Born into donship, I now live to build peace in my community

Twenty-nine-year-old Dwight Spence is a former teen gang member turned Violence Interrupter and Liaison Officer for UNICEF’s partner the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) in Trench Town, Kingston. Dwight is one of 130 members of the VI team, working in violence-prone communities to intervene with at-risk youth, prevent violent conflicts and mediate flare ups. The work is highly risky.. 

Even as a youth going to school I had to travel with my gun. I grew up in a space where my family has power. I was born under donship where my uncle was the don. So all those guns, I had access to them. 

I was a part of that from when I was about 14 years old. One time when I was going to Operation Friendship school, me and another youth had an altercation on a Thursday and on the Friday he got killed.

On the Monday I went to school, but I didn’t know about what had gone on. But when they see me the whole school was running up and down because they never expected to see me: ‘He come back again!’

Days when I carried a gun to school

When we entered the school compound my classmates were rushing me and saying, ‘How yu brave so? Unu kill di man an yu still back a school!’ Of course they suspected me because on Thursday I had been carrying a gun with me.

I was a troublesome youth but PMI moulded me, which meant I never felt I had to go back to school with a gun again, to think to lead the ‘troops’ again. PMI enrolled me in certain training, sent me on certain camps and even made me get my birth certificate.

So right now all of the badness I was involved in, I can turn it around and be an example to youths for them to see how they can change. Just as how PMI took me and other youths and changed us completely.

PMI saved me from jail, or worse

If it wasn’t for PMI I would have been incarcerated a long time ago. But PMI took us as youths and changed us completely. This violence interrupter programme I don’t even know how to credit it. 

What PMI does is different. Normally when youths are about to get an opportunity, to go forward in life, there is always something to pull them back. We as Violence Interrupters are here to try and keep youths away from the gun. 

With training we are able to go and ask a man or a youth, why he did something, what led him to do it, what is the influence? From there we can deal with and mediate that situation and prevent further violence.

There’s a lot of youths out there like the 14-year-old me who first picked up a gun. But look at me now! That’s why I keep doing this – to turn more young lives around before it’s too late.

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