From rebel to convict to author
Gernel Darrell killed a man and spent five years behind bars.
Does he regret it?
“Yes, it was a stupid, unfortunate situation but I ain’t totally mad at it,” he said of May 31, 2001, the night he stabbed 42-year-old George Kelly. “It woke me up. I was drinking every day, smoking every day.
“I would’ve been dead or some bum on the street. Through prison I learnt there’s got to be more to life than partying, than wasting my time.
“I’m kind of sorry for George. Who knows what type of future he could have had if he hadn’t crossed paths with me? And I also feel remorse for his family because no one should have to go through losing a loved one early.”
Released from Westgate Correctional Facility in 2006, he worked through an eight-year parole period and then got started on a bucket list constructed while an inmate.
“I decided I wanted to travel and see the world rather than being a Bermuda ‘gangster’. I decided, no more stupid thinking. To me, travelling the world meant freedom. When I was growing up, I thought Bermuda was the world. In jail, I realised that it’s not.”
He decided to visit England with family members who were moving there, and stayed for three years.
“In Bermuda, we think that if we don’t follow a certain path, nothing can be done. But in the UK, you learn that if you work hard you can do everything yourself.”
For Mr Darrell, that meant sharing his life story with the world. He wrote a book, and then two more.
“The son of a former nun and born on the beautiful island of Bermuda, raised in the ghetto, I became a product of my environment,” is how he describes himself to Amazon shoppers. “I’ll take you through my ‘uncensored’ life story of love, loss, trouble, fights, army, sex and violence with my mentality of thinking the world is mine and I can do whatever I want.
“Trouble came in many forms but when tragic circumstances made me realise there is more to life, I question whether I can be the man I was born to be and stand strong and get through it or am I in too deep and there is no time for redemption.”
With no experience, but with family cheering him on, he wrote and published Redemption: A Real Life Saga Book 1, Redemption Book 2: The Saga Continues and Redemption Book 3: The Sequel to My Real-Life Saga with help from YouTube.
The books begin when Mr Darrell was a child in Middletown, Pembroke, and continue after he was sentenced to life in jail, at 23.
“I was always more of a rebel,” he said. “Even when I was at school at Warwick Secondary, it was one big party for me. I used to see [George Kelly] fussing with his girl; I would see it on a regular basis. I kept saying if I saw him do it again, I would slap him up.”
He ran into Mr Kelly at the bus terminal in Hamilton on May 31, and started a fight.
“On this night, I had been drinking,” he said. “I went up and slapped him and then he stabbed me with a knife and a screwdriver. My life changed from then.
“He dropped the knife. I picked it up.”
Now 39, Mr Darrell says he doesn’t clearly remember what happened next. According to court recordings, he followed Mr Kelly to a nearby taxi stand and stabbed him.
A friend took Mr Darrell to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for a punctured lung. Mr Kelly was found dead in a Victoria Street parking lot the next morning.
“They charged me with murder,” said Mr Darrell, who had been working in the Government’s Vector Control department. “My life changed from a fairytale, from thinking the world was mine, to the reality of the system and courts and being responsible for your actions.
“It was a shock. I was in disbelief.
“I had never been to jail before. I didn’t know what was going on. I went straight from the hospital on June 5 to jail. I didn’t get any bail. I was told I had to wait until January to be tried. And then January came, and I got life in prison. I walked out of court with life in prison. It was the hardest part of my life. With life, I realised that for almost 15 years I wouldn’t be walking out of jail.”
Because he had been convicted of murder, Mr Darrell spent his first year in a maximum security cell 23 hours a day.
“I got one hour outside by myself. It was torture,” he said. “I played cards by myself, I played football by myself ... after a month of that place, I was done.”
But, he started to read. His favourite authors had also run afoul of the law — Iceberg Slim was a pimp; Donald Goines a drug addict.
In his second year, Mr Darrell was given a little more freedom and even more in the years after.
“For the first time, I was actually around criminals, around truly crazy people,” he said. “I was 22 and I was around men that had been in jail for years and they were inside jail for sick crimes, like rape and kidnap. I went straight [to being] with seasoned criminals after my first year.
“I said, ‘The first chance I’ve got to get out of this place I will do’. I did my GED, violent offenders’ programme, [Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous], every church programme possible; life skills, computer courses, a calligraphy course and I worked on my business administration courses; anything they had available, I did it.”
He was thrilled when the Court of Appeal reduced his conviction from murder to manslaughter after finding it was possible he’d been provoked — an issue his lawyer had not raised during trial.
“Instead of life, I got 12 years,” he said. “I did five.”
When he was paroled in 2006, he didn’t share much about his time in prison with anyone.
“But my sisters and cousins said I should write down my life — the stories, the stuff I’d been through. I knew I’d be good at it but I never got around to it. When you get parole you basically have got to work, you have to follow rules, you must be a law-abiding citizen. I focused on that. In 2014, I finished parole and moved to England, to North London.”
It took him some time to start writing, but in October 2016, he literally put pen to paper.
“I wanted to get it out while it was fresh in my mind,” he said. “I feel my life is truly like a movie. I decided to share my story for a few reasons.
“It can be a deterrent for people that engage in criminal behaviour, it can make you step back and rethink your plan — to wake up to the reality of our actions, to show us we are responsible for our actions.
“I also wrote my story so guys with a criminal past can see there is hope and a life after jail or crime. For regular people, it gives you an insight in the mind of a thug, before he changes his life.
“For parents, it can give you a look at the youth of today and some stuff they do and go through. I wrote it all by hand. I couldn’t find the money for a laptop so I went to the pound store and got a notepad and pen and started writing. My fingers were blistering; I had to wrap them with paper and tape. When my computer came, I started transferring.
“Trying to focus was the hardest. How I got in the mood, I wrote [the first book as if I was writing a letter] to my sister Selena, so I could talk freely. She is the only person I could tell all, the only one who wouldn’t look at me no way if I told her something crazy.”
He published Redemption: A Real Life Saga Book 1 in August last year. The book’s sequels came out in May.
“Book 1 is about me growing up,” Mr Darrell said. “To find out who we are we have to look at our past, so it’s from then until I walked out of court with my life sentence.
“Book 2 is from the time I got my life sentence until I was paroled — it’s about everything inside; book three is from me walking out of jail until I finished my parole, eight years later.”
His plan is to write more books and help career criminals walk the straight and narrow.
“This is my full-time thing,” he said before leaving Bermuda again for England. “I want to go back and work on a few books and sort out a few affairs, promote my books a little more. My long-term plan is to write a self-help book for guys in prison; for guys in trouble, guys caught in the revolving door, guys who can’t leave their criminal past behind them.
“I want to get into the mind of those guys so they don’t keep going to jail.”
To do that he intends to put his books in the hands of as many criminals as possible.
“That way I have a bigger market and I can help more people,” he said. “I plan to donate my books into the facilities. I want to do it worldwide. I’m looking at jails everywhere so I can, one, have a bigger market, and, two, help more people.”
Becoming an author has given him “a legitimate chance at life”, Mr Darrell said.
“And it’s something I like to do. I have an audience to reach. If I wrote a book where I could change thinking and acting, the world would be better off. There’s no sense for people to keep getting in trouble, harassing the public, being a menace to society. I want to let them know about how silly, how stupid it is.”
People who knew him before prison are “stunned” by how he has changed and how “great” his books are.
“My thing is yes, they are entertaining you ,but have I given you something that changes your frame of thinking? Is my market [repeat offenders] learning anything?”
• Look for Gernel Darrell’s books at Brown & Co and Bermuda Bookstore. They are also available on Amazon and Kindle
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