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Ex-Death Row inmate’s new life

Cheryl Harewood

Ex-Death Row inmate’s new life

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MENTION the name Major Christopher Stroude and thoughts of that bloody day in Grenada when revolutionary leader Maurice Bishop and members of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) were killed, may readily come to mind.

Today, Stroude, a former atheist, who found Christ while on Death Row for Bishop’s death and those of his former colleagues, is a born-again believer, an advocate of peace, and a man who has been given a second chance to do things right.

About his life in politics, and the upheavals which came about when the NJM used military force, back in 1979, and ousted then leader Prime Minister Eric Gairy, Stroude is repentant.

He is a changed man who now preaches the gospel to prisoners in the same prison which was his home for 24 years. In a late night interview with the Sunday Sun last Friday, hours after touching down on Barbadian soil to speak at the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship Breakfast, which was held at Divi Southwinds Hotel yesterday, Stroude, accompanied by Lucia, his wife of three-and-a-half years, confessed: “God is great.

“Today I am a child of God. I am no longer an atheist,” the member of the St Georges Seventh Day Adventist Church informed.

He maintains his innocence up to this day.

“I never knew orders were given for Bishop to be killed. Although I was not in the square when he was killed, I was accused of his death,” the former teacher and politician stated.

One of seven children born to Joyce and Michael in Sans-Souci, St Georges, Stroude was educated at St Georges Anglican and the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School. (During his years in prison, he completed a BSc degree in economics, via long distance education).

Stoude taught at his alma mater for three years – from 1976 to1979; before joining the army in 1979. By that time, he had become a member of the NJM, which was founded in 1973. Like all NJM members, he became an anti-Eric Gairy campaigner.

In 1979, he was one of 46 Grenadians who attacked the True Blue Barracks army headquarters. And it was that event that started the revolutionary movement in Grenada.

“You had a situation where Gairy was in power and it was a time of national liberation struggles.

“The politics of the NJM was different. We got involved in helping the poor, working class, and the youth. “We saw Gairy’s style of politics as old-fashioned and not serving the poor or the working class.

“There was a lot of corruption. We had the problems with the nurses in 1973, the Bloody Sunday experience in 1976, and the occasion when he sent his army to break up a political meeting. That same year we recognised the elections were rigged.

“We in the NJM recognised  we would never have a fair election with Gairy, and that he needed removing.”

Looking back however, Stroude believes the decision to oust Gairy, who was premier of Grenada from 1967 to 1974, and prime minister from 1974 to1979, was not the right one.

“That decision on March 12, 1979, which led to four-and-a-half years of revolutionary government in Grenada, was not right.

“The manner in which power was taken was not the norm for the Caribbean. “We took the wrong path, and our move set the stage for everything else that followed,” said Stroude, who was 22 years old at the time.

“We did a lot of good for the poor and the working class. We brought a new spirit of dynamism, in terms of workers’ rights. Even though we did lots of good, there was the issue of detention without trial. Those who spoke out against us were locked up. This, too, was wrong, and caused a lot of dislocation among families. “There were no checks and balances,” he admits.

Following the civilian upheavals, and assassination of Bishop and party members on March 19, 1983, Stroude and other NJM supporters were imprisoned.

He recalled: “I turned myself in to the foreign soldiers, and became one of eight persons who was kept in plywood boxes with just enough holes for air, and to be fed.

“We were later taken to the CID and tortured mercilessly for 23 hours by foreign policemen. I was badly fist beaten, then beaten by iron. This has resulted in damage to my back and waist.

“I became full of anger and hatred. My family was angry with me because of this. They felt had I cooperated, I would have been out of prison long time.

Life in prison was hell for Stroude.

“It was terrible. I hated everything about prison, and regardless of how the situation might have changed today, I still dislike prison,” confessed Stroude.

The years 1986 to 1991 were the worst years for this political prisoner, who was sentenced to death in 1986.

“On Death Row we were given a mattress – no sheet, no towel, no soap no tooth paste; and just a water bucket and a bucket for waste. We wore no underwear and the light was kept on around the clock.

“It was my most dreadful period, but something happened during that time that made a difference in my life. “I started to read the Bible around 1988. It was a Gideon’s Bible, and there was nothing else to read.

“As I read the Psalms and Gospels the Bible started to change me. It became my mirror. I started seeing myself for who I was, and I hated what I saw. I saw the bitterness and anger.

“I did not want to be a Christian. The idea was far-fetched because I was an atheist,” Stroude stated.

In 1991, at the invitation of a visiting preacher, he gave his life to God. He was 35 years old, and death was still looking him in the face.

“I did not want to die, but I was prepared to face it. When I accepted the Lord, I wondered what would have been my destiny if I had died, without having done so.”

He recalled in 1991 after he was weighed, read his last rites, given the opportunity to write his last letters to friends and relatives and after the gallows had been tested for his death, his mother (who passed away seven months before his release; and his father two months prior to his release) visited him in prison.

“It was all over the newspaper that we were going to be killed in groups of five. The day she visited, she asked me about my relationship with God. I told her I had accepted him, and she was pleased.

As God would have it, Stroude never kept his date with the hangman. Instead, he was committed to life in prison. Before long, this modern day Joseph was teaching, working in the prison library and organising educational programmes for inmates.

“I kept thinking that if the Lord brought me thus far and kept me alive, He must have a purpose for me,” Stroude contended. He became a prison preacher, and many of his NJM colleagues also accepted Christ.

Victory for Stroude and his colleagues Cecil Prime and Lester Redhead came on June 27, 2007 when they walked to freedom.

“I had the advantage over the others in that in 2000, when I was put in charge of the prison’s storeroom where construction materials were stored, I would go to hardware stores to purchase materials, so people knew me,” said Stroude.

It was his years of holding that post that led him to work in construction after his release.

Today, Stroude, who was divorced from his first wife in 1991, is a property manager of a 32-room apartment building. On December 27, 2007, six months after his release from prison, he married his childhood sweetheart. The two who were dance partners when he was 16 and she was 12 years old, rekindled their friendship in 1999, when she began visiting him in prison.

“He has always been special. I always thought of him, but never realised, prior to 1999, it was possible to visit him,” Lucia noted.

Does Stroude have any regrets about his life? Yes! “Today I am a child of God. I regret not serving God earlier, and moving to England in 1978.

“However, when I look back, everything I’ve learned in prison prepared me for life now, and every skill I had before prison, I was able to use while there.”

Stroude joined the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship in 2007, and now shares his testimony at schools. He also preaches at churches and to prisoners.

While He believes the Church should have made its voice heard during the revolutionary years, he maintains: “If we had all been executed, (he says of his other colleagues who were released within the past year), a lot of lessons would never have been learned.”