Showing posts with label gangs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gangs. Show all posts

25 March 2018

Down in Montego

by R.T. Lawton

When the cold, snowy winds of winter come blasting across the Front Range, thoughts of Jamaica bring soothing visions of warm, sandy beaches, cool tropical breezes, a refreshing plunge into clear Caribbean waters, and perchance a local rum drink in a tall glass to smooth out a lazy afternoon. And that's the way it's been on the tourist end of the island for many years. But, with the increasing droves of tourists arriving on the island, along came problems, lots of problems.

left side of Montego Bay
As more and more tourists flew into Montego Bay's airport and more cruise ships tied up to their wharf, Montego Bay in the 1980's emerged as the tourism capital of Jamaica. To provide service to this influx of people with money to spend, native islanders moved to the city, seeking jobs and housing. This sudden growth left the city without enough places for these new workers to live. With nowhere else to go, the new labor force gradually moved inland, where in the local lingo, they "captured" land and built on it. Roughly nineteen unplanned communities, without the infrastructure of proper roads, street lights, addresses or other amenities, cropped up above Montego Bay. Existing roads were dirt, buildings were hidden behind zinc fences, and with all the congestion, the local police didn't have the manpower to effectively patrol these unplanned communities. Theft of utilities, such as water and electricity became common practice. Criminals soon found this uncontrolled environment conducive to their illegal activities. Gangs took over and the crime rates soared.

Harbor at Montego Bay
In St. James Parish, where these informal communities sprouted up, the chief criminal organizations went by names such as One Order, in the Flanders area; Killer Bees, in Granville; Piranha, in Bottom Pens; and Tight Pants, in North Gully. (For a fearsome gang to be named Tight Pants, I don't know if that was a fashion statement or if someone had a sick sense of humor.) At that time, the most infamous gang, known as Stone Crusher, ruled in the Norwood community. From 2002 to 2010, the Stone Crusher gang was believed to be responsible for most of the over one hundred murders per year in St. James Parish, of which Montego Bay is the parish capital.

With money and power being the main motivating factors for organized criminals, the major schemes began. The guns for drug trade is alleged to have been thought up by a Jamaican and a Haitian while both were serving time in a Miami jail during 2001. The Jamaican sent drugs to Haiti and in return, the Haitian sent guns to Jamaica. In 2002, part of the first shipment of guns was alleged to be used in an eight-hour gun battle against the police in the Cantebury section of Montego Bay. Three of the alleged gunmen were killed and three policemen were wounded. The police subsequently seized several high-powered rifles and over a thousand rounds of ammunition. Joint operations by the U.S. and Jamaican authorities later resulted in the arrest of several prominent Montego Bay residents involved in the crime and corruption.

With local and international attention being focused on the drug trade, criminals started moving over to the emerging lotto scam. Con artists in Jamaica would dupe Americans into believing they had won the local lottery. All the "winner" had to do was send money to pay the "processing fees." This scheme brought in an estimated thirty million dollars during a six year period. Rival scammers soon got crosswise with each other and turned to corrupt policemen and the local gangs for protection. At this point, the Stone Crushers entered the lucrative protection and extortion rackets. Lotto scammers who didn't pay up were murdered.

Police corruption ran rampant. Two local policemen were alleged to work for the Stone Crusher gang as hitmen. Those people living in the unplanned communities became afraid to complain of crimes against them. They no longer trusted the police. Political leadership was ineffectual. Pastors of local churches began to preach for a return to moral values. A local newspaper, the Gleaner, started its own investigation into the problems. A monthly award of $100,00 was offered by the Police Commissioner to the police unit making the most arrests and gun and drug seizures. The bodies of gang leaders, hitmen and other gang members began to stack up during gun battles with the police. With heat on the lotto scammers coming from both sides of the law, many moved on to armed robberies, which put them in direct conflict with the police.

With this evolving of crime in Jamaica, the current tourist should not be surprised to find armed guards in front of jewelry stores, even in the tourist areas.

So, where does that leave the tourist who wishes a relaxing vacation in Jamaica? Fortunately, the majority of violence has been contained to the unplanned communities in St. James Parish, places where the tourists wouldn't want to go anyway. As for you, you've gotten a safe peek at the underbelly of a Caribbean paradise without personally ending up in the line of fire.

Life's a beach in Ocho Rios
For myself, I prefer the area of Ocho Rios or Negril as places to vacation on this island. They are smaller and more laid back, more friendly.  Sure, there's a Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville in both Ocho Rios and in Montego Bay, but you can walk to the one from the wharf in Och Rios, whereas the one in Montego Bay will cost you a hefty taxi ride. And even then, you had best settle on the amount of the fee in advance, else you may feel like you got robbed without a gun being pulled on you.

Will I go back to Jamaica? You bet. I'll just be careful which parts I choose to visit. I still remember going to Montego Bay with the federal Jamaican narcs in the mid-1980's to run down one of our fugitives. Those guys told stories about crime and violence even back then.

