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Former prison officer loves driving a taxi

Former prison officer David Zuill loves driving a taxi (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

David Zuill started his career driving a pumping truck for a local concrete company.

He left when he found the foreman to be racist.

“He used to speak to all the White workers and wouldn’t speak to the Black workers,” Mr Zuill said. “One day, I said to him, ‘Why don’t you speak to us Black guys?’ He said, ‘Do I have to?’.”

The Prison Service was hiring.

“I was a big guy because I had been working in construction,” the 82-year-old said. “I applied for a job there and got in.”

Mr Zuill started in 1977, about a month before Erskine “Buck” Burrows and Larry Tacklyn were hanged.

The men had been convicted of five killings, including the 1973 assassination of Sir Richard Sharples, the Governor, and his aide-de-camp, Captain Hugh Sayers.

“I was working when rioting broke out in the community,” Mr Zuill said. “Half of Hamilton was burning. The Southampton Princess was on fire. Four people died up there.”

Mr Zuill sat down with his wife and questioned whether he really wanted to be a prison officer.

He stuck it out, and was on duty on December 2, 1977, the night Burrows and Tacklyn were hanged at Casemates.

“It was surreal,” he remembered. “The prison was pretty much a microcosm of society, in general. We were worried that riots would break out in the prison.”

Tensions were high.

“One incident started to happen in the kitchen,” Mr Zuill remembered. “As Burrows and Tacklyn were led out after eating their last meal, they passed an officer called David Frost. Tacklyn told him, ‘That was a nice meal, Mr Frost. I’ll see you later’.”

The comment was interpreted to mean the police officer would also soon be dead.

“It upset him a great deal,” Mr Zuill said. “In another incident, one of the inmates grabbed an officer, held him in the air and urged other inmates to grab his keys.”

However, another prisoner urged him to put the police officer down, saying it was his wife’s brother.

Mr Zuill said it was really the close family connections between inmates and prison staff that stopped things from escalating.

“One prison officer had his father in the prison,” Mr Zuill said. “A number of people had nephews behind bars.”

That particular night was trying, but in the end Mr Zuill was glad he did not give up on being a prison officer.

“As a career, it had its ups and downs,” he said, “but it was rewarding.”

Sometimes, when he was out in the community, men would come up to him and say how he helped to turn their lives around. But it was also disappointing for him to see other former inmates disappearing into doorways.

“They did not want me to know they had gone back to drugs,” he said.

Mr Zuill spent the latter part of his career working with women in the Co-ed facility in St George.

When he retired in 1996, he thought he would stay at home with his wife, Odell.

“We quickly realised that was not going to work,” Mr Zuill laughed. “So I started driving a taxi. My wife and I got along so much better that way.”

He loves driving a taxi.

“I am a people person, and I like interacting with passengers,” he said.

One day, he was written up in The Royal Gazette, after he spotted a wallet in the road near the Elbow Beach Hotel in Paget.

“I pulled over and went and got it,” Mr Zuill said. “There was a receipt for a cycle in there. I called the cycle shop.”

They gave him an address for a house on Middle Road in Devonshire.

“I took the wallet to the man who lost it, and his son came out,” Mr Zuill said. “I asked if someone had lost their wallet.”

The man who owned the wallet appeared.

“He got tears in his eyes,” Mr Zuill said. “He said if he had been in Canada, no one would have returned it to him.”

They sent Christmas cards to each other for years.

These days Mr Zuill drives the chief executive of an insurance company.

“I have been doing that for about 24 years,” he said.

Mr Zuill was born in Crawl Hill, Hamilton Parish. When he was two years old, his mother was found to have cancer, while giving birth to twins.

“I was supposed to go and stay with my grandparents in Harrington Sound for two weeks,” Mr Zuill said. “I ended up staying with them until I was 21 and got married.”

His mother died when he was 16.

“She was in the hospital for a long time,” he said. “I felt a lot of guilt because I did not go to see her more.”

He was never told what type of cancer she had.

Now he is himself a cancer survivor.

“I have had prostate cancer for about 27 years,” he said. “I have had my prostate and bladder removed. They call me the bionic man.”

Mr Zuill and Odell have been married for 40 years.

“I was married the first time when I was 21,” he said. “I was not very mature at that point. I was more like an 18-year-old.”

However, he is grateful, for he had two daughters from the marriage.

“They are lovely,” he said proudly.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every week. Call Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or e-mail jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published April 23, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 24, 2024 at 8:03 am)

Former prison officer loves driving a taxi

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