When you live through something, it either leaves you angry at the people and the experience, or it makes you want to delve a little deeper into the whys and ‘hows’ of it, so you can, at the very least, try to understand it for yourself and your own peace of mind. That is why I have spoken to “shotters” to see where they are coming from; to weigh their take on life and try to figure out for myself why they would choose to take the decision to live such a lifestyle; even knowing that it will more likely than not end up with them in an early grave, or behind bars.
As a child, living in an inner city community from age 5 to age 16 (I had also lived in an inner city community before that and was flooded out and lived at the National Stadium for a short while, but I don’t have distinct memories of those days); my memories are of going to school and church, playing and arguing with my siblings, listening to my dad’s crazy rolling calf and other never-ending stories, which are still not done to this day; watching my mama Joyce crocheting, with her hands moving faster than lightning, and yes, hearing those gunshots that made my body jump involuntarily with every single one fired.
I used to read a lot; even after there should be lights out — whether by candle or kerosene lamp light when we couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bills and the lights were cut off, or the electric lights, when the bills were paid. I would find a way to read. More often than not, I would go under the bed with the candle or the lamp; often times barely missing the mattress being burnt, but not escaping it being blackened by the soot from the lamp. But I was compelled to read, as reading was my escape; an escape that took me to wherever I wanted to go — away from the chaos that surrounded me.
I didn’t worry a lot about being poor and not having lunch money and even the requisite books I needed for school. I was a happy child and I lived in a happy household for the most part; sharing one bed with five siblings for a long time, but still laughing and being loud and contented.
What I remember was that, even though we were amongst the poorest of our also poor neighbours, our house was loud, happy, and full of other children who were also drawn to the happiness we were enjoying in our household filled with laughter and stories. What made me scared and unhappy were those constantly flying bullets that I feared would one day connect with either my loved ones, friends, or myself.
I would watch the evolution of the making of “shotters,” from the earlier, older “dons,” to boys I went to school with and other neighbourhood boys my own age, and it would both anger and fascinate me.
Why would they decide to take that route, especially since they saw that their counterparts before them ended up with bullets to their heads, or were locked away in jail for life? I remember being SO angry, that I would imagine them ALL dead, and would get SO much pleasure just from the mere thought of it.
I think my poor little never-resting brain was so fixated on the reality of the MANY lives being lost around me, and the imprinting of those EARTH-SHATTERING wails from the belly bottoms of those mothers whose children were cut down by those WRETCHED guns and, by extension, those WRETCHED gunmen, on my tormented brain. I would REFUSE to talk to my former schoolmates who had turned gunmen, as they sickened me, and because, for the life of me I just COULDN’T understand why especially BRIGHT boys would CHOOSE to do such a thing, when I KEPT hearing my parents telling my siblings and myself that education was the way out of our reality.
However, after becoming an adult, and choosing to study Psychology and Social Work, I have had the opportunity to talk to some of these “shotters,” in my own attempt to understand their choice to venture into this lifestyle; to see what influenced them to enter the lifestyle in the first place, and what was motivating them to stay.
As a Justice of the Peace, I get to visit lock ups and prisons, and not just the outsides where inmates come to talk to visitors, but inside where they are locked away in their cells. I kid you not, when I leave these places, I not only want to bathe, but I want to take off my VERY skin. A lot of that comes from the fact that I am claustrophobic, and so, the very thought of being locked up in an over-crowded space; with humans on top of humans, with hardly any room to move and just be, makes it difficult for me to even breathe.
So, I wondered, how could anyone want to come to, and even repeatedly come back to a place like that; where the living conditions are as previously described, but also where you are told what to do and how to do it; every waking minute of your days, for the rest of your life? So then, it begs the question, why be a “shotter?” is it a conscious choice, or a choice made for them due to their circumstances, or due to the lack of acceptance and respect they feel in their existence?
I will be the very first to say that no bad and/or criminal behaviour is excused due to background and circumstances, and that. All of us do have choices. That said however, right or wrong, it is now clearer to me why some of these males have ended up in this “shotta’ lifestyle.
