View from the prison van
What an entertaining and introspective night it was when hundreds of people heeded the call to suspend "sewo" to explore through drama and dialogue the root causes of violence and seek possible solutions.
The star of the production Montgomery Richards, playing the role of Geraldo, gave a heart-wrenching performance as the abuse meted out by his mother and even the school teacher shaped his discontent with the system and eventually became a prisoner.
For the main actor it was a role which was not new to him because he was a victim and served several times in the state prison, and even in other territories by the time he was 18 years old. He made this true confession as he doubled as part of the esteemed panel in the discussion stages.
Mothers who battered and abused their children saying they were no good and who wanted to be just as their no good fathers who were always absent, "depositors of spermatozoa" as Assistant Superintendent of Police Claude Weekes so aptly coined it.
There was a simple simple where the sound effects of sirens and changes of gears were mimicked by the 'inmates' themselves; they also juxtaposed/doubled roles as girlfriends, Geraldo's mother, neighbor, friend and as Geraldo at certain stages of his own development which led him to a life of crime.
The transformation of the prison van or more aptly the bus to that of the courtroom was smooth. The verbal as well as physical abuse that Geraldo faced was represented in quick succession at stage left and right, from teacher and mother.
Geraldo became a victim of his own circumstances and took time off to have a heart-to-heart talk with the audience asking if he was the only one guilty when he was about to be sentenced having now committed the ultimate crime…murder. The enwrapped audience understood and sympathized and the answer was a resounding "NO". We were all guilty and so the heart-to-heart dialogue by way of a panel discussion commenced.
Police Superintendant Yvonne Alexander who served as the chair for the discussion provided a definition of violence and gave a background and explained different faces of violence. Matilda Popo of the Youth division set the pace with a fervent plea to the family to play their role in the lives of their children.
ASP Claude Weekes, one of Dominica's renowned orators, was straight to the point as he punctuated his presentations with anecdotes about the deprivation he endured in his very own life and was still able to rise up from the ashes and make a meaningful contribution to society. Weekes' no nonsense, honest and blunt approach resounded well with full house at the Arawak.
Montgomery Richards, who played Geraldo earlier on, was also part of the panel and like the former speaker spoke from the heart, from his own experiences as a onetime prisoner, a multiple inmate both in Dominica and overseas. His message hit home as audiences remain glued to his story while his aunt who he called "Mother" was called out as the one who really took care of him. Now married with a family, he was in the best position on the panel to plead to the hundreds of youths present with their families, to make that change, 'break the cycle of violence' - POWERFUL.
Vincent Richards, a prison warden, though much less inspiring, or animated presented some statistics and information on crime and violence and the confessed distrust shown by some parents even when they were trying to change.
Among the over ten persons from the audience who posed questions and made comments was one youth who lamented that parents sometimes don't believe them, do not listen and dismiss what they as children, had to say. Probably this was in fact where the problem really lies-parents , society, community, government, teachers, police we all need to look in the mirror and examine our failures and investigate the root causes of violence around us and our roles in breaking the cycle.
This exercise brought out youths, families, church organizations, youth groups and several police recruits. It was financed by the Juvenile Justice and Reform Project (Magistrate Gloria Augustus coordinates local activities) geared toward positive engagement and change for the region's youth. As an advocate herself Augustus co-wrote the script with a Trinidad counterpart; it was directed by Curtis Clarendon.
We trust, as Matilda Popo indicated that this was not just theatre and a talk but rather an exercise that would inspire change as we deal with the mounting violence predominantly among youth in our country.