From convict to carer
It was not until he was locked up that Fitzgerald Richardson began to feel free.
In and out of prison, he was certain he was built for “a life of crime”, but a dying friend gave him the courage to turn it around.
Now set to graduate the Bermuda College’s nursing assistant programme, the orderly gives credit to his late friend and fellow inmate.
“I found that I had this passion, while I was incarcerated, by helping out a good friend of mine who was terminally ill,” he said.
“I couldn’t see him like that and not do anything. I felt compelled to help him.”
His friend was HIV-positive and partially paralysed in his left arm. Viewed as a pariah, only Mr Richardson had the courage to touch him.
“I have to give thanks to that young man because without him, none of this would be going on.
“The last time I was incarcerated was the beginning of me having some freedom in my life, because I discovered who I really am.”
Mr Richardson was released in 2011. Sentenced to seven years for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, it was the last of a string of violent convictions.
He started at the college in September last year.
“I was feeling comfortable until I saw Mr Ford. I left class and didn’t come back,” he recalled.
He first met Russ Ford at addiction services when he was 14. A former senior nursing officer in Bermuda’s prisons, Mr Ford cofounded the Supportive Therapy for Aids persons and their Relatives (Star) charity and teaches at the college.
“I had a mixture of emotions when I saw Mr Ford because he knew me inside and out. Seeing him, I felt incarcerated in my mind all over again. I just left, and I was’t sure if I wanted to continue or not.”
The 49-year-old said Mr Ford and the rest of the staff, Kathy-Ann Swan and Karen Smith, urged him to continue. He returned the following week.
“My self-esteem was extremely low. I didn’t believe in myself; I didn’t think I could actually do it. But Mr Ford and the rest of the team really, really dug in deep to get me to where I am. And I’m grateful for that.
“I passed my final test and here I am today.”
Mr Richardson splits his time between Westmeath and King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. He rarely takes a day off and turns up at least an hour before his shift starts.
“My job is not just a paycheque — it’s a way of life for me. I get my peace of mind when I’m working,” he said.
“Sometimes I’ll leave half an hour late. I know I’m not getting paid, but I’m getting paid. I’m getting more to keep me humble and focused for the next day.”
He recalled how it began in Westgate: “[My friend] couldn’t control his bowels or his urine because of his sickness. I would clean him up three times a day.
“Sometimes I would get ridiculed by other inmates,” he recalled.
“They’re saying how could I go in and touch another man? But I’m looking at somebody that needs help.
“In all honesty, that experience did more for me than I did for him.
“It changed me in a lot of ways. That violent person that was in me, that was all a cover. That was a way of me protecting myself and not letting people get close to me.
“That’s not really who I am.”
He said his trust issues stemmed from his childhood.
“I never really gave that person a chance to get out because I was scared of being hurt or rejected. Something happens to me once and I just close right up.”
It always prevented him from trying new things.
“I had a habit of self-sabotaging instead of giving things a chance. I would always think that I wasn’t worthy, but doing this course changed all of that.
“It was really challenging, but it was the best thing I could have done because it boosted my self-esteem. It made me believe that some things are possible.”
Mr Richardson aspires to become an emergency medical technician. He once made his living in landscaping and construction.
“That was on and off,” he confessed. “If we go back further, I was making my living off of a life of crime.
“Foolishness, that’s what it was, and it landed me in and out of prison quite a few times.
“My message is to try to encourage and inspire guys that have been down that road that we can do something different. We can turn it around.
“I want somebody else to believe in themselves and I know that can be really challenging for guys like me.
He said it’s the first time he’s accomplished something positive.
“The personal challenges that I’d always had stopped me from following through. I would come up here, do the placement test and then I wouldn’t come back,” Mr Richardson said.
He explained his personal challenges as “addiction”.
“That’s my story, I can’t get away from that. I’ve been clean for coming on two years and so much has happened in that little bit of time.”
“Some people thought I would never change. I even thought that at one point.
“[The Bermuda College staff] weren’t letting me give up. My classmates were also very supportive. God put all the right people in my life at the right time.”
“I didn’t know that cleaning faeces off of somebody would humble me the way it does, but that’s the highlight of my day”, he added.
“I don’t even sweat it. They’re waiting for me to come to work with a good attitude and do it.
“When I look at the mess that God cleaned off of me, that ain’t nothing.
“He cleaned up some mess off of me and it stank far worse than that.”
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