Wadda’s positive message to youth

When we started our Flashback section in the Wednesday STAR about a month ago it was with the purpose of offering readers the opportunity to learn about Saint Lucia’s history and to share with us how much they knew about the country we all call home. The pictures we have featured over the last few weeks have not always inspired happy thoughts. In fact more often than not our photos remind Saint Lucians of the stains of our past and of the horrific incidents that have occurred, some of them decades later still unresolved. As much as we received notes from readers telling us they appreciate the opportunity to learn about events that would have been long forgotten, we receive just as much criticism from those who would prefer we leave some matters buried deeper than six feet.
It did not take long for our Flashback photo in this week’s Wednesday STAR to evoke reaction. The image showed three men who all have their place in local history: Michael ‘Gaboo’ Alexander, lawyer Kenneth Foster and Ian James Baptiste also known as “Wadda”. In the 1990s Foster, a lawyer, was defending the two gentlemen against a grievous harm charge that saw them being sentenced to 20 years in prison. (See the STAR on Wednesday for full details from photographer Rick Wayne).
The last named gentleman came to our STAR offices on Thursday livid at the fact that the photo was used in the Wednesday STAR. “Wadda” has tried to shake off his bad boy image for years and told this reporter that the picture had reminded people of a past he had long tried to forget. He explained that finding a job was hard enough already.
“I feel like I needed to be asked before this photo was used,” he told me. “This has really hurt me. The person I am right now is a totally different person to who I was back then.” He glanced at the picture in the newspaper of a young man with a perfect Hammer style haircut and Ray Ban shades.
“I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. My name is Ian James Baptiste. They call me ‘Wadda’ but I don’t tolerate that name like I used to before because that was a bad boy name, you know. My name is Ian James Baptiste,” he reaffirmed.
Baptiste recalled for me his tumultuous childhood in Arundel Hill and Bagatelle, not unlike many others in St Lucia, he says he was beaten very badly on a regular basis by his father.
“I didn’t listen to my parents. I had a lot of ups and downs. I had a lot of friends I followed. I was about 14 when I began to go the wrong way. My dad used to give me nuff licks and I ran away from home because of it. I hated licks and that’s why I don’t promote anyone beating their children. It just does not work.”
Baptiste explained that he slept anywhere he could in his teens, even in cars and he also dropped out of school. He finally settled to live with an older woman, “Miss Ivy”, who provided him with a bed as long as he did plenty of work, which included “climbing at least 15 coconut trees a day.”
“I got no breakfast, no bread, no tea, nothin’ . . . just climb the coconut trees just to get a sleep,” he recalled.
Baptiste was soon selling coconuts on his own regularly out of a barrow and he says this is how he met Michael “Gaboo” Alexander.
“I sold him a coconut and it became a regular thing,” said Baptiste. “I would bring him coconuts every week.”
Baptiste explains that he and “Gaboo” became fast friends and he was soon living near his house.
“I stopped selling coconuts and I just started liming with Gaboo,” said Baptiste. “I respected him as a friend no matter what is said about the drug thing.”
Baptiste explained that his life changed.
“There were constant battles, whether with the police or other people in the business,” he explained of life as a “bad boy.”
Both Alexander and Baptiste were sentenced to prison for 20 years but he explained that after appealing their case they only served five years.
Following his stint in prison Baptiste says he decided to change his life.
“I tried my best to stay away from crime,” he said. “I face a lot of stuff you know. People blocking me from getting a US Visa, jobs all kinds of things. People don’t let you forget easily.”
Baptiste says faith in God has “helped me to battle evil spirits”.
He hit a road block he said when he lost his job with the Castries City Council.
“I used to take care of the Derek Walcott Square,” he said. “Teachers used to come meet me at the square and I would go to the different schools and speak to the young people about my life and how I tried to make something good out of all the bad. I felt good about what I was doing. I was trying to tell them about my life in prison so they would not go that way. Some kids nowadays don’t want to listen to their parents but when they hear it from someone who has been through it they feel it more.”
Baptiste claims that he lost his job with the Castries City Council because of his perceived political stance. He claims that a politician in the last government specifically requested he be fired. He also claims that he has not yet been properly compensated by the CCC but he has moved on. Baptiste says he has no time for politicians on either side and believes that they are at the root of what is killing Saint Lucia.
“They are all the same,” he said. “They don’t care about the youth; they encourage crime by their actions. They don’t really want things to get better, because it is always better for them.”
Baptiste added that despite the odds he feels his path in life is to direct young people to the right path whenever he can.
“The young people need something to do,” he said.
Baptiste explains that “the influence of money” forces young people into a life of crime.
“The money fuels it. The quick money,” he said. “If you have someone who is willing take care of you and give you money when you don’t have that becomes your group, your gang. Once you have the money and the guns, you have the power.”
The reformed bad boy says he tries to speak with young men from the ghetto because he understands the mentality.
“When they sit in the ghetto and they not occupied what do you think is going through their minds? They don’t have a plate of food yet, what you think they are thinking of doing? When they want to buy a shoe where they getting the money from? It is very simple.”
Baptiste says given the opportunity he thinks
most young men would choose to do an honest day’s work.
“Most times crime is the last choice,” noted Baptiste.
His final word: “The situation St Lucia is in it is not easy to slow down the crime anymore. We have to start when they are young; reach them at the school level. We have to save our young people from crime and lecture them from young. We will reach some of them at least.
“If we can just reach one that’s enough. I just want the young people out there to look at me as an example. I changed my life and I
am thankful that I could
see my kids grow up. I just want the youth to know that they don’t have to choose crime.”
As for the photo in the STAR of him in the early 1990s Baptiste took a final look and said: “That’s ‘Wadda,’ That’s not me anymore.”

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