Drexel Deal, former gangster and author of The Fight of My Life is Wrapped up in my Father, wrote: “The gangs filled a void in society, and the void was the absence of family life. The gang became a family.
“For some of those guys in the gang, that was the only family they knew, because when their mothers had them, they were too busy having children for other men. Some of them never knew their daddies. Their daddies never looked back after they got their mothers pregnant, and those guys just grew up and they couldn’t relate to anybody.
When they had their problems, who could they have talked to? Nobody would listen, so they gravitated together and formed a gang.”
Those words bear much truth for a former alleged kingpin who said the issue of crime is so arduous that to narrow it down to just one thing is not sufficient.
“Every time they speak, they talk of murders. Murder is just one aspect of crime. What about all the crimes that go on in high places, committed by those who have a say? Aren’t those crimes too?” asked 51-year-old Barry Alphonso, a murder accused who describes so-called community leaders as cowards.
The incarcerated Laventille native who had a bright and wide smile throughout his interview with Guardian Media said he is very disturbed and disheartened at the many killings of young men whom he claims fight battles on behalf of their bosses that, in most instances, have nothing to do with them.
“Why are you sending the young people to do the crime? If you want to commit a crime, do it yourself. These fellas are cowards pushing these young men in front to do their work,” he said.
Alphonso, who lost his 11-year-old son Kareem to gun violence in 2012, said things are now out-of-hand in T&T as it relates to gang warfare.
“Back in my time when two men had a falling out, they would fight. You might just say, ‘If you come up in my area I will beat yuh up.’ And it ended right there. Today is different. Now if two men fall out, it eh no beat up again, is bullets.”
Alphonso said when he was young he committed crimes out of sheer ignorance and chalked it up to survival. But was he in need? By his own admission, he wasn’t.
He did not come from a broken home. The fifth of ten children, all he proudly states born in wedlock to parents who are still happily married and living abroad, Alphonso said what led him to crime was a propensity to have his own way.
“I just always liked my own way. I always wanted things my mother may not have been able to purchase at the point in time, so I would look to go and thief something or go and do some ‘stupidness,” he said.
Trying to have own way led him to his first arrest in 1987. He was arrested on several other occasions but claims a few were “frame cases.” Alphonso said his mother did everything in her power to keep him on the right track.
“I get plenty licks to do the right thing but that licks didn’t make no sense nuh,” he said through laughter.
According to Alphonso, his positive progression was critical to his mother as he broke a cycle among his siblings, becoming the first to pass the then Common Entrance Exam.
The Malick Senior Comprehensive alumnus said Laventille was not a crime hot spot, although there were a few “marijuana merchants” and petty robberies. He said “turf wars” also never existed.
“Imagine a fella could be living Nelson Street and another living Beetham and they are friends, but they can’t talk to each other or visit each other otherwise they can be killed for being in a “forbidden” area. That is foolishness. This kind of thing never happened amongst gangsters as they call them,” Alphonso said.
Reflecting on his experience in prison, Alphonso was able to see the hostility between inmates of rival gangs quelled for some time with the launch of a Futsal programme for inmates, introduced by former T&T football captain Clayton Morris in 2017.
The aim of the programme, which offered training in football and hosted actual matches, was to aid in the rehabilitation of inmates while they awaited trial.
Alphonso who was chosen as one of the spokesmen for the programme, described the initiative, as “brilliant.” However, the programme has come to a halt and he is appealing to the prison service to restart it as it truly brought peace and camaraderie amongst inmates.
He appealed to young men to take stock of what they’re doing as they are only killing themselves.
“These fellas have to know what they’re doing out here because nobody cares you know. The way the Government and everybody have it down out here is black hen chicken killing black hen chicken, so let them just kill out each other. It’s only when it reaches on their doorstep, then maybe they would get serious,” he said.