In this installment of Our Stories, Ricardo A. Mills, tell us how serving time behind bars has made him a better person even after been deported back to his homeland Jamaica to start over. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise – white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience…this is Our Stories!
Meet Ricardo A. Mills
Ricardo A. Mills, musically christened Lejahni is one of eight siblings. Humming and making a musical sound was something he could do, even before speaking. Lejahni’s parents migrated in 1987 leaving him and his siblings to become what is commonly known in Jamaica as “barrel pickney”. Years later they reunited in a different country, America; it was very exciting but different. Flooded with constant memories of sounds from his father’s music shop made Lejahni miss home and his friends. However, he adjusted quickly; living the fast life, moving around with fast girls and getting into minor trouble with the law. The anticipated pursuit of the American dream seemed unattainable and as a teen, the temptation was easy so he eventually succumbed to the streets and was later sentenced to prison.
Though this tragic downfall would rob him of his youth, he would eventually finish his studies and gain the necessary self-improvement tools that he could use beyond the prison walls. The Bible became his daily inspiration while music became his motivation, as he counted the date to his release. Cold bars, orange suit and fighting for survival as he maintained a focused mindset was never an easy constant to live with. Through this hardship, Lejahni heard the call of music once more. On realizing that he could use himself as a vessel for uplifting and delivering positive messages for the next generation of bad boys and girls, he headed down a path that would change his life forever.
Refusing to allow anything to become an obstacle in his life. He focused and built on to the vision he had, while been locked away. Now a man with a mission and a plan, Lejahni has joined with other artists, taking his experiences to mentor youngsters caught in the vicious cycle of crime. Let us see how Lejahni intends to use his music on this mission as he gives back to society while accomplishing his dream and coping with the changes in his life as he returns back home.
- How was life for you as a child when your parents migrated?
When they left It was the typical ghetto life for me, however, I had a lot of family around. The experience was a mixture of both good and bad. Living with my grandmother at the time it came with its own struggles and with no real supervision. I was left roaming the streets of Balcombe Drive and around Waterhouse. At the time, thirteen of us as family member [s] lived together in one little yard in one little room.
- What was living in America like for you?
It was a bigger place, with a faster pace that brought me different experience, it broaden my mind. It was all right; I met many friends and interacted with some of my family up there. What I learnt as a child I got a chance to put it in practice.
- Explain what you mean by “bigger place and at a faster pace”.
…Both parents living in America and both of them living in different state. One state might be urban and the other kind of a rural area with more white people and stuff like that. America is a melting pot with a whole heap a nationality and stuff like that yuh no. The bigger place get you to move around and experience different things, and being young-minded it make yuh kind more face moving. Due to how yuh young yuh might get into likkle trouble to nothing serious but things that you should not get into. Bigger place faster pace you know what a mean. Melting pot America.
- Being separated from your family, did that have any bearing on the wrong path you chose?
….To be honest, I would not say I choose a wrong path. If back then I had a choice in the matter I will always choose good. They say teach a child in the way he should go and he will never depart from it. Living in certain environment, you grow and see certain things so we do not have to choose anything it just come to you. As you get older, you learn and you see greater things, so you make your own choice. The young impressionable mind can be influence easily so that for me was one of the reason I was misled. However, I would not say the wrong path.
- Did you think of the possibilities of going to jail?
I was behind bars for 15 years; however, I was release after a twelve years sentence. This was the same fast life I mentioned earlier on that cause it. Ripping and moving from state to state. Being young and wild…my jail sentence was nothing premeditated, it was a spur of the moment because of an altercation that got way out of hand. For that I was charged with first degree murder. I went to trial and beat the case but that’s how I ended up in jail still. I am claustrophobic and I met someone earlier on who said they spent 8 months in prison and I ask him how him do it. I never think about what could about anything like that, but once it happen you going just choose life and consider the fact it done happen already and me rather choose life so me just hold it and gwan hold me head up.
- Did you get lonely sometimes?
Of course, extremely, extremely, extremely lonely sometimes, especially being away from a female being a man, yuh dun know certain physical things is like a habit. Is like once we have it we have to have it. So yes me did wah get out here and find a nice little empress fi take weh dah loneliness deh still (chuckles).
- Did you regret not seeing your family?
I missed them! Some of them came and look for me and stuff like that, being use to one’s presence made you missed them even when they come to visit because is not like you was seeing them again day in and day out. I never born in America so is not like any of the man them in jail was person I knew, everyone was a stranger to you. So most times, I kept myself to myself until maybe yuh see a Jamaican come in and you and him gwan rap like a brother yuh know family. Other than that me just stay to miself and miss me family.
9. Describe the experience of being locked up. How did it affect you?
Is a shock when you just get locked up just like life itself we had good days and bad day [s]. The nature of the crime that I was sentence for and the biggest thing for me was wondering when it would be over. As far as knowing you say me get 15 years suspended after 12 it was not nice but it must end. The greatest thing you go through is you and somebody a par knowing it almost inevitable you must break apart. Hearing all the man dem in prison a bawl cause you miss yuh girl. So being there and yuh have someone to hold yuh up keep yuh and when them gone yuh miss that. But that brought me to reading and talking to people trying to understand life. I spoke with everyone, knowing that some people where there for all different reason [s]. I had to program myself about things to do and not to do when I get home.
