pushing his agenda.
“Your commitment to spearheading a rehabilitation program is commendable, and I am willing to engage in discussions on how we can make this vision a reality. I accept that observing the conditions first-hand will be important for us to gain a greater appreciation of the challenges and the potential solutions, and I am willing to be part of that process. If invited, I am also willing to participate in the meetings that you have requested with key stakeholders, including the Prime Minister, Minister of Security, Minister of Justice, and the Chief Justice,” Golding’s statement read.
The Opposition leader says he believes Ninja Man’s voice can play an important role in "forging positive change in the correctional system, which is an important dimension in our people's mission to achieve beneficial national development.”