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Saturday 20 April 2019
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Memories of Jahmai Donaldson

Jahmai Donaldson, 26, was shot dead in Pleasantville, San Fernando, on Wednesday.

He and Akeemie Wilson, 30, were cutting grass at Donaldson’s home when two men arrived in a car and shot them dead.

Donaldson is a prominent character in a book by Newsday columnist Debbie Jacob, Wishing for Wings. He was among the first group of YTC inmates to take her English language CXC class there, and she wrote about him and his classmates in her book on the experience, published in 2013.

She quotes him as writing, at 18, on why he wanted to take the class:

“Presently I now understand my true purpose here at YTC. Before I was lost in the world of wrong-doing but thanks to God and the teaching of my adopted brother I’m on the path to understanding my purpose in this present life.”

Jacob wrote of him in the chapter The Forgotten Boys of Trinidad:

“I lost Jahmai by my third week of teaching CXC English language at YTC.

“’Jahmai won’t be back until further notice, but he sent work for you. He’s in lockdown for fighting,’ the boys in my class said. (Lockdown is the YTC equivalent of solitary confinement.)

“I knew I would not miss Jahmai. I had him pegged as the one boy who might give me trouble in class because of the way he muttered inaudible comments through his mouthful of gold teeth… ”For two months, I taught Jahmai in lockdown, where he had spent the better part of two years…Every time he came out, he managed to get into another fight. Back inside he would go.

“Each essay Jahmai wrote had the most delicate and exquisite handwriting I had ever seen…His handwriting seemed somehow to help his thoughts to flow across the paper…Jahmai had so many interesting thoughts.

“Jahmai began to send notes at the bottom of his essays. The first read, ‘Miss, I am always so angry, and I don’t know why.’

“’Read,’ I wrote back to him, ‘and write.

“You will find people in books who share your struggles. Writing will help you to find the answers you are looking for in life.’

“…He read Miguel Street by VS Naipaul; classics like The Lost World by Jules Verne, King Solomon’s Mines, by H Rider Haggard, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and the Iliad by Homer…

“…I soon realised Jahmai might be one of the smartest boys I had ever taught and I desperately wanted him back in my class….

“After two months in lockdown, Jahmai came back to class….He would not get into another fight that year. Jahmai turned out to be a pillar on which I built my English class. He would give me great insights into the forgotten boys of Trinidad. He would teach me about faith, perseverance and acceptance. Jahmai would give me the gift of hope.” Donaldson got a Grade 1 in his CXC exam.

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