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Straight Talk About Life Behind Bars

Ex-con Reuben Dowling told students in the Juanita Gardine Library Tuesday that life behind bars is a nightmare existence.After spending 27 years behind bars for bank robbery, Reuben Dowling is now spending his time telling students the truth about being locked up in prison.
Dowling, a youth motivational speaker for the local Conflict Resolution Organization for Peace (CROP), spoke this week to the sixth-graders at Juanita Gardine Elementary School.
Dowling, also known as “Power Mac,” spoke to the students in Crucian dialect and didn’t sugar-coat his words about the misery and wickedness of jail life.
“I’m gonna lay it on you for real,” Dowling said to the students, who sat quietly and listened intently. “This is a serious, serious conversation.”
He unbuttoned his crisp, powder blue shirt and showed them the scars from a bullet he took to the chest and scars from being stabbed 22 times while in prison. He also spoke about getting hit over the head while in prison and how his head hurt for more than a year whenever he laughed. His mother told him she had dreams that he would be killed in prison.
One boy asked how it felt to be shot, and Dowling said it felt like his whole chest was on fire. He said he was losing a lot of blood and clutching his chest hoping to stay alive.
“I’m talking especially to you young brothers. The ‘man’ gave me 70 years for my stupidness. You are put in a cage with haters who will mash you up. I used to think I was bad, but I grew up a fool.” He added that he sees his old way of thinking in the boys he addresses.
He poignantly told about losing the love of his life – his wife who didn’t want to waste her life waiting for him to get out of prison. He said he lost his children, who he didn’t get to see grow up and who he wasn’t there for when they needed him. He said his older brother came to visit and told Dowling he was killing their mother, who was crying and bawling about Reuben all the time.
He told about being in solitary confinement and being shackled to a bed for days and not even being able to use the toilet.
He said most killers on the streets aren’t high school graduates. When he was in Golden Grove Adult Correction Facility, out of more than 400 prisoners, he said you would be lucky to find 10 high school graduates.
His saving grace, while locked up in federal prison, was a creative-writing teacher who took an interest in his writing. Dowling, who wrote three books while in prison and earned two associate degrees, feels his education and the publication of the books helped with an executive commutation of his 70-year sentence by Gov. Charles Turnbull.
He told the students to respect and listen to their teachers and most importantly to stay in school. “I need you all to graduate,” Dowling said. He encouraged the youngsters be something – anything from a construction worker to a doctor.
“He made me think about staying in school and getting a good job and not doing bad things and going to jail,” said 12-year-old Jackson Kendrick.
Mireja Baxter, 12, said she thought he was very brave and courageous to come and talk to them.
“I am glad he cares so much about us to come and tell us about how bad jail is,” Baxter said.
Dowling has spoken to V.I. students at Alexander Henderson and Claude O. Markoe elementary schools, Arthur A. Richards and Elena Christian junior high schools, St. Croix Educational Complex and the University of the Virgin Islands.
Dowling says he feels that children need more love and back-up from their parents to be successful.

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