A Prince of Thieves
Crime and Antic of a US deported Jamaican Youth

Winston Donald

© Copyright 2021 by Winston Donald

Photo of a cabbage field.

The Green Line bus came down the hill with such a speed, missing the retaining walls of my grandmother’s home by just a foot and braked suddenly at my gate. The accompanied jolt threw the baggage , boxes and some jute bags of pumpkins onto the recently asphalted rural road . I disembarked from the bus and looked to my right to see the little thief picking up another person’s property. “ Pumpkin thief” , I shouted jokingly and Prince looked up with the typical ominous grin , frontal teeth glistening with gold , red and green, typical colours that are part of a Rastafarian attire. The sly look on Prince’s face hid his devious character that preyed on the village butchers, baker, shopkeepers, small farmers and even my grandfather the parish cabbage farmer.

It was the first term of fourth form at the elitist grammar school named Wolmer’s where my weekends were very precious. This year was a serious one with subjects like Chemistry and Biology more demanding of my studying time , knowing that I was just slightly above average . I was relieved and perhaps ecstatic when my dad called me and demanded I visit the country of my grandparents to procure an ant hill , obviously for some obeah activity , (the Jamaican voodoo ) or perhaps he wanted to chase the ghost of his deceased mom whose appearance seems to be causing mishaps in his working life at Kingston Wharves. The request affected me but I promised not be insubordinate despite his demeanour. Going to the country was certainly a privilege for me as I wanted to see my grandparents who I have not visited for over a year. I muttered under my breath because next Monday would be commencement of Tri Weekly Tests at Wolmer’s. Given the strange errand I was glad that it would give me the chance to have a laugh and a chat with Grandma B. I need to catch up on life in Higgins Land. After all, I was from a proud village , a mile away from the home of Bob Marley Jamaica’s major export and brand.

Just three years ago my life changed as passing my the government financed Twelve Plus Examination resulted in my migration from rural Jamaica to Kingston. When a year passed it was not easy to get information on life in Higgins Land because a year in the big city was different from the life and conditions in one of the most salubrious high mountain coffee growing villages in Central Jamaica.

That morning I had packed my knapsack , carried a British Airways bag with groceries and went down town to catch the earliest bus that passed by Higgins Land. The Green Line bus was the only option in those days and at ten o’clock I took my seat for what was then four hours ride. Happy that the boring four hours ride came to and , I was also upset that Butty was ill , hence the reckless driving by Ken Crawford , the replacement bus driver. Green Line had a safety record but just one accident could easily have destroyed its reputation.

The speeding and sudden jolt caused bags, luggage and people’s produce from Kingston to topple over into the high guinea grass to the right side of the road , directly opposite my home . Eyeing the items with the eyes of a mongoose was Prince , Miss Poodie’s miscreant son , a semi- literate youth not yet sixteen years old but whose history of robbery, stealing, burglary and rape in the village and beyond was one soon to fill a local novel and crime literature. He was a deportee from Brooklyn , New York.

Hi Morris,” I turned around to hear his coarse voice , his ugly aged and contorted face peeping in my direction as I climbed the limestone steps to grandma’s home. “Good evening Prince ,” I returned the compliments. His reputation had preceded him but I was unprepared for what I would hear as I climbed the steps . Aunt Sissie, my grand Aunt came part way to meet me and grabbed my British Airways travelling bag . “I hope you brought me my Rothman’s of Pall Mall cigarettes , she said with a sly intonation of the local patois. “No, Aunt Sissie I brought you nothing, please desist from smoking , as you will soon die from lung cancer,” I scolded her. “Well, B is waiting on you as she saw you coming out of the bus,” she chuckled. She was referring to Beatrice my grandmother , her eldest sister.

I dashed into the house to hug my B ( the nick name everyone called my grandmother Beatrice.) “You are back ,” remarked grandma, “We thought you would have come last year for Christmas holidays .” “No,” I replied , “My stingy dad did not want to give me the bus fare to visit you for the Christmas and summer holidays.” “Well, you are here now but we are experiencing a tough time in the village.” Why grandma, what happened , I enquired?” “Come and greet your grandfather and he will tell you all that happens nowadays , she said ” A cold St. Ann breeze lashed my face coming through the sash windows from the avocado filled gully and hit the ceiling of the quaint limestone and red dirt house . “Ah,” shouted grandpa, “You saw that Prince “boy” yet. “Yes, I saw that Prince boy grabbing people’s pumpkins a while ago , and no one scolded him,” I retorted. “A while ago he was by Mr . Crawford’s grocery shop and when the bus nearly crashed into our retaining walls , he nearly broke his neck running into the bushes to retrieve passengers pumpkins and even their baggage.” How could a man reaped what he had not planted I philosophized. “He is a damn thief, and so were his mother and father,” my grandpa echoed. “Grandpa, be a little respectful to his parents ,” I responded, “they are not all that bad people.”

