by Vejay Steede
Charles Richardson’s story is an examination of the human ability to find redemption in the direst corners of society imaginable. He was a wayward youth, sent to prison for a violent crime, a textbook example of the ‘at risk’ young black man.
Charles reflects on this time matter-of-factly: “I went to prison because I shot two people. It was the culmination of a series of bad choices driven by repressed anger and a misguided code of conduct. I did not heed the guidance of my mother and other mentors and I did what I felt the impulse to do. It was a definite fork in the road in my life.”
Being absorbed by the penal system, a common fate for his demographic, Charles made a choice; to study the Law. He reflects saying: “As soon as I got to prison, I knew I did not want to go back. But it also did not take me long to figure out that the path back to prison would remain open if I did not learn to do something I could survive off of.
“I chose law because the first time I ever opened a law book I swear the words and concepts composed a melody that both soothed and awakened me. It is almost as if the law called for me to come to it. And I went. And it was the most difficult thing I had ever done. No one believed I could get a law degree and then actually practice.”
Charles eventually took his journey overseas; to places where ex-convicts are not ‘supposed’ to go.
“I remember the day the Benchers of the Inn (one of the final hurdles to being allowed to enter the legal profession) assigned me a task in order to be admitted. They asked me to be brave enough to tell everyone what I had done, and at one gathering of my fellow students I was required to stand at the front of the room and tell everyone that I was an ex-convict from Bermuda who got his degree in prison.
“Some of them were fascinated, others scoffed and questioned my right to be there. The lesson was this: now everyone knew who I was and what I did, and I had nothing else left to hide or be ashamed of. I went on to graduate with some of the highest marks amongst my class, and the people who scoffed eventually became friends.”
Having met all the requirements to practice Law against all odds, Charles returned to Bermuda to find an enriching relationship with the legendary Julian Hall waiting to mold him further.
“When I returned home, I found a country that looked different to me because my eyes were now wide open.
“I will never forget the last supper I had with Julian Hall. He said to me, ‘I hear you are supposed to be the next me. Well let me give you some advice – there is only going to be one me, so you need to concentrate on being yourself.’ He was a brilliant, insightful, intellectual giant.
“It was he who told me that having earned my way the way I did must have been such a privilege. I did not know what he meant. He explained that going to prison was like a death – people begin to talk about you in the past tense after a while almost as if you are dead. It is like watching your own funeral. He said having now watched your own funeral, you now have the privilege of crafting your own resurrection. I do, and always will miss him.”
Summing up his long road to redemption, Mr. Richardson waxes poetic: “There was a lot of hard work and real sacrifice. But the reward has been sweeter than the bitter ingredients which individually make up my life.”
Charles Richardson occupies an integral position in our social fabric; he is our hope, resilience, and redemption. Speaking on this, Charles offers the following: “My story is my story, and each of us have different nuances which make our journeys differ- ent, but there is some hopeful common ground. I want my story to be an example to all of the men that have given up hope that you are one decision away from a different life.
“Our streets and prisons are full of men like me. Men who had existed on the fringes of society as modern-day outlaws, but who possessed the gifts to rise above the social cage that had been built around them. I want my story, and the story of Isaac Wright Jr (For Life) to remind everyone that nothing is im- possible. Fear is what keeps us from taking the step into strange territory, but fear is an illusion and a lie. You do not have anything to fear except the story you are creating in your head.
“I remember being told by a prison officer that I would never be a lawyer; that they would never allow me to stand in a court and speak as counsel. Well, they did not stop me. That is because there are more of them i.e., people who are inspired by hope, than they that seek to kill hope.”
When considering his place in Bermuda’s history, Mr. Richardson becomes philosophical: “I would like to think that my place in Bermuda’s history is still evolving.
“I would like to be remembered for being the first ex-convict to ever be called to Bermuda’s Bar, but that is something that is an uncontroversial fact. I would hope that my real place in history would be in the hearts and minds of all the people I met and whose lives I entered. Some of them will have a fond place for me, others will not. I want to be remembered as imperfect but always trying to get there. Most of all I would like to be seen as an example of how human beings are far too complex to be labelled as totally good or utterly bad.
“I actually do aspire to be a public servant. I would like to make a significant political contribution to this country that is my home. Perhaps my place will then evolve. But for now I am here, where I am, being who I am.”
Charles Richardson is writing a story we can all learn from; a story of growth, hope, and the undying power of the human spirit. We look forward to celebrating his journey more in the years ahead.
There was a lot of hard work and real sacrifice. But the reward has been sweeter than the bitter ingredients which individually make up my life. – Charles Richardson