The Trinidad Guardian / The Sunday Guardian will begin its series today on rehabilitation and reintegration-stories of the lives of inmates and ex-prisoners.
Today we speak with former inmate Quincy Roberts about his passion for music and where he wants to go in life.
The need to feel loved, wanted, important, and recognised for his gift often makes ex-prisoner Quincy Roberts awkwardly desire to be back behind bars.
“Don’t get me wrong, ‘eh’ miss,” he quickly chimes in. “I ‘doh’ mean go back there for doing something wrong. But when I was in prison I was a star. Everything was Quincy Roberts this, Quincy Roberts that.”
The father of two, who describes music as his lifeline, gained popularity in the throes of Port-of-Spain Remand Prison from this very love of music, quickly leading him to becoming an integral part of the various prison music bands.
Within six months of his incarceration, the then 25 year old became literate in music theory and versed on several instruments including the guitar, bass, drum, and keyboard. It did not come as a surprise to the former Beetham Gardens resident when he received a distinction in music through the prison’s music programme and soon after found himself as teacher of the art to other inmates. But that joy and sense of pride once felt by Roberts has died since the first-time offender, who spent nearly five years behind bars, was released on bail last year.
“Let me tell you something, eh. I love music so bad I’ll die for it. And when I was in prison, people…all them big musician who used to pass through, used to tell me ‘oh gosh, you could real play music, you could real sing.
When ‘yuh’ come out I want to help you do this and do that.’ And when ‘yuh’ come out of prison ‘yuh’ get to realise is just games people was playing with ‘yuh.’
He explained that without support it’s difficult for an exprisoner to have a fruitful life after incarceration as they are not taken seriously and most times people are unwilling to give them a chance.
“Is a nasty stigma ‘yuh’ does get.
Everybody does think when ‘yuh’ come out of prison ‘yuh’ come out to do the same thing again. People don’t even know what you were in jail for. Some people went to jail innocently. But once they hear you ‘was’ in jail, they think ‘yuh’ is a criminal and a no good.” Roberts has been looking for work since his release but has been turned down each time he spoke the truth.
“Miss, I don’t want to lie or anything, so I does tell them the truth because with a record how you producing a certificate of character when they ask for it? So I does tell them the truth and that does be the end of the interview right ‘dey’.”
A hustle since returning to freedom During the Sunday Guardian’s coverage on the Charlotte Street vending issue back in April, we ran into the former Morvant- Laventille student who was selling produce at the corner of Queen and Charlotte streets. He tells us that has been his “hustle” since returning to “freedom.” But there is no real joy in doing this, he reiterates, as music is Roberts’s first and only love.
He talks about his father beating drums for Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra back in the day and briefly reminisces on his childhood days when he would accompany his father to the pan yard for rehearsals.
“As long as I could remember, music was always in my head. I was always writing or chanting… the melodies and the rhythms does just keep flowing,” Roberts, who has filled two large notebooks with his own compositions, says.
Prior to our Charlotte Street “bounce up,” we first became acquainted with Roberts in February 2016 when he performed at the T&T Prison Service grand Carnival calypso fiesta concert, where each monarch from the various prison sections were brought out to perform for the public at Woodford Square.
Roberts, who placed second at the Port-of-Spain Remand Prison, was a crowd pleaser from the moment he took the microphone to deliver his self-composed social commentary titled Still in Slavery, which was inspired by the book, Mandela’s Way. With perfect diction and strong stage presence, he commanded the crowd that cheered him on as he sang his offering, which spoke to modernised slavery. Often times you could hear people shouting: “Kaiso! Kaiso!”
Back then, he told the T&T Guardian, he fashioned his style of performance after multiple Calypso Monarch titleholder Roderick “Chucky” Gordon, saying the calypsonian gives him goose bumps whenever he performs.
“His commentary on social ills does really speak to me,” he says. ‘Give us a chance’ Speaking of social ills, coming from a marginalised community, we asked Roberts who was raised in a single parent home, if he believed the environment in which he grew fosters or dictates an inevitable life of crime. Without hesitation and despite his older brother being murdered in these “rough paths,” he dispels this.
“Let me tell you something, ‘eh’ miss, we know that people say circumstances make you who you become. But I telling ‘yuh,’ no environment or community could make anybody do something wrong. It is a decision everybody does make to do something, so I will never blame the community or the area I’m from. Everybody have to know what ‘dey’ doing.”
With his burning desire and passion for music, now 27, Roberts wants to enter the Calypso Monarch competition in 2019. “I don’t know how that will work out or if I would even be allowed to do it, because my case still ‘upstairs.’ But God knows if I get that opportunity, I would be so grateful. I don’t even care about the money part. I just want to sing-I’m happiest and the most free when I do,” he says.
In the meantime, he said his hands won’t remain idle and he has no intentions of returning to prison. But he sends this message to the public and powers that be:
“Before you condemn us to death, give us a chance. Not everybody in prison supposed to be in prison. Stop judging us because of where we’ve been and support us in where we’re going. We need ‘allyuh’ support when we return to society. I understand is not everybody would want to make a positive change, but for those of us who do, please don’t make us keep paying for a debt that has already been paid.”