‘I lost everything!’
I am not making any excuses for what I did. I am now sorry for what I did that day. But all I can say now is that looking back it was as if some evil spirit had taken over me,” Canis Lionel continued his story.
On that fateful day after purchasing a cutlass from Valmont, which he says was to defend and protect himself after an earlier attack on his life and threat, was when the gory and bloody chopping incident took place at Wilton’s Yard in March 1987.
“I met one of the guys who I identified as one of my earlier attackers and he ran inside Wilton’s Yard. I went after him and as he was running, he went straight into a clothes line and was thrown back falling right in front of me and I just chopped him,” Canice recalls. The victim was identified as Crucian, who died three days later at the hospital. Canice was later arrested and charged for murder.
He says it is hard to explain why the long delays in the justice system nowadays, but his was a speedy trial. I was brought to court that same March and by October of 1988, I was already sentenced to death by hanging by Justice Suzie Auvergne who said it was pre-meditated murder,” Canice told the STAR.
However, his lawyer at the time Kenneth Foster decided to appeal, first on the grounds that his client was insane (by Canice accounts) and later on the grounds that his client was provoked and that the victim had not died on the spot, but after spending three days at Victoria Hospital. In May of 1988, Canice returned to court, this time represented by Peter Foster. His sentencing was then reduced to ten years hard labour which he started serving on May 11, 1988. It was the first sign he says, that he felt his prayers were being answered, having sought forgiveness from God for his life of crime, whilst in the holding cell for prisoners on death row.
“From that day I knew I had to change my life around and was on my best behaviour whilst in prison. I started working in the bakery at Her Majesty’s Prison at the time in Castries and later served as an orderly supervising other prisoners when we were sent out to work thanks to deceased head of prisons at the time Winston Melchoir,” he tells the STAR.
As his story goes, in 1994 upon returning with a group of prisoners following a day of menial work around town, he was called in by a superintendent of prisons, one Mr. Joseph. “He told me he had two bits of news for me, one good and one bad, asking which one I wanted first. I said to him, well give me the bad first, to which he then said there is no bad, just good. So I asked him what is it?” admitting he was anxious yet nervous then.
He was informed by the prison official that then Governor General Stanislaus James had agreed to pardon three inmates, out of a prison count of close to five hundred and Canice, who still had three more years to serve, was one of them. His heart leapt forward quickly he recalls. But his freedom would come with certain conditions. He first had to agree to be indoors by six each evening for the next three years. Also, if he committed any offense during that period, the three years would be added on to whatever sentencing was handed down by a court of law. Canice was presented with a document stipulating the pardon and the conditions which he was asked to think about whether he wanted to sign, or stay and serve his full term in prison.
“I told Mr. Joseph there was nothing to think about and so I signed,” he said.
On July 24, 1994, having spent EC$32,000 in legal fees, turned over a piece of land in Corinth that he had bought and with nothing else to his name but his freedom, Canice Lionel walked out of the prison on Bridge Street, his sister waiting outside.
It has been nineteen years of freedom, but nineteen years of challenges and obstacles he told me. Overcoming some of those has been with the help of some individuals including a renewed faith in God and having persons like Randolph Evelyn, head of the local Anglican Church and members of the church community embracing and encouraging him. Over the years, too, he has fathered three children who he said helped build his determination, never to return to a life of crime.
At every opportunity he gets, Canice says he talks about his life as a source of inspiration to others, particularly young people.
“The first thing I tell people is that prison is what you make it. You have enough time on your hands to come out a good citizen or a bad citizen, the choice is yours,” he says.
Asked about the temptations to go back to a life of crime, he said at first it was tough saying no. “But I had to do it for my kids. I have gotten offers, many offers to go back to selling drugs. Up to a day like today there are guys offering me house, car to come back and deal for them, but I just say no. This is not the life for me right now. The money did not bring me joy, maybe I was just happy for a while, but I lost everything,” he explains.
Canice’s first job after prison was with a mobile chicken van and he later worked with WLBL as a porter for seven years even being named employee of the month. He later worked as a security for schools and was transferred to the Boys Training Centre in 2006 where he claims he encountered “political victimization” and accusations by some other officers.
“Even some of the counselors there felt threatened that the boys got close to me and I used to speak to them and give them advice,” Canice says.
His contract at BTC was abruptly cut short in 2008. However he was rehired as security at the schools for a much lower salary.
The last five years he says has been a period of mounting frustrations, with the incident at BTC being the highlight. His domestic affairs feared no better. He claims that the woman he vowed to marry took away all his belongings and left him with mounting bills.
“I had a bank loan, courts, credit union loan and house rent on my account. I took a loan to help pay school for her son, bought him a computer with the understanding that when he left school he would help out. But he left Sir Arthur, turned his back on me and left the island,” he revealed.
His relationship with his now fifteen year old daughter also deteriorated something he says was instigated by her mom as well as the taunts from other students about her dad’s past.
Even when he attempted to take on part-time security jobs at local supermarkets, he says persons would go to the owners and bring up his past, saying they were not comfortable coming to the place of business with him around.
“I tell you it has been tough,” he says pointedly. “There were even persons I knew who would come to supermarkets where I would be working and asking me not to say anything whilst they steal an expensive bottle of rum and they would give me a small twenty,” he states. Still, with his arrears at the bank and courts mounting, he says he has remained strong, his mental resilience built by years in prison and the promises he has made to others and himself to keep on the right track.
“Prison is a mental place, not just for prisoners but for prison officers. So when I see very young prison officers these days it worries me, because you have to be strong psychologically to be in a prison. I have seen prison officers coming to work in a prison and they don’t even
want to lock up a prisoner and they will play Christianity, oh the Lord said this and
the Lord said that. Then
within six months, the same guys who were talking about God change. I have seen men become alcoholics, married prison officers having affairs with young female prison officers, this is the reality,” Canice offers.
“We need to address all of these and the number of social issues facing our young people today because not only are
they into the business of drugs, but sex and even making children for some now is a business. There is a lot I can share based on my experiences,” he states.
These days Canice is a hustler, but this time under his terms, not under that of a boss or drug lord, saying God is his boss and doing odd jobs to earn an honest pay. He still speaks to young people at every opportunity and says he is open to being utilized officially by the authorities to impact young people here.
According to him living a life of comfort and not necessarily luxury is his aim by working hard to earn a decent salary to pay his bills and help his children, whilst giving back to a society.
It is a society he believes can change if everyone plays their part and see themselves and being part of that change and changing themselves, into something better.
‘I lost everything!’