Haiti Earthquake survivor recounts prison escape and spiritual journey with the hopes of inspiring the youth to stray from bad lifestyle decisions and step out of the wrong circles.
In 2010, a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti, and almost all of the 4,000 prisoners at the National Penitentiary escaped. The author of this book was one of those men. In his story, he recounts the lifestyle and decisions that landed him in one of the worst prisons in the world. He delves into his spiritual journey and how this alignment brought him the miraculous freedom he has today, gifted with the opportunity to change the life of the youth that have fallen into similar lifestyle patterns as he once had. In his story, he shares the valuable life lessons he learned as he went from being trapped in a country far from home under a life sentence for smuggling drugs to where he is today, running a successful plumbing business and being a proud husband, father, and home-owner.
I looked down at my wrists as we drove over the pot-hole spotted roads of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. The metallic clink of the handcuffs wrapped around my wrists was in synchronic harmony with the chains of the other fellow prisoners. They had packed us in the Jeep, like chickens in a cluster, roughly bumped and shoved toward the National Penitentiary of Haiti. I looked across from me to the other guys that got arrested with me. John was staring down at his feet while Samuel nibbled on his fingernails. Maria was in a different Jeep, but I was sure she also felt as terrified and uneasy as we all were. We had just gotten caught at the airport with 76 pounds of marijuana. I was brimming with regret. I could feel the beam of sweat slide down my nose and drop onto my dry palms and an itch on my forehead as a fly crawled across, taking full advantage of my inability to lift my hand to swat it away. I was trapped. For the first time in my life, I truly felt a loss of control. Suddenly I heard a loud bang at the front of the Jeep as the prison guard hit the back of his rifle on the bars separating us from the driver.
“We have 2 minutes to arrive,” he announced sharply. “You will have your belongings collected, and you will be placed in the holding area until we find you a place in the prison.” His eyes were bloodshot red as he looked right past us, his mouth chomping on chewing tobacco. As he spoke, I felt his spit land on my knees. I looked up at him quietly, unsure how to react. I was in utter and complete shock. It still felt like I was stuck in a nightmare, a limbo state, unable to wake up. The anxiety was setting in. I looked out of the window of the Jeep to help calm myself. I could see the sun was beginning to set on the horizon. Is this the last sunset I would ever see? I had no idea what to expect. At this exact time, I was supposed to be celebrating and partying till the sun rose under the skies of St. Martin. Today was supposed to be the day we made the money to get us to the world of riches. But instead, here I was. I remember being very scared and very angry. Mostly, I was angry. How could I be so foolish? If only I had said no. If only I had been smarter. If only, if only, if only.
When we arrived, the guard with the chewing tobacco flung open the Jeep door and ushered us out hastily. His eyes were empty like he had seen too much.
“C’mon, kid. Just try one puff. It’s nothing!” My uncle held out a marijuana joint to my face.
I looked up at my brother and my uncle sitting next to him. My uncle’s eyes were droopy and bloodshot, and he had a wide grin on his face. I heard my grandma’s voice in my mind: Pato, you must stay away from all that marijuana stuff. That’s the Devil’s lettuce right there. I looked back at the joint and scrunched my nose in disgust. It smelled awful. I shook my head. I didn’t want to try it. My brother shrugged and accepted it from him to try. He took a small puff and immediately started heaving and coughing loudly. I sat down and watched silently.
I was nine then, and while I never really experienced smoking properly until I was 17, I was exposed to it very early. As little boys, my brother and I would go into my uncle’s room to play wrestling because wrestling was very popular back in our childhood days. Sometimes, he would smoke. My grandmother never liked me going there, but we were kids and wanted to play wrestling. By the time I was in my late teens, smoking weed was normalized to me. Everyone did it. It was a matter of time before I would. It was just a part of the growing-up phase. Little did I know that fast forward almost ten years after that day with my cousins, I would be watching my best friend roll one up in that very same room. I recall my first smoking experience as one where I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a bit of a haze, but that was a pinnacle moment in my life because, after that day, I never stopped smoking for many years.
Even as a kid, I knew what I was doing was wrong. I was raised being told that smoking weed is no good. But I didn’t know the name for the feeling that kept driving me back to smoking weed. As I grew older, this same unexplainable pull would make me want to do many things that I knew were not good for me or those around me. Yet, I couldn’t control it. You see, temptation is something that we are not taught to control. We are often raised being told off for doing something wrong, with some scolding and, if lucky, some explanation for why we shouldn’t do it. But we aren’t taught how to face the temptation beast and conquer it. To master handling temptation, we must first understand it. To understand it, we must be able to identify the Stages of Temptation.
12th of January, 2010. 4:30 PM. It was a Tuesday and also my mom’s birthday. I had just piled dumplings with red-bean peas sauce on my plate and was ready to dive into the meal. I sat crossed-legged on the floor with the rest of the prisoners, savoring this small moment where I ate my favorite prison food. After so long in prison, you become more appreciative of the little moments that make you feel good. For me, it was those giant dumplings that were so big that one of them was suitable for the day. I just got a new phone and was going through it as I munched on my dumpling. It was then that I began to hear a distant rumbling sound. For a split second, I thought I was hearing the roaring ocean waves on a rough stormy day. But then I remembered that I was far from the waters and trapped between thick prison walls. There was no ocean here. The men around me sank into a collective hushed murmur, looking around in confusion. The rumbling grew louder and louder as everything began to rattle.
The closer the rumble got, the more roughly the floors around us trembled. At this point, it was apparent. We were being swallowed up by a monster of an earthquake. The murmurs turned into yelling as men above me started falling out of their hammocks, and those running to the shelter could not take more than a couple of steps before tumbling to the floor. I scrambled to run underneath my bed for protection, but the ground shook so hard I couldn’t even walk the distance. With panic in the eyes of the prisoners around me, I, too, began to fear for my life. Stay calm. Stay focused. I tried my best not to panic. My mind was clouded with the thought of my son and the cold realization that I might not be able to share my story. Then, like a scene from a movie, the building began to lean to the far right, the slanting grounds pushing everyone to fall to the right side. This lasted very, very long, 7 seconds. The first wave had passed.
In the split silence, we heard the keyguard drop and run. We were being left like trapped mice in a cage, with no option but to fend for ourselves. Within seconds, the air tensed with panic. We all knew that we would be killed if we were to stay here for another wave. I could hear a commotion at the gate as dozens of men piled up and desperately pulled at the bars to force it open. I pushed myself between them and clasped the cold bars in my reach. We were going to survive this. Heave and shove, heave and shove. Every passing second felt like a lifetime, a reminder of how short life was. The more fearful we got, the harder we pulled at the gate. Finally, it began to inch open until there was enough gap for a man to squeeze through. And that is how almost 4,000 prisoners escaped Haiti National Penitentiary.