I could feel the anger in grandfather’s voice and his face reflected frustration and bitterness. I told them that my father in his own sinister and superstitious way was frightened by a ghost inside our new house in Kingston and wanted me to search for an ant hill. It was clear he wanted it to use in some superstitious activity to chase a ghost, probable the ghost of his tragically killed mother, Miss Clemmie. Grandpa told me I can go searching in the pimento grove over Grass Piece Hill , the old farmyard of his parents but asked me to spend a few minutes with him so he can narrate to me what antics Prince was up to.

As I wait to hear grandpa damned Prince as the village prince of hell , I reflected on two summers ago when we had our bush cooking. It was that time I knew that a hoodlum or scamp could be of any age. At ten years old , Prince whose family we shared good neigbourly values proved to be a thief extraordinaire. Bib, Michael, Vee and I decided to “run a boat” , a term for bush cooking in our local parlance. Summer was coming to an end and Bib was to migrate to the USA to join her mother and siblings in New York City , the home of many Jamaican immigrants. With my big mouth , I announced we would run a boat with ackee, codfish , boiled dumplings , green bananas and wash it down with carrot juice. We invited Patrick , Prince and his troublemaker brother Garcia and set up kitchen on a lovely cool spot near some rod wood and pimento trees at Grasspiece Hill. It was there Prince revealed his true self. The delicious cooked meal included a dozen dumplings over six inches in diameter fondly called cart wheels which were earlier kneaded by great grandmother Naomi Christie. While we left Prince for a few minutes to get ice and Guiness stouts for the carrot juice , he helped himself without my permission to four cartwheels. He could not wait for the meal to be cooked properly and must have gobbled them up in his usual greedy self. I was mystified to see an under fourteen year old child to eat four cartwheel dumplings half cooked along with half boiled codfish and some bananas. When we returned he swore to God , it was the devil who disappeared with the food!! But we knew from that day that he would be a master thief.

When I return from procuring the anthill, Grandpa demanded I have my dinner. As I sat around the dining table he recited an episode of loss and suffering , praedial larcency, and burglary in the once tranquil district. “Morris, Prince has become Satan to us.” “Why, what happened,” I asked? “How can a youth twelve years old become a Satan? “

You don’t understand, “ he shouted. Prince is the Prince of hell! “Our community in all my life have never been subjected to robbery and anti social activities. Do you realize Prince is a leader of gangs, he is so influential , he has two accomplice in their thirties, advised grandpa. Grandpa relate how Miss G Codner , scion of the old Irish plantation class and later philantrophist had closed her shop finally. Miss G had felt the brunt of Prince’s “thiefing “ tentacles. Prince earlier that year had cut a hole in the galvanized zinc roof of the grocery and variety store and lowered his confederate Baltie and Tony who had a feast day ravaging the landmark store of bags of flour, sugar and crates of Canada Dry sodas and Red Stripe beers. They even stole lengths of terylene and wool suiting, yards of crimplene and polyester . Prince intensified his criminal activities affecting all aspects of life in Higgins Land. He created a culture of fear for a youth not yet fourteen.

I wonder how could someone just a few years younger than myself became a seasoned thief. How could someone who grew up and attended the good old Missionary led Baptist Church became a young thug creating havoc and financial loss. Grandpa’s eyes were swollen with tear as I realized that we had been touched by crime. Post Independence Jamaica appears to have no control over crime and criminality. Grandma interjected by disrupting my meal , “Perhaps we should have not had obtained Independence. We need the queen. A criminal like Prince is not too young to be hanged !!” “Grandma, watch you language,” I screamed. “Which Britain? which queen? Do you know that the British had murdered six hundred of your forefathers when we sought justice in Morant Bay led by our National hero Paul Bogle?” “Why should we go back to Britain for ruling us? . For what !!! Justice against a common thief.” “Ok, Mr. High School, I am not saying anything more. I hope the Jamaican corrupt police can arrest that Prince . He is either elusive to the authorities or they are on his payroll.” It was sad Prince for his age was touching even our lives, although negatively.

Grandpa , an ex sailor on HMS Belize worked his butt so hard in the early part of pre World War 2 shoveling coal in the engine boiler rooms. He had returned to farming in Higgins Land , Jamaica by introducing the cultivation of cabbage therefore contributing to national development. Times had changed and what he told me turn my inside upside down. Six months before I visited Higgins Land , Prince and his criminal cohorts had stole his entire acre of planted mature Jersey cabbages. As if that was not enough he went by grandfather ‘s cabbage farm and completely cut down all three acres of Japanese KK variety cabbages. The financial loss nearly destroyed my family. Grandpa had “trust” (credit ) cabbage seeds and hoes from Mr. Lyn Cook, the Chinese Wholesaler merchant who was firm with his terms of credit. The loss within a dry year meant grandpa had to sell his two best Nubian goats to defray his liability to Mr. Lyn Cook.

