Joshua Gittens grew up in the picturesque community of Laborie; his life, however, was far from perfect and most days felt like an uphill battle. When he was younger, he lived in a one-bedroom shack with his mother and siblings and often went to bed hungry.
His mom, an indigent woman, did the best she could, however, the family was always in need.
Nonetheless, Gittens’ mother taught him “everything”, including how to cook and he thoroughly enjoyed their cooking sessions.
“My mother always liked cooking and we made all sorts of things: cocoa stick porridge, white flour porridge, papaya stew and more,” the 33-year-old said in an interview with THE VOICE last Saturday.
Although he recalled these moments fondly, back then, life was still a challenge for Gittens who was often ridiculed. A former student of the Laborie Boys Primary School, Gittens revealed that he went to school on an empty stomach constantly and said “it wasn’t easy.”
“I can remember going to school without breakfast, break and lunch and when I went home after school, I hardly had dinner. My mom had asthma; she couldn’t work anywhere, so it was very hard for me growing up. I was never raised in a house with electricity, a stove and these kinds of things. We didn’t even have a flushing toilet,” he explained.
“Politicians helped us out every now and then,” Gittens added.
Despite their situation, Gittens’ mother tried to push him in the right direction, however, he ultimately took the wrong path and the consequences were dire.
“Eventually I started working. I got into construction with my uncle—I love that kind of thing, and I did that for years. But then I stumbled. I started following the wrong set of people; I gave into peer-pressure and I got involved in bad stuff. Getting a job wasn’t always easy so there were times when I was out of work for a while; I ended up on ‘the block’,” Gittens explained.
“I started renting chairs and umbrellas for tourists and locals later on. I did that for 10 years, but my past followed me. When I had my first son, I realized I didn’t want him to take the same path I did, but I made bad choices and I had to deal with the consequences,” he added.
Gittens’ life came to a complete standstill when he ended up in prison in 2018. He served a one-year sentence at the Bordelais Correctional Facility, but according to him, although his time there was short, it felt like a thousand years.
“I got arrested in 2018 but it was for something I did 10 years ago. When they (law enforcement officials) tried to bring me to jail the first time, they realized the warrant had expired so they had to renew it. I had to face the consequences of my actions and I wasn’t used to that kind of life. Out here is a different picture but inside, meaning prison, is a totally different place,” he said with what seemed like a small shudder.
Nonetheless, Gittens decided to put his best foot forward. Although he was confined to Bordelais, he decided the experience did not have to be entirely unpleasant.
“I learnt a lot whilst I was in there. Jail is a good place… and a bad place. It all depends on what you do whilst you’re in there. I’m a humble person and I’m also a kind person so people showed me a lot of love. But if you’re a negative person that’s the kind of energy you’re going to attract,” he stated.
“When I just entered prison, I used to wash dishes outside, but after an inmate recommended me, I moved to the kitchen. I started chopping salad and doing other things. I used to go in the bakery to see how the guys (inmates) did their pastries and up to now I’m still making bread because I saw how they rolled theirs. There was a guy making turnovers also. I used to monitor everything he was doing. My mom also taught me how to make turnovers, so I learned from both of them,” Gittens added.
According to him, “before I left prison, I told the guys that I would start selling turnovers once I left but they didn’t believe me. I told them you will all hear about me.”
He kept his promise. Gittens started selling turnovers on the streets of Castries shortly after and although it’s not an easy job (he walks for hours) he absolutely loves it.
“I got the idea when COVID-19 came around. There were no tourists on the beach at the time so I couldn’t rent chairs and umbrellas like I did before. I had to feed my family so I started thinking of how I could put food on the table. Then I remembered my mother taught me how to make turnovers,” Gittens recalled.
“My turnovers are not like the ones in the bakery. I use wheat flour and a lot of herbs and spices. It doesn’t have too much sugar either, that’s why I call them healthy turnovers. They’re tasty and people love it,” the young entrepreneur explained.
When Gittens left prison, he walked away with a little over $100.00. It wasn’t much, but it helped him start his business.
“I think I got 90 cents a day when I worked at the prison. When I came out, I got around $125.00 or $150.00—you get paid when you’re leaving. It’s a good thing because you’re not leaving empty handed. I took that money and I invested it in my business,” he said.
“I started off with turnovers alone. My friend used to make dhals (he’s now deceased) and he gave me the ingredients, but I didn’t like the idea of competing with him. I only started making dhals to sell after he passed away; I transformed it into my own thing, but his memory is still there,” Gittens added.
He has certainly made a name for himself and in a short space of time too! His famous slogan “healthy turnover! Ital dhal!” has a nice ring to it and most of us have gotten used to it. As a matter of fact, it attracts more customers. But he gets ridiculed sometimes too.
“I get a lot of love on the street and a lot of people support me but there are also those who ridicule me. I don’t really care because how many of them make a dollar at the end of the day? When I started, I was really scared to go out because I’ve always been a shy person but that changed. When I came from prison I opened up—the shyness disappeared and I’m not afraid of nothing anymore especially since I have a family to feed. I love what I do,” he said proudly, adding that it can be challenging nonetheless.
“I walk from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday just making rounds in town. I go to a lot of places because I have customers everywhere. I do this because I don’t want to go back home with a container full of turnovers and dhals. I want to sell everything. I always tell myself that the race is not for the swift but for those who endure (until the end). I’ve had that mindset from a young age,” Gittens added.
He has many regrets especially “ending up in jail and putting my family through a hard time because of the mistakes I made.”
However, he explained that “everybody makes mistakes and I want to correct mine.”
Gittens’ vision is simple. According to him, “I just want to make some good music (he loves music) and I want to expand my business in the future. I want to start selling more products—local juices and that kind of stuff and I want to get my own stall eventually.”