78-year-old Felix Dean at the Programmes and Industry section of the Maximum Security Prison (MSP), Arouca last September.
When a penny was one big coin, a six-cent piece was silver and white folk played tennis and golf in luxurious oilfield housing in south Trinidad, Felix Dean was a little boy running barefoot in the bushes of Santa Flora with a tin pan to catch squirrels.
His family saw the wealth generated by the black gold and lived on its trickles. In Palo Seco is Beach Camp, a place overlooking the sea where wives of colonial oil honchos spent lazy days under sunhats. Dean’s father worked there as a carpenter. Dean, his brothers and other barefoot village boys earned as ball boys, yard boys and caddies; some polished shoes and silverware, watered plants and cleaned carpets. Some days the boys simply begged. They would be paid with a silver coin and a glass of Ribena, sometimes a 24-cent bob or breakfast or comic books.
The wives called Dean “Rag Doll”, a name that stuck throughout his childhood. He was a wispy one, short and small, bow-legged, barefoot and in tattered clothes.
Poor but not hungry
“My father was Grenadian and apparently in the 50s and 60s whenever Grenadians come with their family, the Grenadians who were here used to welcome them until they can find they own way. The house was a little orphanage. When we get older we get to understand why it was so.
“So we grow up in a house with so many children but I could never say that we were hungry one day. They used to beat us to eat; there were too many things to eat. But we were in rags. Always barefooted but never hungry.
“When you grow up in gross poverty people think you will be malnutritious but… there were gardens and gardens and Grenadians like garden.”
Got a break
At 14, Dean, one of nine children, was presented with a way to tap into another trickle of the country’s oil fortunes. A woman for whom he caddied and whom he remembers vividly—Mrs June McDonald—saw an ad in the Guardian newspaper. BIT (British Institutional Training) was a school that trained young men in all technical skills required in the oilfields. McDonald encouraged him to apply.
Kamla Dean, wife of convicted murderer Felix Dean, at her Santa Flora home on Republic Day last year.
“Pa say doh worry with that; that is for high-class people, the white boys and the white girls. You had the Africans and the Indians who were also engineers but they were English people also; they speak the English language; we used to speak this ole dialect. I ignore it (the application) because I believe Pa. And it was true because I can’t remember seeing anybody from the village in that school in Santa Flora.”
But McDonald pressed, eventually writing the application herself and asking him to copy it in his own handwriting. Remarkably, he was accepted.
“I can’t remember how it felt but it was something like a dream…I was not in rags anymore because in school they used to give you two coverall, a pair of safety boots and goggles, a small crash helmet. You leave that in your cupboards so you go to school looking presentable.”
His fate followed the fate of the oil economy. When things were up, he earned; when fortunes fell, he suffered. As Independence approached, the then 19-year-old had training but little work. He applied for jobs with petty contractors.
By 1963, he was working with contractors attached to Trinidad Tesoro. He had met a 16-year-old, Kamla. When she became pregnant with their first child, his work was still irregular; he was earning $6 and $7 a day.
‘I started to see $’
In 1969, when Well Services replied to his application, his life changed.
“I started to see money. And when you start to see money you start to get hungry and unreasonable. But those days I didn’t understand it. I thought it was a luxury and I wanted everything. I wanted an outside woman because all my friend had outside women. I had a motorbike.”
He chose as his concubine a 16-year-old beauty, Charmaine. He was 32. He fathered two children with Charmaine, Michael and Felicia. Kamla had three.
“Gradually I end up building a lil shack for this outside woman until we began to live. So I lesser by my wife and more by the woman.”
Money flowed from Dean’s hands like the oil flowed from the ground. Oilfields were reopening. Through Wells Services he was getting private jobs here and in the Caribbean. One of his first pay cheques was $5,763 for three days’ work. Dean re-sealed the envelope thinking it had to be a mistake.
“Well the lil street buy out a parlour because I had give them (the children) the $63. And the $700 I put in their piggy bank and the $5,000, now that’s where the fight came in. I give my wife $3000 and she was right: what I want with $2000? And I end up giving she a next $1000.
“Well I do a next PJ and my wife never knew about it...I used to give this little girl (Charmaine) the money to keep for me.”