Prince exploits continued as just a month ago a regional delivery truck from Midland Native Distributors experienced mechanical problems. Instead of helping the driver , Prince and his associates Balty and Garcia helped themselves to dozens of crates of Guinness stouts, McEwan stouts and Scweppes Bitter Lemons. They left untouched the C& D carbonated beverages stealing only what they considered foreign brands. Jamaicans would say , “his chest was high.” as he only stole what in his mind were premium brands. The stolen goods would later find themselves into bars and pubs of dishonest operators, fences who acted as middle men for Prince and his cronies.

Grandpa told me a heart tearing story of my beloved Primary School , St. John the Baptist All Age School being burglarized and vandalized. My school had served to educate rural children from the time it was established with help from the ex slaves and the London Missionary Society. St. John the Baptist All Age School was an icon in Nine Miles as that village had the best undulating land for construction compared to the hillier Higgins Land. The young thief vandalized my old primary schools. Furniture, books and equipment were taken and yet the police failed to make an arrest. Something had to be done grandpa, I said . Prince will destroy you all. I was hearing tales of burglary and crops of corn and potatoes being stolen depriving the people of their bread and butter. I pray God dealt with him harshly , I said to myself , biting hard on my tongue over my anger at this village thief. Why can’t he met his match , I asked myself? Where is the law? Why is it so inefficient, so inactive and so incompetent? “In town (Kingston) they catch the thieves. They even cut their locks when they say they are dreadlocks and Rastafarians,” I told grandma. “Kingston police don’t joke,” I remarked.

I could only ponder on how things have changed. The opportunity to procure an anthill had caused me to be home for the weekend and I thought it would be joyful moments with my family. I never knew I would be tortured with stories of a youth turning delinquent. “What next,” I asked grandma B. “Well, Prince has no respect for the law , neither does he have respect for authorities. I bet he will strike the church.” “No, he will never go there ,” counter grandfather. “B, are you crazy, he will never be so bold. He will never enter on Pappa Jesus property,” exclaimed grandpa in a shrill voice. “OK , bet me,” said grandma.

That night I went to my be bed, the first for over two years in Higgins Land. Tomorrow I would attend church , meet those of my friends who had not passed their examinations and were killing time, hoping they would have a last chance with the Grade 9 Achievement Test. Tomorrow Sunday would be a day to catch up on friendship talk and gossip. That night I really had a peaceful sleep . I woke up early the next Sunday morning , went around the back of the home to feed my pens of friendly rabbits running from one side of the pen to another. I hope Prince does not think of stealing my rabbits , I wonder. After feeding my rabbits I went inside washed my hands and joined my grandparents for a good old country breakfast of steamed cabbage , fried cucumbers , codfish, bread and cocoa beverage. It was just after I finished I heard Aunt Sissie shouting, “Prince is dead! Prince is dead!”

Grandma rush to the door her hands masked with flour as she was preparing to bake a cake to take back to Kingston. “What was that Sis,” she asked. “Prince dead! How,? asked grandma. They said he died by drowning. “How, we don’t have rivers and he would not be stupid to drown himself into water tanks most homes on this plateau limestone region of Jamaica has?” I asked myself. We lived on the red dirt plateau of a pristine area of Jamaica but tanks were for storage of water , not for devious deeds. Then Aunt Sissie related what occurred. Prince and Baltie had gone early in the morning to rob the church. Not satisfied with taking the sacramental vessels- the stainless steel vessels holding wines glasses for communion, he attempted to walk across the covered pool to steal the antique clock. He had no knowledge that the boards covering the baptismal pool were not in good conditions. The boards needed to be urgently replaced as “ duck ants “, the terrible Jamaican termite had been devouring them for weeks. Unknowing to him , the floors were rotten from the bites of the termites. The board broke and he fell into the deepest part of the pool. Rev. John Knight , the white Missionary Pastor was away feeding his Red poll cows and returning saw the church door opened . He entered into the church and saw Prince body floating face down with froth in his mouth. Not even seventeen years of age , Prince a rogue had paid dearly for his life of crime . Grandpa and grandma shook their heads and in unison uttered , “The seed you sow , the tree you will reap.” Do not follow others they warned me . “You live in town , do not let city life leads you to destruction because if you follow Juanica , you sleep in ashes. I knew well no one named Juanica . It must have been a name borrowed from Cuba where early immigrants went to build the canal or work on the plantations . I had no intention to sleep in ashes , so I would not follow Juanica. Prince though was dead , yes he was with us but sadly his life was that of a thief and a hoodlum. 


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