Gotta go. Going through all this has made me thirsty for one of them rum drinks in a tall glass.

Have a good one.

24 May 2012

Notes from the Penitentiary

 by Eve Fisher

     I’ve been offline for the last 8 days, because I was down at the state penitentiary. 
Believe it or not, a postcard from the Sioux Falls State Pen - circa 1910

     Three of those I was helping to facilitate a workshop as part of the Alternatives to Violence Project – for more information about that VERY worthy organization and concept, please see here http://www.avpusa.org/.  We had a good workshop.  Exhausting.  You can’t just stand up there and lecture at inmates, because that isn’t going to work.  Instead, you try to get 18 to 25 inmates fully interested, invested, participating for 8-12 hours a day for 3 days – and that keeps you hopping.
     The other five days I spent doing training for a higher security clearance at the pen and other state correctional facilities.  (The hope is some day to take AVP to the women’s prison in Pierre.)  Anyway, I learned all kinds of stuff at the training.  Not just the routine and the ritual and what’s expected of correctional officers. who were the main cohort of the training.  Believe me, volunteers are not the center of training, and why should they be?
     Actually, the answer to that is, at least up here in South Dakota, is because the prisoners cannot have any AA, NA, AVP, Al-Anon, etc. meetings, church functions (of any religion, from Native pow-wows to Buddhist meditation), or other non-state provided functions without a fully vetted volunteer present.  And, since South Dakota is currently as broke and in debt as any other state, and has cut everything to the bone, about all the prisoners get is GED classes, and a 12 week chemical dependency treatment.  Basically, without volunteers, the prisoners don’t get much of anything. But enough of that rant.
     Anyway, the training was mainly directed at newly hired correctional officers, and after five days of that…  well, I believe that institutionalization can happen on both sides of the cell door, and we’ll leave it at that.  They went over things like the daily routine, various security/safety priorities and procedures, talked about suicide awareness (and hopefully) prevention, about rape prevention (from what I hear, good luck with that one), the endless counts (standing, emergency, and other), what the various inmate shirt colors indicate, and all about con games, including the 14 steps of a set up which begin with observation and end with the sting.  Most of the 14 steps appeared to me to be fairly obvious, but… 
     Among the other tid-bits, and if all of you know all of this already, forgive me:
  1. Never give your full name to an inmate. NOTE:  As a volunteer, my full name is printed out on my ID card along with my photo for all the world to see, so I had a good laugh about that.
  2. Some of the gangs in our prisons are the Mexican Mafia, Sorreno, MS-13, the Bloods and the Crips – although up here these are Native American, not black. 
  3. The question to ask a newly released inmate is are they “flat” (i.e., done their time) or “on paper” (i.e., on parole).
  4. Prison burritos have nothing to do with tortillas.  They’re a mixture of Ramen soup, mayonnaise, chips, refried beans, jalapeno peppers, chili, and other ingredients, mixed up, packed up in wet towels, cooked over whatever heat source the inmates can manage to find.  It’s then cooked up in slices with an ID card or other sharp utensil and sold for $5.00 a slice.
  5. Ramen soups are one of the main inmate currencies, and are worth $5.00 each.  (They get them at commissary at an obviously inflated price and inflate more.)  Why Ramen?  I have no idea.  I always thought the only reason students lived on them was they cost about 10 cents each.
  6. Among the main things every inmate wants are chew (in a tobacco free environment, chew is VERY pricey) and a cell phone.  The prison has dogs that can sniff out both.
  7. Another thing inmates want is drugs.  Now the inmates are given prescribed medications, but they have to take all their meds crushed, in suspension (water, whatever), in front of a nurse.  This doesn’t stop the entrepreneurial inmate from putting a wad of toilet paper in his cheek and sucking all the liquid there, and then later taking that soggy crap out of their mouth, drying it, and selling it to someone desperate for a high.  
  8. One of the main drugs is welbutrin, because the state has a program that gives it away free to people who want to quit smoking.  The inmates can get it (for a while), and inmates get their families to get free welbutrin from the state, and smuggle it in to them.  (How?  Let me count the ways…  as one trainer put it, the first place to search is always the crotch.)  A welbutrin pill goes for serious Ramen inside, and is crushed and snorted for a quick high.  
  9. Our South Dakota prisons are very, very clean.  I mean that.  They don’t smell of dirty socks.  They have inmates cleaning constantly.  There’s a whole group of them called bleachers who go around rubbing bleach on every surface, every handle, every bar.  
  10. A “punk” is someone who’s been/being persuaded/forced to provide sex for…  protection, help, whatever.  
  11. Our South Dakota prisons are crowded, but they’re not full yet.  I already knew this.  As I told a lawyer, years ago, who was telling me about his fresh-from-California client, who wanted a plea bargain for his big lump of cocaine, “Go back and tell him this is South Dakota, and we have room for him in the prison.” Still do. 
Anyway, I passed – we had an exam – which is good.  I have my clearance, which is better.  And I got to go home, which is best of all.