We all want respect, to feel as if we belong, and that others care about us, regardless of who we are, where we were born and where we live. Socioeconomic realities do not change this absolute truth. I have spoken to eloquent, intelligent, educated “shotters” who ended up embracing the lifestyle, as that was the only way they believed they got “heard,” and felt “respected.” One told me that he was treated “like sh..” at home, and that no matter how many As he brought home from school, his father still made him feel like “less than a dog”. He started to avoid going home; staying home less and less, and therefore, the dudes on the corner, who he used to pass and just hail up, became his sounding board; the ones who made him feel validated and important, and that is where his sense of acceptance and belonging was to be found.
Justifiable? On the face of it, most of us wouldn’t say yes, but on the emotional side of it; it makes a lot of sense, albeit still not an excuse for someone to decide to take other people’s lives; because they feel disempowered and unaccepted.
In other conversations, what came out is that this is all they knew; they learnt differently, but were in an educational system that teaches one way, and so they got left behind and started acting out from in the classroom; being the class clowns to distract from their inability to learn and keep up, and from the shame of it all, as well as from being called “dunce”,“idiots” and wutliss” by their teachers, their peers and their parents.
That deep shame and hurt caused hatred so deep, that picking up a gun that made them feel powerful and respected was almost a no-brainer. Justified? Again, the instinctual response is HELL NO! since, as is rightly said, this has happened to others, but they didn’t choose that route. However, as the saying goes, and I paraphrase; 6 bredda, 6 different thought processes.
And then there are those reasons I spoke to in my ‘Real Ghetto Stories’ article; where they are actually taken out of their houses as boys and ordered to hide guns, and eventually to “watch,” and ultimately to use those guns on other gang members. Then there are those who got, as their legacy; a gun and gunmen as their ancestors, and so they were born into it, and saw it as their duty to carry on the “family tradition.”
In that article, I also spoke to those who lost their own fathers to other “shotters”. Some of those dead fathers were innocent, but some were also “shotters” themselves. But the latter doesn’t change the fact that these boys who lost their fathers grew up with revenge in their hearts, and therefore took up the guns as early as their little fingers could properly wrap around the trigger. Even those who have lost a child; formerly upstanding citizens, have vowed to get revenge for their children; so it is also the parent wanting to avenge the death of their offspring that “breeds shotters,” and so the vicious cycle continues. Albeit we wouldn’t go there. As my mama used to say, who feels it knows it.
Not to mention the romanticising and glorification of the gun and the gunman lifestyle in our music. This, many shrug off as being bull crap; but the truth is that music is powerful and influential; hence why all of us turn to it for whatever our mood is — radical, sad, happy, in love, going through a break up, to study, to make love, to stay awake, to go to sleep — because it does impact powerfully on our lives; setting the pace of our mornings, afternoons and nights; setting the pace for our very existence.
So then, when “gun-pan-teeth-don-gargon” and “duppy-mecking” lyricists are huge stars who are idolized and rich, we don’t expect that impressionable boys; especially those who feel disenfranchised and overlooked, won’t be drawn to what they perceive to be a lifestyle that will give them the power and respect that they feel are lacking in their own existence? Justification to become a “shotter?” maybe not. But as I sit and listen to these people talk, and I reason it out in my own head, I come to this one conclusion — that human beings are motivated by the need to survive, and that survival for all of us differs due to our mental capacities, our circumstances, our needs, our resources, and even the importance we place on our lives and the lives of others, because surely, if life means nothing, then it stands to reason that taking and losing it will also mean nothing!
In my way of thinking, there is and will never be any justification for taking other people’s lives, and I do abhor the actions of those who do this; the same as I did as a child and a teenager. The only thing that has changed is that I now have somewhat of an understanding as to the why oh why of it all, but I so wish that all the social, emotional and mental ills that pervade this beautiful island that we all occupy, would significantly lessen, so that it will become so much less attractive for others to become and remain “shotters.”