My journey from gang leader to violence interrupter

I’ve been involved in badness since I was 11 years old, when I had my little ‘one pop’ (single shot gun). When the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) first approached me I never took it seriously, because I was making too much money on the streets leading a gang here in Denham Town. 

But just three of us are left from a crew of about 26. Four have left Jamaica and the rest are dead or in prison.

In my three years with the PMI, I have been trying to lead youths in a better direction, and I am proud of the impact, like the first time I went on a PMI retreat that took youth outside of their communities.

Other youth can relate to my story

Youth came to me afterwards to tell me things like, “Omarley, I see why PMI carried you to make us look at life differently.” They can’t see a future when they are just trapped within their surroundings. But when you bring a youth outside his community, then he can see a better picture for himself.

At 29 years old, my new life has also brought a lot of bad energy. Sometimes I’ve felt to leave the community because even friends start saying I’m an informer, I work with informer people and all of those things. They even broke into my house to try me, but I just let it go.

At the end of the day, some men just want to see you back on the corner with a gun in your hand; and that’s the pressure that youth in my community have to resist.

Neily Blacks has come a far way to become someone who helps mentor youths. He has lost a lot, and his faith has been tested, but he has stood his ground. He’s a work in progress and has shown a great level of maturity and love for what he is doing.” – Milton Tomlinson, Peace Management Initiative (PMI)

Pressure to be involved in gang life

Damian Hutchinson, Milton Tomlinson and Erica Allen from PMI – when things happen I have them to talk to and to keep me focused. Without them I would be in the streets, dead or in jail. And there are other violence interrupters (VIs) like Sonia Whyte and Pauline Perez who have also helped guide me to become someone who plays a positive role in the community.

A lot of the disputes we get called to intervene in as PMI are friend on friend, brother on brother or a cousin on cousin or a classmate on classmate – anyway you look at it, this is family against family.

Disputes start from petty things like windows being broken or a bike being stolen. When this happens you have to find the money to repair or buy back something and talk to the people on each side so that it doesn’t start a war.

Mediating disputes in my community

If something were to happen now you would see people come to me to stop it. A few years ago it was me causing it, but now it takes me to stop it.

I want to tell youth to wise up and stop making men in a better position use you – because a lot of them who make it out of the ‘mud’, they are the ones making the youths kill each other.

If I can just change five youths’ lives with my own, or even just two, then I have made a big difference.

Fulfilling children’s rights is at the heart of what we do at UNICEF. This year, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, we feature a special ‘30 under 30’ series, highlighting amazing Jamaican children and youth like Omarley who are using their skills and talents to help protect and realise the rights of other young citizens. The focus of the series is on efforts to protect children from violence.

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