Guyana Chronicle:-JASON Barker is an inmate of the Camp Street Prison; incarcerated for the past nine of his 20 years sentence, but now, a nominee for National Sports Commission (NSC) Sportsman-of-the-Year award, he’s seeking a second chance to make a first impression.
In 2008, Magistrate Chandra Sohan sentenced Barker and three others to a total of 30 years imprisonment for three counts of robbery under arms, three counts of attempted murder and possession of a firearm.
Barker was 20-years-old at the time when he admitted to the offences and pleaded with the magistrate at the Albion Magistrates Court to be lenient. Barker, a former soldier, told the magistrate that he had been charged in the past with stealing an AK-47 from the army.
It was while incarcerated Barker picked up the sport of boxing, and why not? After all the now Caribbean Heavyweight and Superheavyweight champion said that every day, behind bars, it was a fight for survival.
“I came up in a single home, single parent, she alone working, then I wanted to help, went to drugs, started selling drugs, then the guns and because of the money and the situation home whereby we had nobody to give us anything and she was struggling.
No work, and we still had to eat. So I turned to a life of crime; drugs, robbery and now I’m in prison” Barker said in an exclusive interview with Chronicle Sport at the penal facility.
Barker claimed both the Heavyweight and Superheavyweight titles when he participated in the Caribbean Championships in Barbados last year; something he said was far from his thinking, especially since he’s an inmate.
Guyana Boxing Association (GBA) president Steve Ninvalle stated that Barker was nominated without hesitation given the fact “he has done, himself, the Guyana Prison Service and Guyana very proud. I am not certain but this may be the first time that we have actually had an inmate of the prison being nominated for such a prestigious award.”
“I never thought that one day I would be champion in anything, honestly, when I came here (Camp Street Prison), I thought life was over for me and I was just going to spend my time, survive however it is and just come out” a sadden Barker said.
However, he added “when I came into the prison, the prison officer Mr. Graham said I have good size to box and he introduced me to the gym. Eventually I get to like the sport and I just did my thing after then. It’s about making up your mind to succeed and deal with the circumstances, be discipline towards the sport and find yourself feeling like you have nothing to lose.”
Known known as the ‘The Prison Pride’, a name given to him by fellow inmates and guards, Barker, sorrowfully told Chronicle Sport, “yea, I regret what happened, every day I regret what happened but I tell myself I’m changed now so when I get back out there I wouldn’t be the same person.
From the time I’m in prison, I find myself being discipline, getting to know life, getting to have faith, getting to believe in myself, because once you believe in yourself, you could make something out of life.”
He added “I never thought that I would’ve been nominated for anything and the guys in here they look out for me and encourage me to focus on boxing. I want to be a world Champion, this (boxing) is my life now and I hope people can now see me as a boxer and not a criminal.”
Barker believes his life is much like Bernard Hopkins, the former middleweight world Champion, who at 17-years-old, was sentenced to 18 years in Prison for nine felonies but also discovered his passion for boxing behind bars. In 1988, after serving five years of his sentence, upon release Hopkins turned pro and, the rest as they say, ‘was history’.
“I’m a change man, I’m not the same person that walked into this jail. Boxing saved me and I want to repay the people who believed in me to give me this chance to show the world my talent, especially my coach and president (Steve) Ninvalle” Barker said.
Barker will be up against Olympian Troy Doris, Guyana cricket captain Leon Johnson and motor racing champion Kristian Jeffrey, but the Camp Street inmate believes “even if I don’t win, to my fellow inmate, I’m already a champion; their champion. It would be great if I win yes, but if I don’t, the guys will be proud of me same way.”