One of the ongoing narratives in the gang warfare plaguing Belize City is the targeting of young people who were involved, however tangentially, in the criminal lifestyle but have decided to turn away. The Youth Apprenticeship Program is one of the leading programs reaching out to troubled youths and we asked its director Diane Finnegan today whether she believes her youths are being attacked for breaking out of the mold.
“I will repeat what my youth said to me this morning. He said ‘Miss D, why are they doing this to us? Why do they want to bring us down when we are trying our best to change that lifestyle we used to live?” I think that when you are journeying through life, you will face a lot of obstacles, you will face a lot of challenges. When a man is bitter, he doesn’t really care who his target is, his purpose is just to lash out on whosoever comes to his thoughts. That is how I feel.”
An important aspect of the program is managing the emotions and soothing the egos of youth who are accustomed to violent means of retaliation. Indeed, according to Diane Finnegan, there was talk of striking back at Samuel Miguel’s killers, who remain unknown at this time. However, she says she used a graphic illustration to turn her young men from that path.
“Just as I had spoken to some of the young boys who at Samuel’s funeral, they were bitter, and they were angry and ready to kill. Their words, as a matter of fact. I said to this specific young man, ‘OK, I’ll go with you, and I’ll kill along with you, whosoever killed Samuel. But you have to promise me that, when we do this, Samuel will be here when we get back.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Miss, that can’t happen.’ I said, ‘So it has to end, because, at the end of the day, you will hurt their people, and they’ll come back and you’ll have to bury another one of your friends.”
But what answers will “Ms. D,” as she is affectionately known to many of her 142 charges, have when Leon, well-liked by his peers, is laid to rest? Here is how she answered.
“One of the things that amazed me with these funerals is that, the individuals who are hurting don’t get the opportunity to see the families torn, because they stand outside the service. They don’t come into church. They are outside. So when the service is going on, and these families are torn, and can’t let go of their loved one, they don’t get to see that. That is why they stay outside and develop the negativity and the bitterness, because they are all leaning on each other with the same word, ‘Let’s go do this. Let’s go attack. Let’s go revenge.’ There’s none out there. The mentors are in the church, and they are left alone outside, to grieve on their own, to hurt on their own, and to develop the anger and bitterness of wanting to revenge the fact that they now will be burying someone they love.”