After serving time in prison on drug-related charges while his brother was police commissioner, Leando Howell changed his life for the better – to the extent that he is now recipient of a prestigious community award.
He is respected throughout his adopted community of Ewarton, St. Catherine, where his alias is “Bush Jacket”, reflecting his love for kariba shirts (also called bush jackets).
That dress code is not the only thing for which Howell stands out.
He also has made a name for establishing and managing one of the longest running and most vibrant round-robins around town.
“A lot of people made something out of my round-robins,” he said. “Some people buy land, some make houses, [and] some now doing business.”
In the round-robins, a group of people take turn in supporting each other. When one person’s turn comes around, that person hosts a party and all members of the group give support – including a set amount of cash.
That stimulates the local economy, said Howell, who now operates three round robins, each currently having a maximum 40 people.
He started the initiative in Ewarton in the early 1980s with only one round-robin that comprised 20 participants.
The participants, over the years, come from communities such as Ewarton, Linstead, Bog Walk, Moneague, Lluidas Vale and Croft’s Hill.
Howell’s round-robins were highlighted on November 25 when he, along with three other community stalwarts, was awarded by the Ewarton Community Development Committee – better known as the Ewarton CDC.
During a ceremony held at Bramwell Clarke Park in Ewarton town, the committee also awarded Madge Boyd, Yvonne Campbell and Rachel Thomas.
Regarding the award he received, Howell said: “People around see what I have done, and so it is not like I get the award for getting it sake. I have done a lot in Ewarton… If I hear that somebody is in problem, I run to their rescue. People respect me for that.”
Though living in Ewarton for decades, Howell is originally from Murray Mountain district in St Ann, where he dabbled in farming after leaving Murray Mountain Primary School.
He eventually went to Canada on the government’s farm work programme on one occasion.
When he returned from Canada in 1972 he, instead of returning to his native St. Ann, settled at Ewarton with relatives.
He worked at Alcan, now known as WINDALCO bauxite company, in Ewarton.
He however fell on hard times and was persuaded to smuggle cocaine to England, he said.
Howell made four trips.
He planned the fifth trip to be his last, but, on that occasion, he was busted at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston. He was taken to hospital where he expelled some 40 pellets of the drug.
Howell was sentenced to four years imprisonment, but he ended up doing less time due to good behaviour, he told The Beacon.
He said his brother Lucius Thomas, the then commissioner of police, had warned him to steer clear of trouble and did not intervene in his case.
“I don’t hold any grudge against him because him did warn mi,” Howell declared.
Asked if imprisonment impacted the way he now operates, he replied: “Yes, it changed a lot. Things I would normally do I wouldn’t do again.”
Drug smuggling really isn’t worth the risk, Howell emphasized.
“It doesn’t pay; it doesn’t pay; it doesn’t pay,” he said thrice.
At the end of his incarceration, the father of 10 returned to living his passion – round robins.
He noted that, when he was released from prison, he realized that the then Alcan bauxite company in his community had taken a nosedive, leaving many people jobless and districts virtually lifeless.
“I started to bring back some life into the communities [with round-robins and the associated parties],” Howell told The Beacon, oozing pride about the contribution he has made through entertainment and commerce.
“Three quarter of the people in Ewarton who have something now, I let them have it [through round-robins]. I know you have ungrateful people, but the majority respect me for that… I like when people try and motivate themselves and have things and don’t grudge other people,” Howell said, adding that he doesn’t intend to stop doing round robins anytime soon.
By Horace Mills, Managing Editor
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