10. How did it affect you mentally?
I always tell people, well me always tell people who I talk to about this, to me being incarcerated in America is more mental than physical. Yes is a hostile environment, and is a rough environment, but member inno them we make yuh get Cd player, Tv, Radio, and yuh keep the place clean. I keep the cell they give me clean. Me nah go say a comfort but them make it a way where them provide certain things for you and if you behave badly they take those privileges away from you. How the American system break yuh is them do it mentally. Me weh spend 12 years deh a tell you that, everything is all about a mind thing. Them know how fi break yuh yow, how fi break yuh spirit and break yuh as a man. Yuh can’t even use the bathroom in peace, cause fi them window weh dem have yuh can’t block it so yuh just expose. They embarrass you and it break yuh. Yuh no want yuhself in display…This discussion can go long but it break yuh. Me a tell yuh the truth, me believe it make me become not into myself, it made me recluse, even though me love people it make me shut out people. It hard for me to be down a lot of people is like me don’t want it although me love them. Is like something I have been struggling with for years as an artiste. Yeah it alright to pass people and hail them but it kinda make me pull in to me shell. Member you deh round a place where a lot of man is so me just stay to meself. Now that I am back home even after so long it no go away, It was like a learning behaviour so now most of the times I just stay to myself and think conscious about the things that are happening same way.
11. How did you overcome the depressing feeling?
Me a tell you the truth honestly, don’t want to be a downer, but more time yuh no see much to be happy about. You know you have you family and kids that love you, but the day-to-day runnings kinda weigh yuh down. Me nah go say thoughts of prison weight me down, me understand bout life and experience, but I spend a great deal of my life in there but me nah go make it weight me down but the people them weh yuh deal with sometime and what you give and don’t get back. I won’t say I am a perfectionist but I try to be real with people all the time. Certain level of realest in people it bothers me. So to be honest I must say I am still struggling with that part.
12. If you could change anything in your past life, what would it be?
I grew to be the kind of person that say don’t cry over spilled milk, but if I could I would want to be more educated academically and otherwise. Cho but, me live the kinda a life weh me say it happen already and me is a firm believer of life. So I take the past as a lesson and hopefully the future will be a blessing.
13. While you were incarcerated you completed your educational journey. Tell us about that. What did you study while in prison?
I dropped outta school from Junior High, I wasn’t even a good attendee at the time either. So when I got incarcerated I started a school program which was a GED program or a High School diploma program and I took a placement program and they told me that my level was at a 4th grade to be honest and within 7 months I got my Diploma. After that, I went to do a vocational program which was an Electrical Engineering program and I got my certificate for that (chuckles). After that, I left it to pursue my musical career. Now while I was in there I tried to play an instrument however the facilities never allowed us to play instrument. They said if we knew how to play it before we could continue but if not we couldn’t… I never really understand, but I just worked with it.
14. In what ways being back home “not as hard/not as easy as one would think”?
I have been here for quite some time to be exact 9 years and counting. Trying to put the pieces together. It not as easy as one would think and not as hard as one might imagine, but it’s just a struggle and a nine years me deh yah put back the pieces together…For me right, I left Jamaica when I was 12 years old, me grow up inna waterhouse no know nowhere else. Even though I no go back there go live, there is the only place it know. After that I never live anywhere else so long. My life being one place for a year, two or three. Them say yuh younger years shape yuh. So leaving Jamaica so young you can imagine going into a strange land, everything strange, and everybody strange. Then coming back home to a different Jamaica I got culture shock all over again. Jamaicans abroad whole on to Jamaican Pride we always boast of what we do and not do as Jamaican. So when I come back and see say the brand change and things no really work that way. I still no get integrated back in the system as yet. Working with Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel gave me the chance to see how to get integrated. The good part is knowing that you have yuh trees in yuh back yard, yuh neighbours pass and hail yuh and some a dem cuss yuh but yuh still see a lot of good in Jamaica, but it no so easy. However, we give thanks for life and all the good things it comes with.
15. What would you say to persons who follow the unfortunate path of crime?
…We are imperfect but look into yourself and find the bigger person. I am a true believer that life as a purpose, nothing in life is random other than maybe some decision we make day to day. Life itself isn’t random, so just try find the bigger you even though we were built imperfect. Hear me a say
17. What plans do you have for the future?
My plan coincides with my present plan today. Yuh understand me. It just need to escalate and get greater. My plan is to raise my family, sing music and established as an international artiste by doing uplifting music that we inspire and motivate others
18. How are you using your bad experiences to improve the lives of others?
I have learnt bad and good so me choose good. Naturally, when anyone is around you try depart some of what you learn on them. It just natural, me have some friend weh them can’t even lef them yard because them woman might think them a go elsewhere. People get the positive vibes from me and in the same time I make them know say me no perfect so me try fi use me experience to stare people in the right way.
I have also committed myself to advocate and help people in situation like mines. This allowed me to the Adult Correctional Centre Fort Augusta, several group homes and schools across Jamaica.
19. What is your advice for other deportees?
The term deportee kinda have a stigma to it I don’t like to be considered as any name weh have a stigma. Even though that’s the name for it I would more say struggling Jamaicans who come back home or have been living here them whole life. So I would tell them to be resilient and as far as we know we only have one life. We live every day but die once, so if you’re a man or woman and you going through this setback, be resilient don’t give, don’t give up, don’t give up. Therefore, think, find a plan and then execute….I also know that being a recluse is not a good feeling I understand and can tell you that at times it is a crippling feeling. So I would advise anyone who have this feeling to find someone to talk with. The better term for recluse is social anxiety so I say you find someone who you can talk to or a professional. You have one life so go for something be resilient and go for your goals.
Thanks for sharing your story Lejahni!