Life After Death Row

The Canice Lionel Story

Canice Lionel
Canice Lionel

HOW does one cope after being convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging?

Having such a ruling hanging over your head (no pun intended) is enough to put the fear of God into the toughest individual. However, in the case of today’s Face In The Crowd, it was the new-found faith in God that helped him pull through such a predicament.

Canice “Bousol” Lionel, to those who don’t know him, is a 49 year old watchman who is often seen doing other odd jobs to rake up a living.

He was born and raised in the George Charles Boulevard with his mother and eight siblings and is well known for being a very outspoken individual who has lived a fairly testy life.

On the other hand, Lionel has a past…one that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.

In 1987, the then 22 year old took justice into his own hands and launched a cutlass attack on a man who he said was one of seven perpetrators who attacked and attempted to rob him and his girlfriend.

After three days in the hospital, the young man died from his wounds and Lionel was left to face the consequences of his actions.

After walking out of prison a free man 21 years ago, here’s what he told The VOICE about what life has been like since.

The VOICE: What was your childhood like?

A: Life as a young boy was nice. I grew up with some educated guys who today have good jobs but I dropped out of secondary school after my first term and went down the wrong path. Financially, things were very hard on my mother and I had to make a way for myself to try to survive. True, I started working and growing up well but I don’t know what happened along the way. Everyone told me that they thought I’d be a doctor or lawyer or something because I was really interested in school but I really don’t know what happened.

The VOICE: I know that this might be difficult to talk about but tell me how you ended up in prison on death row.

A: At that time, I associated myself with the wrong company. I wouldn’t say that they put things into my head but then again, when you’re around certain people and things, it does have some influence on you. I was around guys dealing drugs and I tried to be like them but no one pushed me into murdering anyone.

I tried to defend myself when I was attacked by seven guys who tried to rob me of what I had. I felt, at the time, the justice system was not “for” me so I took the matter into my own hands and went back and chopped one of the guys who attacked me and he died. That happened on 4th March 1987 and I came out of prison on 24th July 1994.

The VOICE: After the incident, how did you feel in the days and weeks leading up to your conviction?

A: I feel that if you do the crime, you have to face the consequences. At the time, I said to myself as a young man “I did that and so God, I’m leaving everything in your hands. Whatever you decide, it’s your decision” and I went through it. I wouldn’t say I was afraid or strong…God alone had me standing.

The VOICE: How did this impact on your family?

A: It hit my family very hard. Anyone with a family, no matter what they’ve done in the past or whatever problems you all faced, sometimes when you get into trouble, it would hurt them no matter what. Right now I have sisters who don’t speak to me because of my life, but you know, God judges everyone.

The VOICE: What was prison life like?

A: I will say again, if you do the crime then you must face the consequences. If you end up in prison, you cannot blame prison, the superintendents or the officers because prison is a building. There is good and bad in prison. You’re out there and you have no time to sit back and reflect on your past and what you have done…maybe for five minutes at a time but you get up and go, you have responsibilities and bills to pay but in prison, you don’t have that…you have enough time on your hands. You’re locked up in a cell with nowhere to go so you have enough time to think about your past and realise that when you come out of that building that you need to be a better man.

The VOICE: Did you ever get into trouble whilst in prison?

A: Oh of course because you can imagine the kinds of fellas in there, but I had a fair stay in there. I became an orderly where I was given the same privilege as the prison officers. The only privilege that I didn’t have was to go home at night but they trusted me as a prison officer. You could handle keys, escort prisoners to the hospital without an officer present;you could take a prisoner out to work and supervise up to six prisoners at a time. I did that for almost six years and I got that privilege through good behaviour and my ability to handle even the roughest guys. That helped me pass my time better.

The VOICE: How did you cope with the possibility of being hanged to death?

A: When I got that sentence, God’s spirit told me that there is more in life for me. The verdict was words from the mouth of a person and not God. This person judged me but judgment is for God. I’ll say this, when it comes to the courts, judges and lawyers, it’s not right. It’s all about money. You have to make appeals and all this is gambling with people’s lives. When I appealed and went through my procedures (which resulted in the case being changed from murder to manslaughter and led to the sentence being reduced from hanging to 10 years of hard labour), I realised that my life was being gambled.

The VOICE: How has society treated you since you walked out of prison?

A: When you’re out there, you’re still in prison because the way certain people and society treat you, it’s not good. It’s been 21 years since I walked out of prison and people look back at my past and before anything, somebody will tell me “You went to jail already…they shoulda hang you” they throw my past at me. Sometimes your own family…people think too negatively about people. They might see you with a pair of shoes and because it has no lace, they call you a cocaine addict or a thief. That is not the way to approach people because there are people out there with big cars etc. and “criminal” is not marked on their faces, but they will do a crime tomorrow. You don’t judge by appearance and Lucians need to get rid of that stigma. People like to say that God forgave so I forgive but they don’t really forgive. We don’t forgive one another…it is still in our hearts. Sometimes you’re somewhere and something happens like someone has stolen somebody else’s stuff. First thing they’re saying is, “that guy did it” and it’s not even you, but because of your past, people always try to put it back on you.

The VOICE: What would you say to people just coming out of prison or just going in thinking that their life is over?

A: I would say, never say that your life is over unless you’ve reached the grave because there are opportunities out there for everyone and God gave everyone minds to think for themselves. After prison, you must sacrifice to avoid certain things. If you can’t afford partying and new clothes etc. don’t try to go after it illegally. Just pray for the strength and faith. Be patient and forget about the vanity of this world because it’s that vanity that sends us to do things that we shouldn’t.

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