In 1994 my entire life changed. I was sent to prison for 15 years for a committing a crime. I wasn’t innocent, and my punishment was deserved. Going to prison ended up changing my life in many ways, both internally as a person and extrinsically in terms of what I was now qualified to do with my life.
Many memorable things happened during that eight years, but one of the most memorable things was meeting a person who would change my life. His name was Shawn Crockwell, and he was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.
Shawn and I eventually became very close. Like brothers. But our friendship did not begin on a great note. By the time Shawn came to prison I had already been tried, convicted, and sentenced. I was in the process of applying to law schools and actually sitting my GCSE law exams. But I was still quite rough around the edges. I was thirsty to regain my freedom, and the idea of someone who had a world of opportunity and privilege before him giving that up to come into the bowels of Her Majesty’s Prison system was troubling. I had heard so much about him. Seen him in the courts as a clerk. We knew he was politically active from young and was pegged as a conservative high flyer on the fast track to political involvement. I think I was a little angry at him, despite my lack of any moral high ground upon which to stand and judge him. I just didn’t understand.
The day he was sentenced and came to prison I will never forget. I was out on my recreation doing my mundane pedestrian laps around the guard station. Our keepers were tucked inside their glass cubicle safe from me, and I was making circles around the hub. I heard the adjoining security door which grants access to remand open and into the holding square stepped this guy holding the same mesh bag we all come in with. He was wearing the same orange garb and the same embarrassing shower slippers.
As soon as I noticed it was him I quickly approached the barrier (even though I knew it would cost me the remainder of my recreation because that was a violation) and I said to him: “What the ?!*# are you doing here! You had everything I want right now and you gave that up to come here?” He looked terrified. He looked humbled. He looked like I did when I came in. And for a brief moment I felt for him. And the next words I said set into motion the germination of a seed that had been planted by one of the candidates in this election. I’m not sure why but I said: “I want to study law too.” And he said: “You must be Charles Richardson. My friend Wayne Caines told me about you. Maybe we can do this together.” And before we could say another word he was whisked away by a prison officer and I was summoned to return to my cell for violating a no go zone. Cost me almost 30 minutes of the only hour I got of that cell each day (I was in maximum security and that was the way it was in that section). But it was worth every minute. I laid down on my metal bunk and my head was swimming with possibilities. He made me feel a sense of purpose in the way he said it. He made me realize that I wasn’t that hopeful solitary dreamer who was chasing a lofty goal; and, if I was I was no longer alone.
The next day I arranged for a law book to be sent to him. A copy of Blackstone’s criminal practice. It wasn’t a cheap book. My mom, rest her soul in peace, paid good money for that book, amongst many others I had accumulating in my cell. That evening an officer who shall remain unnamed but to whom I will always be grateful slipped me one of many notes that Shawn and I would pass back and forth as we began to connect. Shawn was in a lower security classification than I was. He was moved into the general population months before I was able to earn my way there. Ironically, the day I entered general population aka the “E Units” I was met by Shawn who by then had secured a job in the laundry. That was my first stop upon leaving Maximum security because I had to relinquish my orange scrubs and put on the bland khaki uniform that would be my only clothing for the next seven or so years. But he made sure I had the brand new stuff and in my bag was the law book I loaned him.
Over the years that would follow I would complete my GSCE exams, get accepted into law school, and joined the same university Shawn was studying with. We chose the same subjects and had the same voluntary tutors. We shared text books and ideas and we spent the vast majority of our time either studying together or working together. We put on a theatrical production in the prison chapel that today is still shown to students around the island. We spoke at churches and to youth groups.
There are two things you need to understand right now in order to grasp the crux of why I feel the way I do.
Firstly prison is a place that shows you who a man really is. You can’t hide yourself from the people you share that small microcosm of society with. It’s a world within a world. It strips away the previous window dressing that so many of us wear as a mask and renders a man naked to be seen for who he is.
Secondly, as I got to know this man I got to see that he was on a genuine mission to make some sort of contribution to the social, economic, and political environment in Bermuda. I got to know who he was a deeper level.
I got to know that he really cared about Bermuda and Bermudians. I know that coming to prison showed him that there was an entirely different side to life in Bermuda that he was not aware of. He befriended other inmates and their families. he became familiar with all of our stories and we became familiar with his. Politically, I was of course fully supportive of the PLP. Shawn was partial to the then UBP. Let me tell you that we had some rip roaring, knock down, drag out debates about politics in Bermuda. Shawn actually dug deep, searched his soul, and for a short time was intimating that he might join the PLP.
