An American ex-convict with an extraordinary story addressed members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) yesterday, challenging them to go beyond the call of duty and begin to understand the mindset of the criminal element in the country, which statistics show is mostly made up of youngsters.
Andre Norman went from being a notorious gang leader and spending 15 years of a 25-year sentence behind bars to becoming a world-renowned speaker, leadership trainer and now a lecturer at Harvard University.
Mr. Norman delivers messages that the impossible can become possible with sheer determination and believing in one’s self.
When he is not working with businesses, he provides counselling and training for non-profit organisations, cities, prison systems, juvenile detention centres, foundations and other institutions on how to create effective programming that addresses the needs of high risk youth.
In fact, that is what brought Mr. Norman to The Bahamas Tuesday to address a packed room of police officers at the Traffic Division on the East West Highway.
His message mirrored that of a recent message by National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage, who called on officers to stop treating prisoners like objects but instead like human beings.
“I can talk to you about programme design; I can talk you about working with kids and parents from around the country and around the world, but it comes down to a basic premise: Do you believe? Not what is your job description, but do you believe? The fact is there were people who saw me and didn’t believe. They want to believe now after the fact, but where were you before when you had the opportunity to say to me ‘yeah I need to lock you up because you did do bad, but brother I still believe in you’,” Mr. Norman said as he addressed dozens of officers.
“Handcuffs and belief don’t have anything to do with each other. You have an opportunity to say ‘brother I’m sorry you’re going down this road, but there are other options for you. I hope that you choose them. I’ve got to take you in because you did wrong and there is a consequence for that. But brother there is hope out here for you’.”
He continued, “Officers, you have to remember that those words don’t cost anything and saying those words to criminals is not against the regulations. That is either in your heart or not. When you have a suspect handcuffed in the back of your car, you have the opportunity to speak life into him or her. Because from your tongue comes one thing, says the Bible, and that is life or death.”
Mr. Norman, who has worked with government agencies around the United States designing and teaching programmes to curb youth violence and gang activity, called on the officers to be a lot kinder to their suspects, especially youngsters who may just be dealing with internal issues.
“You can’t stop some people from jumping. But you can sure enough teach them how to climb out. And that is what our young folks need. They need to learn how to climb out these ditches that we’ve been dug into,” he said.
“By no means is it your fault, but you can be a part of the solution. I can stand here and tell you all about the accolades and places I’ve been in the world and things I’ve done, but it’s only because people believed in me. Yes, I needed to be confined and I earned the right to be confined, but you have to remember that they will come back.”
Since he was released from prison more than 10 years ago, he has helped develop leadership teams for business clients like Prudential Insurance and British Petroleum in the United Kingdom, Ericsson Company in Sweden, and other companies in Australia, France, the United States and right here in The Bahamas.