Mother’s Day 1982 was the Tesoro Games, a popular and anticipated entertainment event. Dean drank all day.
“There was nothing in my mind. You know people say when you kill a woman, she was horning you or you couldn’t take the horn but I had understanding. I was 34 years of age and I spending six weeks in Barbados and having that young woman home…”
Charmaine had left Beach Road, Palo Seco and gone to her mother’s in Los Iros. Dean’s version of why he followed her there the day of the murder is contested. He says he went for money; others say Charmaine had left him and he went to bring her back.
“I went and tell she take out $2000 for me; I come for it. That happen on the Thursday. Friday now I went down by she and the shack close up…The neighbour say Charmaine take the children and gone by her mother. I went down by the mother.
“When I went there on the Saturday she was not there. The mother tell me Charmaine gone somewhere but I wasn’t suspicious; I know she was lying. The Sunday, May 9th, I went down there, I asked about the money. We were not close to the mother and she say she lend mammy the money. I tell her if you lend her my money, take out from yours. And the argument started until she bring a bank book that say is $10.They took out everything...
“We began to argue in the house and those long time morris chairs with flimsy pieces of wood under the cushion, I was leaning up on a chair with the child (Felicia) in my hands, a year and eight months old. The brother-in-law push me. My foot was against the chair already so it had no stepping back. I fell back in a sitting position. I crashed through the flimsy piece of wood and someone hit me a bottle on my head and fight started.
“To be honest about it, I get angry. It end up in the kitchen and someone push me down a step. But the house only three feet high so it was no great fall. I fall on my knee and I see someone coming with a cutlass. I was…a few drink and the anger and my head was bleeding and apparently it was the same girl, Charmaine, and she pelt a chop and I held her hand and I take away that cutlass from her. I am conscious what I am telling you. I knew it happened and she fell and I started to chop.
“I knew I chop that girl three times. When the first chop start, no matter how bad you is, when blood start to share, everybody does disappear. Was only the little girl (Felicia) in the yard and the woman I was chopping and myself. I remember dropping this cutlass and run.
“The pathologist say I chop the woman 14 times. It is true but I cannot tell you I do it but I know I had to be doing it. So apparently the state of mind I was in was anger and no sense of reason and I become an animal. I just hit out because we was never in any kind of dispute to say I have a hate. I dunno what turn me into this.
“I wish I could close that door because I can’t see what I really did but I did it. I was not no saint out there but in a violent life, I never lived it. I don’t know how I committed that murder.”
Dean’s days for 37 years have been marking time, like walking around a chair every day, as he demonstrated during the interview.
“When I came to prison I was 36 years of age. Prison have no avenue of rehabilitation. I spent four years and eight months in Remand Yard and there was nothing to do. There was no school, no programmes. You entertain yourself with a football with fellow inmates. On March 16, 1987 I was condemned to die, to be hanged and placed in the condemn prison. You go back to your childhood days and wonder if is God go help me, boy.
“I have this disease now, poverty. I reach a state of destitution so I cannot retain an attorney. Of course the State will give me an attorney but they give you a featherweight boxer to put him against a heavyweight boxer. What you expect will happen in that ring? You just go through the motion.
“All the family could give you is prayers: I praying for you eh. Pray hard eh. Because they couldn’t say I going to take Hudson-Phillips. All they could offer you is prayer.”
He has spent more time in prison than in the free world. At 78, he suffers from this and that illness and his teeth have mostly fallen out. Because he has to remove his dentures to eat, he hides himself in corners during prison diet time.
“To be honest, I see no future. When I came to prison I get stunt. Like my growth, like you get frozen. I’m still in 1982. Whenever I dream in the night, I dream my children at the age of seven, nine and 13. And they have children who is 16, 18 and 20 years of age. I dream my son who is 43 years now but he is seven years in my dream.
“You know how I feel? I feel like I in this room, this is the world, and my thoughts want to go. And my thoughts go and hit the wall and they come back like tendrils on a bodi tree. And they tangle up together; they can’t go out. And it is a confused state now. The thoughts go out and hit the wall too fast and come back.”