Learning from my mistakes
Mustapha Rasheed will never forget February 25, 1969, the day he learnt he would spend the next three years in a US prison.
He was 21 and had been caught smuggling 40lbs of marijuana into the United States from Jamaica.
“I knew, being honest with myself, I’d done the crime, and I had to pay the time,” said Mr Rasheed.
“It was very frightening. I was young and I didn’t know anyone there.”
Prison, and its armed guards, was a far cry from the quiet life he had led in Bermuda.
Mr Rasheed grew up in Devonshire with his mother, Angelina Maynard, and three siblings.
In his late teens, he made a name for himself playing with Devonshire Cougars. He also sang in hotels and nightclubs under the name “Angelo”, alongside Palmer Wade, Paul Jackson and Loretta Augustus.
His life slid off course when he turned 20. LSD and marijuana were the way his circle socialised.
“We weren’t junkies,” he said. “We were still functioning. We were still respectful to our parents and women.”
He became a smuggler in 1969 and got caught.
“I wanted to move to the US,” he said. “I wanted to pursue other avenues. They offered me $10,000 plus plane fare and room and board.”
Thinking it would give him the cash needed to set up his new life, he accepted the offer but was busted at John F Kennedy Airport.
Almost as soon as the bars slammed shut, he knew his life had to change.
“I am not a person who likes confinement,” the 69-year-old said. “It was very difficult every night getting in my bed at 8pm. I would cry a lot.”
He started off in a detention centre in New York and then moved to state prisons in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida.
One of his cellmates was a minister in the Nation of Islam and acted as a mentor. Mr Rasheed took his messages on board.
“He was telling me we have to do something for ourselves,” Mr Rasheed said.
“We have to learn how to be self-sufficient and learn how to be more respectful to our women and our race. We are trying to build our own nation.”
A year and six weeks after he was sent to prison, he was released on parole with a plane ticket to Nassau in the Bahamas.
From there, he flew to Bermuda. “I cried when that plane touched down,” he said.
With no cash in hand, he will be for ever grateful to the bus driver who gave him a free ride into Hamilton where his family now lived.
“My family thought it was a miracle,” he said. “They were very happy to see me.”
His old friends thought he would want to do drugs to celebrate. He refused.
“After that, I sang a little, but I had to stop because there was too much temptation with pretty girls and liquor everywhere,” he said. “My new-found religion gave me a sense of purpose.”
Instead, he started Rainbow Productions, a company that brought entertainers from overseas here to perform.
Over the years, he has worked with the likes of Billy Paul, Third World, Fabulous Five, The Fatback Band, The Meditations, and Beres Hammond.
“Today, I mainly help other people bring in talent, and they do it under their name,” he said.
“I connect people. I arrange things like transportation and hotel stays and that sort of thing. Right now, I am helping Rick Richardson to bring in 12 girls from Cuba who do salsa to perform at Labour Day.”
His favourite was Billy Paul, the late American soul singer.
“A lot of the celebrities aren’t genuine,” he said. “They don’t live up to what they are singing about. But Billy Paul was genuine. He was very down to earth and interested in meeting the common man. Beres Hammond has always been nice to work with as well. He is a very social person.”
He married in 1970, but it did not last. He met his second wife, Brenda, while working at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Her 5-year-old son, Chuckuma, was in the children’s ward with a kidney problem, and Mr Rasheed would frequently stop by to see him.
“I usually came by in the afternoon while she was there,” he said. “She struck me as a very honourable woman.”
The couple celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary on August 19.
Mr Rasheed retired from KEMH as supervisor of housekeeping four years ago, having worked there for 35 years.
He spends his time reading, and going to plays and concerts; he and his wife will often travel to New York to see a show on Broadway.
He has five children — Angelo, Shandrika, Nasir, Nafeesa and Munir — seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.
He has been a member of the Masjid Muhammad Mosque on Cedar Avenue since he was 22. He thinks it saved his life.
“I am not a leader in it,” he said. “I am a follower, a person who follows the principles of a religion to lead a better life, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or email@example.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them.
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