Meet Desmond Skyers.
Born in Britain and raised in Jamaica, Desmond moved to New York as a young man— “the dream” of all his friends. Once there, though, he learned that poverty doesn’t change with a colder climate. “The only pain we knew,” he recalls, “was the pain of not having.”
He fell quickly into what he calls “the rude boy” life.
On March 26, 1993, federal authorities arrested him at his home in soggy Silver Spring. They charged him with cocaine trafficking. He’d spend 23 years, five months and 7 days in federal prisons—including an entire year in solitary confinement.
It was there he taught himself to read, and to write. He listened to political radio and looked up the new words he was hearing in a Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus his fiancée had sent him.
Over the next 17 years, he studied furiously with a correspondence college, and working on drafts that would become his 2017 autobiographical novel, Jamaican Gangs of New York. He never earned his degree because the feds transferred him from Texas to an immigration jail in Mississippi, where the correspondence college wasn’t welcome.
“It was kind of a crazy time for me,” he recalls. “Thank God I used it wisely.”
Now 58, Desmond lives in London. He spends his time mentoring kids like him—would-be “rude boys,” many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants. And he’s telling his story.
You can hear some of that story below. You can buy Jamaican Gangs of New York online. Finally, you can ask yourself how the fuck a country like ours waits until they put a clearly brilliant guy like that in prison (for drugs, no less!) to give him a formal education.
At a minimum, perhaps there is an institution of higher learning in this forsaken Republic that will allow him to finish his degree?
(Interest declared: This video was prepared by my friend Adam Smallman, who is also one of the cruel bosses at my day job.)