I remember one day during one of our heated debates Shawn got very irate with me. He came at me with a passion that exuded authenticity. I was telling him that the UBP and their support base are comprised of people who unfortunately do not take the interests of all Bermudians seriously – that there were two Bermudas and they only seemed to care about one side. He said to me: “Charles you are right! The UBP as a whole does not seem to know how to connect with all Bermudians! But I don’t believe that they are all bad, and I feel that they have the best mental skill set to manage the affairs of Bermuda as a whole!”
That was his honest opinion. I told him that there may be some truth to that, but of what good is it to this country, to all Bermudians to have a party that cares about all, has a fully developed social conscience, but tends to cannibalize itself and get devoured by its own internal rifts, versus another whose apparatus seems to function will but it only has the interest of some Bermudians at heart? It was at that point that he said something that I thought was a whimsical idea, but in the years to come he would prove to me that he really meant what he said.
He said “the only way the UBP and the shape of political representation in Bermuda will ever change is if someone gets inside the UBP and transforms it from the inside. The only way they will change is if someone starts the metamorphosis from the inside”.
What you have to understand is that Shawn was a very confident, very assured, and some would say arrogant young man. All of this would be true. I know this because it takes one to know one. So, when he said that he believed he could create change within the UPB I knew that he meant it. I also thought he was being quixotic, jousting at windmills. But I can tell you that he meant that. And over the years he proved.
He rose through the ranks of that party quickly. His talent was undeniable. He became a trusted member of their inner sanctum. He also eventually formed a splinter group called the BDA which caused the collapse of the UBP and led to the formation of the OBA. And he was resolute in trying to get the OBA not to be the UBP and to be mindful of its policies and how they impacted on all Bermudians. I sat back and watched and said to myself he is really trying to change them. I warned him. Shawn they will turn on you if you push too hard. They are not anthropologically wired to understand what they have not lived.
I, as with all of you, sat back and watched as Shawn began to struggle openly, even vocally, with the OBA. All of this while he silently battled his own personal impediments. Yet he managed to excel in all areas despite this. And then it happened. He announced that he was leaving the OBA to be independent.
What followed was what appeared to me to be a paradigmatic confirmation of the social, economic and political lynching that was an urban myth… until he confirmed it. With his own words. If you oppose them too stridently they will come after you. They will try to destroy you.
But that didn’t silence him. On May 19th, 2017, in the House of Assembly he gave a speech that resonated with me so deeply because I knew the man who was saying the words. I knew how much he believed in what he was doing and why. I knew how firmly he had convinced himself that he could proselytize his then peers. Do you remember what he said two months ago? He had no idea there would be an election held in July when he said those words!
He rose from his seat and told the House, but he was speaking to his former colleagues in the OBA, what he believed would and should decide the next election.
He began by conceding that there were indeed “Two Bermudas”. He passionately recounted how he grappled with his colleagues over the message they sent to all of Bermuda when they consistently said that they could not find money to meet the needs of ordinary Bermudians, even to the point of almost forcing civil unrest over furlough days, and then turn around and say you all of a sudden have $70 million dollars to fund a boat race!
He told us of the epiphany he had when he warned his colleagues about the Pathways to Status debacle and saw his own sister demonstrating against the government he served. He recounted how he personally chided the now premier and leader of the OBA over the total lack of concern shown for the lives of two young black men in caucus the day after their deaths! He confessed that the OBA did not seem to have the ability to connect with and represent the needs of all Bermudians. He didn’t say that any of them had made a malicious choice to implement policies that were invidious, but that when they did these things they clearly did not consider the interests of all Bermudians because they just were not capable of it. He described a culturally ingrained social handicap that disabled them from seeing the issue through the prism of a “One Bermuda” instead of through the lens of one side of a divided Bermuda. He told them you have sent the message to all Bermudians that you are only capable of thinking about one segment of them… and that is the issue that would decide the next election. When he said that he had no idea that two months later we would go to the polls to avoid a no contest vote. A vote he could have very well played a vital role in deciding.
When I heard him make those concessions and give the OBA that warning I did not just hear the words. I heard the man. We were all being given a first hand glimpse into who they really are and what they truly are capable of representing. We were being given that candid, transparent view by someone who sat in the room with them, ate with them, travelled with them, and lived with them. Most of all, I heard the hurt, and the disappointment in his voice. I knew this man. He was proud. He was determined. And he would have never admitted that he had failed and was unable to change the UBP/BDA/OBA unless it was his truth.
I have not forgotten what he said. I believe him. And none of you should forget him or what he said. After all the dust settles and all the political rhetoric fades away ask yourself: “Is the OBA capable of truly uniting both Bermudas and balancing the interests of both?” I believe Shawn. I always had my own opinion. But I believe my friend. And for me that is what will and should decide the next election. And while I do accept that Opposition need to polish their tools a bit more and stay sharp, for these reasons I know I will be voting for the PLP in the next election.