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Drug trap

Gercine Carter

Drug trap

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At age seven, he smoked dried clammy cherry leaves, getting only a sore throat; by age ten, he had graduated to cigarettes.
Still at primary school, he was introduced to marijuana.
 For Imran Richards, that would   be the beginning of a life of stealing, violent attacks on fellow students at his secondary school, selling drugs at school, and an almost self-destructive adventure into the seedy world of drugs and crime.
The handsome 26-year-old, with the most winsome smile, now travels the world sharing his story with troubled young people in the hope that he can save them as he was saved.
In an interview with the Sunday Sun, Imran said he was born in Barbados to a Barbadian father and a Vincentian mother, by his own account “a sickly child” who was given to grandparents early in his childhoold by parents “who were too poor to support me”.
“Coming up with my grandparents, they took care of me. They gave me everything that I needed. They clothed me, they fed me, they ensured that I was at Sunday school every Sunday, whether I wanted to be there or not.
“However, I lived in an extended family because my grandparents had almost all of their children’s children living with them at the time. Every male in my family smoked either marijuana or cigarettes, and growing up and seeing that, I felt that it was the norm.
“I smoked my first marijuana joint in Class 4 [at primary school] . . . underneath a church shed.?A guy gave it to me to smoke and I took it. It was on my way home from school.”
That first experienxce was “amazing and scary at the same time”.
“I felt light. I felt relaxed in a weird sense of the word.
I felt calm. But I was anxious going home because I smelled of the marijuana smoke and I wondering whether my grandparents or anybody else would smell the smoke.”
Second time
Within two days he was back for the second experience. In his community in Christ Church, “almost all of the guys on the block smoked”.
He was becoming hooked and soon got other friends involved.
It was not long before he himself started pushing drugs.
A bright student, Imran entered one of the older secondary schools and from a top-of-the-class performance, his growing marijuana habit forced his grades down, and more of his friends in the community were joining him in smoking at home.  Later, his schoolmates also began consuming marijuana.
With a market developed in school – a fertile ground for sales – he started pushing drugs among his schoolmates, becoming the salesman for someone in his community, and retaining a portion of the proceeds.
According to Imran, between himself and two other friends “we were selling drugs in about five schools”.
Meanwhile, his grades were declining seriously and there began to be suspicions about his drug activity. Denying accusations at first, he then became bold, to the chagrin of his grandmother who even then was unaware of the depth of his involvement.
 “She did not know that at school I was involved in gang violence.
I was expelled from school as a result. I was only allowed on the property to do exams.?After exams were finished, then the guards would escort me off the property,
myself and a couple of other guys because the teachers felt their lives were endangered since other guys were coming on to the premises looking for trouble.”
That period between ages 15 and 18 was an especially turbulent time in Imran’s life. After expulsion, he continued the schoolboy job he had managed to secure as a check-out boy at a supermarket.
Between leaving home for work in the morning and finally arriving there, he smoked about nine marijuana joints, had another three to six at lunch time, and another one or two “ten-pieces” after work and again after he finally reached home.
All the money he earned from selling drugs or from work at the supermarket was spent supporting his habit.
Outside the protective walls of school, he continued smoking marijuana, even mixing it with alcohol.
Imran has chilling memories of the night he and a friend were assailed by members of a rival gang armed with knives and guns, while the two were liming at a popular shopping mall. A swarm of police arrived in the nick of time to rescue them.
Though death stared him in the face that night, it did not change him.
“I continued to sell drugs. I remember I made a decision. My best friend, a guy who sold drugs in one of the schools, had had a nervous breakdown. He spoke to me about his experience, challenged me to change and invited me to become a Christian.
Not ready yet “I said to him: ‘I am not sure if I am ready to do that yet. There are a lot of things that I want to do. I want to continue this life I am living. I want to be a thug for life.’
“However, I prayed with him. For about six to seven months, I tried to live a Christian life and I was actually being successful at it. My grades improved. From coming second-last in class, I began coming in first again.”
The relationship with his grandmother improved. The change influenced friends in the community who followed him to church.
But the lure of drugs was more powerful and he returned to his old ways. He became involved in gang violence,  started to sell even more drugs at home, smoking more himself, gambling and even stealing from family members to support his drug habit.
He was contemplating going into drug importation the day he stood before the mirror and the image of a “dead Imran” stared back at him.
“Right there, I felt like ‘Imran, you need to change. Something needs to change or you will die if you contune life the way that you are going’.”
 Christmas Eve of 2005, sitting with a double marijuana joint in one hand and a beer in the other, he took a pull of the joint and a sip of the beer. The intense burning in his throat was unbearable.
At once the words of a pastor at the church he had attended during his brief attempt to lead a Christian life played in his head: ‘God, I pray that when they [backsliders] smoke, it will burn their throats and when they drink they will get uncomfortable.’
“Right there, the emptiness of my life came over me. I said: ‘Imran you went to a good school. You are intelligent. You sit on a block all day.?All your money is wasted continually on drugs.’
“I got up. The guy I was smoking with, I gave him the drink. I cannot remember what I did with the [brandy] bottle and I walked home.”
Prayer for help
At home, he prayed: “God, if you are for real, get me out of this life before I go any deeper.”
That prayer was answered a few days later when, out of the blue, a call came from policeman inviting Imran to join his family for Sunday lunch and to accompany the family to church.
The young man’s face still lights up when he recounts the experience of leaving that service and the Holy presence that engulfed him, the tears that flowed freely and the embraces of people who understood the enormity of the moment for the troubled Imran.
The transformation in Imran’s life has been dramatic. Completely turning his back of a life of drugs and all the negatives associated with it, he now concentrates on building his own company, DocImage Solutions, that converts paper ducuments to electronic files for businesses. In addition, he graduated from the the International Sports Leadership School in Cape Town, South Africa and travels the world – Thailand, Israel, Germany, Qatar, Spain –doing leadership training and sharing his story.
“My mission is to take young people from a minus to a plus.”
Behind it is his own experience that “what started off pleasurable, what started off giving me a lot of popularity, soon became the thing that enslaved me”, Imran said.