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Crossroads to progress
In this series, the T&T Guardian takes a look at homicide statistics for the country and the areas where they occur. FABIAN PIERRE asks: why are they so different? In the first part, people who started out in poverty, in deprived areas, speak about their lives and why they turned out so differently.
Shawn Madhoo, a 21-year-old university student, was thinking about the question he’d just been asked.
“Cricket was all we knew.”
The T&T Guardian showed him the police statistics for homicides for 2012, 2013 and early figures for 2014, and more specifically that the majority were committed in urban areas.
Madoo grew up one street down from Jerningham Junction in Cunupia. The once famous site for sugar cane would come to service his father’s agriculture and animal husbandry, he said, but it also saw the roads come alive with cricket.
“My father was a big cricket man, almost at the professional leagues, and my oldest brother was a hero to us when we were growing up. Every evening my other brother and my sister and I looked forward to him coming home on an afternoon to play cricket in the road.”
Madoo said sport in general was the only outlet he thought about when he was frustrated or angry.
Did he ever think about turning to crime following a tragedy that saw the family’s fortunes dwindle to near nothing?
“I never thought about it. Everyone I grew up with—even up to now, it’s a community and sport was one of the things that took precedence.”
Thirty-five years ago, in a village in Barrackpore slightly south-east of the village Shawn Madhoo grew up in, Daren Ganga was born. Ganga, a former Test batsman and T&T captain, smiled and eventually chuckled in recognition of Madhoo’s story. While he and Madhoo don’t know each other, their stories are strikingly similar.
“My life was shaped by the community, and though I might not have been on the village senior team, I would still sit on the sidelines watching the game.”
The founder of the Daren Ganga Foundation, he said that as with Madhoo, there were other factors important to the shaping of his mind and life.
“While cricket was a big thing for me growing up, education was equally important.
“Then there was agriculture. Waking up on a morning and having to bring water to water the crops, I mean, it was something else that I had to do that was a constructive part of discipline in my life growing up.”
Sheldon Alfred, 29, grew up in Morvant, one of the areas considered a hotbed of violent crime.
“I grew up with people that were to eventually become involved in crime. You hear about what is done, who might have been involved in something violent.
“But I never saw that life as something I wanted to be involved in and neither did my parents want that for me.
“I always saw the easy way out as leading to the hard life,” he said.
Alfred now heads the IT department of a large medical corporation but has chosen so far to remain in Morvant.
Jean-Claude Cournand and The Two Cents Movement
His voice was raspy, having come off an intense and highly successful run as part of April’s Bocas Lit Fest at the National Library in Port-of-Spain.
Jean-Claude Cournand, the founder of the Two Cents Movement, a spoken-word organisation, created the Bocas Poetry Slam competition this year.
The 24-year-old psychology major told the T&T Guardian it could have been a very easy slide for him into violent crime but there were a number of factors that intervened, whether by coincidence or design, that changed his course.
Cournand grew up in four different areas along the East-West Corridor, but most of his early years were spent in Macoya and Trincity. He said on reflection his formative years could have led him in a direction far away from the success of his spoken-word concept.
Different paths, similar lives
While these four men have different lives and never met, the stories they shared spoke to several key factors that they believe saw them developing similar mindsets.
Alfred said, “I remember that my father was always asking me to prove why I should receive something that I asked for, so I made sure my report card would always look good before I got what I wanted.
“‘All right,’ he’d usually say, and then he would ask me to explain why I deserved it, and then he and my mother would ask me to prove it.”
But when asked about the others he grew up with, Alfred painted an intricate picture of what he describes as unusual balancing acts of unspoken agreements and understanding in Morvant.
“My father was well known in the community in sport when I was growing up, he’d constantly be ‘taking a sweat’ with some of the same fellas that it was known were violent criminals, but there was an understanding on their part that my dad was not going to be involved in what they were doing and neither should his children be recruited into that. So the family was left alone.”
He said many of the people he grew up with eventually did get involved in criminal activity but they weren’t going to risk breaking that unspoken agreement when it came to him.
“And that’s the odd thing: my father was respected, and it was never out of fear. I mean, look, here’s the strange thing too, eh, many of these people I grew up with are good people inside.
“But there were so many things that eventually led to them going where they ended up and when you talk to these fellas, they are actually nice people,” Alfred said.
“I mean, yeah, the idea is that everybody from Morvant bad, but not everyone so.
“Even these same fellas who involved in thing, they, I mean, some of them, when you talk to them, they are talented in so many ways you won’t believe.”
The avenues for support and nurturing of these talents were absent, he said, but their eventual descent has not erased their innate skills.
“Some of these people I know are so good at math and accounting—and I mean I guess they have to be, given the business that they in,” he joked, “that they should be trained in accounting.
“Frankly my opinion is that given the chance, they would develop.”
Tomorrow: What makes the difference
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