Prisoner urges youths to avoid gang culture
By the time Dameko Dublin turns 25, he will have served six straight years behind bars, missed all five of his daughter's birthdays and lost 11 friends to gang violence.
At 15, having been kicked out of school in Bermuda and losing his father in a tragic motorbike racing crash, Dublin fell into a life of crime and drug dealing with the 42 gang around St Monica's Road that culminated in 2012 with a 12-year prison sentence for handling a gun.
Today, still two years from a possible parole date, he urged youngsters caught up in the island's deadly gang culture to choose a different path from the one that has blighted his young life.
“It's pointless — the direction you are going in has no good outcomes,” he said. “I don't care if you make $1 million, there are no good outcomes.
“I feel I have a duty to reach out to the next generation too and tell them this ain't the path you want to go; there is something better out there for you.
“Get involved in something where you can display your talents in a positive way.”
Dublin grew up on the North Shore of Pembroke with his mother, two sisters and brother.
He attended Little Lambs preschool and Prospect Primary.
“I spent my early childhood swimming and fishing,” he added. “We'd play marbles and the guy next door taught children how to make kites. I cannot remember any bad times.”
At 5 he moved to New Jersey so his mother could pursue her studies and the family moved into the project buildings of Elizabeth where young Dameko got his first glimpse of gangs and violence.
Despite being enrolled in St Patrick's private school, he was in and out of trouble for fighting, and was expelled after getting involved in a particularly bad brawl at a basketball game.
“In New Jersey I saw everything from a different perspective; it opened my eyes to the bigger world,” he said. “We saw people selling drugs and driving around in flashy cars.
“It was an environment where money talked, it was not about what you accomplished.”
In the wake of his father's death and his expulsion, Dublin took to stealing milk and croissants that had been left outside schools, to buy cannabis — which he then peddled to buy a ticket home to Bermuda.
“It just came naturally. I did not give it a second thought,” he said.
“I started to feel like it was me against the world. I ran away from home and lived on the street for a while with a friend.
“I thought, why struggle in a foreign country when I could go back to somewhere I was born and bred?
“A seed was planted, though; if I could flourish in this life I had discovered, why go back to school?”
Dublin admits that the “wheels came off” after his father died.
“He had been my idol,” he said. “He had an energy that attracted people to him. As a family we were close and always did things together in the holidays.
“When it comes to my father, words can't express the love I feel. After he died, I emotionally detached myself from everyone. If he'd been around when I came back, things could have been different.”
Dublin returned to Bermuda at 14 and moved into his grandmother's home close to St Monica's Road.
“I did not really have a plan for my future,” Dublin said. “I enrolled at school but then I got caught by police in a car full of drugs.
“I was put on probation because of my age and the school told me they didn't want me.
“I felt dumb, I had only just got back.
“It just started from there. My days were spent in St Monica's with the people I had grown up with, many of whom were relatives. I never thought of it as a gang, like the gangs I had seen in New Jersey.
“There was nothing else to do; I tried the Opportunity Workshop by Devonshire Rec but I found it boring. St Monica's was my comfort zone.
“I never felt sucked in or compelled to follow this path. Some of these guys were actually encouraging me to go to school.”
Dublin started selling drugs and spending his profits on “clothes, women and parties”.
“I had more money than I ever had,” he said. “It was like a family. You go in where you fit in. That is how I lived right up until I got convicted.”
In 2011 Dublin's high rolling world came crashing down when police found a gun hidden on the rear wheel of a motorbike in the Gravity nightclub car park in Devonshire.
Although he was not arrested initially, forensic tests on the weapon revealed traces of his DNA and he was arrested.
At just 18 he found himself in the Westgate's maximum security wing awaiting trial.
“I never saw anything like this happening,” he said. “Maybe it was because of my bravado. Sometimes you feel invincible and I felt like superman then. You could tell me nothing.”
Dublin was convicted of handling a firearm and jailed for 12 years in 2012, with the judge ordering that he serve half the sentence before being considered for parole.
“Part of me always knew I was going to jail, I just did not know how long for,” he said. “That first night I just felt detached from the world, a part of me was gone.
“When the judge gave me 12 years it really set in. I realised how much of my life I had thrown away.
“Those first couple of years were hard time, always on lock down and getting caught with mobile phones and just doing things to get in trouble.”
While locked up in Westgate, Dublin became a father. It was many months before he met his daughter for the first time.
But it was the thought of not seeing her grow up that lit a fire in Dublin.
“A big part of what I am trying to do now is about being a better person for my daughter,” he said. “She's three now and I want to spend as much time as I can with her.
“I can not afford to go backwards, I can not afford to re-enter negative environments or socialise with negative people. That path is a short-term path. If I walk that path it will lead to death or re-incarceration.
“As long as I am adamant about this, I feel nothing can stop me. If you know what you have come from, you know it is not what you want to go back to.
“I hope to go back to school and I am building that foundation by looking into classes.”
Dublin took his GEDs while at Westgate and passed with flying colours. He has since signed up for a string of other courses within the corrections system and was recently moved to the Right Living House Therapeutic Community at The Farm.
He says he hopes to become a mentor or a counsellor when he is released.
“I have always enjoyed learning,” he said. “A couple of my friends inside really helped me with this too; they helped me with my punctuation.
“Then Commissioner Lamb came down and asked me how it was going. It made me feel like someone cared.
“Before I felt like it was the system against me, but now I realise that the same system I was fighting was trying to help me get a new start.”
Dublin told The Royal Gazette: “If I could speak to the young man I was back then, I would try and help him understand the difference between long and short term.
“My mind is clear from substances now, but back then I just had short-term goals.
“I did not even expect to make 21. I lived each day like it was my last.
“Apart from the people I have lost those times were some of the most happiest times in my life.
“When you become a part of this culture and you accept the street life it dehumanises you and the regret you might feel.
“Back then I was not scared to die; my life did not matter to me nor did anyone else's.”