A Past Blighted, A Future Unknown

A past blighted, a future unknown

(SUPPLIED PHOTO : Jorrell Simpson-Rowe, seen here in a photo used as evidence in his second-degree murder trial, should be eligible to apply for parole in less than four years.)

Rosie DiManno
Apr 27, 2009 04:30 AM

At Friday's sentencing of Jorrell Simpson-Rowe, there was a woman in attendance seen previously but only rarely believed to be his mom.

When approached by reporters, she refused to confirm or deny the connection and brushed past inquisitors.

Parents in courtrooms are always objects of fascination, whether their children are victims or defendants. The tragedy of violent crime usually cuts both ways for affected families, helpless in the face of their loss: A slain daughter, a convicted son.

This trial, however, was an anomaly. The parents of Jane Creba never put themselves on display, their paraphrased comments on the outcome relayed to media only through the lead police investigator. And Simpson-Rowe's mother was a cipher who flitted through testimony delivered by cops and psychological experts.

She is the woman who, on the night when Simpson-Rowe was arrested, would not be roused from sleep in order to speak with an officer on the phone.

She is the woman who, according to what the accused told a social worker, once broke the boy's arm during an argument.

She is the woman who, when school authorities first noted worrisome signs of physical aggression in the Grade 1 student, refused to follow through on recommended family counselling.

At the preliminary hearing, when Simpson-Rowe was committed to trial, it was to this woman that he angrily turned and screeched an invective-filled tirade.

In conversations with a psychiatrist appointed by the court to prepare a presentencing assessment, Simpson-Rowe recounted his heavy-drinking mother saying she “never wanted me,” she “should have had an abortion” and that she “blames me for everything.”

Yet, in pre-trial custody, it was this woman the teenager asked staff to call before apparently twice trying to hang himself.

Simpson-Rowe wanted his mother to know that he loved her. “The first act in bettering yourself is forgiveness,” he said.

Another son, Simpson-Rowe's older brother, was at that time in custody at Toronto West jail. His father had been deported to Jamaica. His uncles were drug dealers and hustlers. He'd spent his childhood shunted among the homes of relatives. By Grade 6 he'd fathered his own child and would go on to mistreat all his girlfriends.

Inside the melodrama of the 2005 Boxing Day shootout that left 15-year-old Creba dead on Yonge St., caught in the crossfire of rival groups, there is also the domestic drama that produced Simpson-Rowe, this seemingly disaffected young man who was all but destined for a jail cell from the moment of his birth.

Two years ago, a psychologist said he projected “alexithymia” the absence or experience of emotion.

Months later, put into segregation for defiance of staff orders, he was found curled up in the fetal position. “I don't want to do this no more,” he said. “I want to leave this earth.”

Shortly afterward he tried to bite his wrists and cut his arms with the edges of the meal hatch door while on suicide watch.

Simpson-Rowe is not a psychopath or an enigma. He is precisely as conditioned through a ghastly life and not substantially different or worse than many other youths who fall into a life of crime, entranced by “hip-hop gangsta culture,” empowered by guns and bully swagger.

The crime itself, that brazen daylight shooting on Canada's busiest street, may have been a “seminal event” in the city's history, as noted by Justice Ian Nordheimer in his decision to sentence Simpson-Rowe as an adult, even though he was only 17 at the time.

But it was not plotted as homicide certainly not the killing of a bystander and was, in truth, different only in the details from street-level killings that occur week-to-week in Toronto, except we don't remember the names of those other victims. Unlike Creba, who was merely out shopping with her sister, they are frequently assumed to be complicit in their own murder, because of the lives they led.

Simpson-Rowe made his choices and knew right from wrong, as Nordheimer observed. There can be little doubt, though, that knowing right from wrong is not so evident a moral choice when individuals are reared in a toxic environment of conflict and abandonment, with uninterested parents who commit their crimes against the flesh, their flesh, quietly, abuse both emotional and physical.

What's often nurtured in these families is resentment, grievance, skewed values and a disastrous notion of how to wield power how to be a man, how to be a man's woman.

It's not always mom's fault. But sometimes, yes, hugely.

The predictions for Simpson-Rowe's rehabilitation are not promising. With parole eligibility at age 24, he's a high risk to reoffend.

Yet, recently at least, there are signs of a better person residing within that corroded exterior: He's completed Grade 11 credits, is managing anger more maturely, even impressed a psychiatrist with his likeable and charming personality.

A report from the Toronto Argonauts “Stop the Violence” youth mentorship program notes Simpson-Rowe surprised everyone by doing well participated eagerly, was respectful and thoughtful, handled feedback well.

This is the young man he could have been, under less doomed circumstances.

The court has yet to decide where Simpson-Rowe will serve his sentence. But the glimmer of a decent and salvaged adult perhaps emerging will surely only be squelched in an adult penitentiary, surrounded by hardened criminals, some maybe gunning for a felon who “ratted” out friends.

“I know I'll go crazy in adult jail,” Simpson-Rowe has said. “It'll be a kill or be killed situation.”

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.