It is just over a year since Jeffrey Joseph, 41, was released from Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds after spending 16 years and three months behind bars for the gang-related murder of Marquelle Hippolyte in April 1999.
Joseph is now on a mission to keep Barbadian youth from walking the road he travelled, and he is using an art, with which he fell in love while in jail, to get the message across.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Joseph, who was released in May last year, reminisced on his time behind bars and spoke about some of the work he has been doing since his release.
The father of two daughters, aged 18 and 22, said while serving his sentence he developed a special love for the arts – drama to be precise.
It all began in December 2008 when he staged plays for other inmates. His love for that art form has grown immensely since.
He joined the prison drama group, and in 2010 they entered the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) competition where they won 14 awards and a silver medal for their play promoting HIV/AIDS awareness.
The medals kept coming, with silver the following year and silver and gold in 2013. That year Joseph also received the Alfred Pragnell Challenge Shield as the most outstanding actor.
More medals flowed in 2014 when Joseph earned bronze for both writing and directing the play, Daddy, which focused on the importance of fathers in their children’s lives, and which also earned the group a bronze medal.
Now that Joseph is a free man, he plans to continue producing plays with the men with whom he partnered while behind bars.
There are four of them currently in the group – Regeneration – and Joseph is trying to locate the remaining two. They plan to stage two plays in this years NIFCA competition – one to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS and the other in celebration of the island’s 50th anniversary.
“The guys are outside now and we are trying to keep positive and keep on the right track,” the reformed Joseph told Barbados TODAY.
“I believe myself as a changed man, I just need a good chance and I got my chance so I am trying to prove myself now.”
Joseph said he was aware that there were people who expected him to return to his old ways and end up in jail again.
However, he said with the strong family support that he enjoyed, along with that of friends, he was determined to live a positive life.
“I was doing some ice fishing, but now I turn to doing some hawking and sell fish. When I was in prison I learned a baking trade. I also do some breads and sell,” he said.
Joseph is also seeking gainful employment in the cultural industries, with something in drama as his dream job.
His skill for retaining lines was honed in jail and he has developed an intense desire for the stage.
“I love drama. I always love drama from in prison. I have a good memory from doing a lot of reading in prison. I love the acting and I love the stage. It is a passion of mine,” he revealed.
Prison taught him many lessons, the ex-convict told Barbados TODAY, not least of which was the meaning of life.
“I never gave the thought to what I wanted to be when I was growing up [and] I did a lot of foolishness when I was going to school. So for me, my growing up and education really came for me when I was in prison.
“I consider myself a fool at the stage before I went to prison. I was a fool. So now I have learnt and come to understand the reason for life, [I’m] giving God thanks for my everyday,” he told Barbados TODAY in an interview at Paynes Bay Beach, St James.
A former student of the then St James Secondary School (now Frederick Smith Secondary School),Joseph has returned to his alma mater to share his experience behind bars with students and encourage them to stay in school and take their education seriously.
“Most of the guys in prison – say about 80 per cent of them – they come from what we call the lower schools and bursary schools. So we have to take a look at the children in these schools that would mostly contribute to the crime in Barbados,” he said.
Getting an education while incarcerated came with its own hurdles, as some inmates would do all they could to discourage him. However, he ignored the doubters and persevered to the extent that he taught other prisoners Mathematics.
“It is up to the person to tell the person he wants to change. No matter how much programmes they push you in and you don’t accept change you will never change. So it has to come from within,” Joseph stressed.
In recalling the day he committed the crime, Joseph did not go into details. However, it was clear that things had not gone the way he planned that day.
“I went to just solve the problem and it escalated and a guy lost his life, unfortunately,” he said.
Taking Hippolyte’s life has haunted him since.
“It is always in your heart what you did. No matter what you go through you always remember that. You can never forget what you have been through in the prison. You can’t forget the person who lost their life, you can’t forget his family, you can’t forget the pain you cause your family and their family. So it is an ongoing situation within you. So you just try to deal with it the best you can,” he said.
Joseph then stared at the sand as he uttered more words of regret.
“I still feel remorse and guilty of him losing his life. So it will never go away. It is a prayer every day to God for forgiveness.”
The former convict said he was lucky to have the backing of family and friends. However, there were those who had been released from prison who did not have similar support systems.
Those were the ones who found it difficult to cope, he said, as he called on Government and society to give them a chance.
“There are guys out there that I know for a fact that don’t receive any help. I spoke to a lot of guys who come from prison and it is hard on them. Sometimes you go for a job and then you get that job and someone sees you on the job and say, ‘he went to prison’ . . . then you end up losing your job.
“They still have to return to society so it is best that society takes an interest in them and try to help rehabilitate and find jobs to allow them to work and help themselves instead of falling back in a life of crime,” he insisted.
Joseph said it was his wish to “go around the island” and use the community centres as a location to teach youth drama and even get them entering the NIFCA competitions.
“And helping also to motivate them and keep them on the right track. I think our drama group that we form is now lifting off the ground. We are now getting together. We still need a couple things, but we are going to get there,” a confident Joseph told Barbados TODAY.
In the 16 years he was locked up away from society, Joseph learned many lessons. However, one thing still eludes him – going social through the use of technology. In this regard, new lessons have begun, according to the former prison inmate.
“I am still actually learning of these things.”