AS Buju Banton says goodbye to his freedom for what could be at least six years behind US prison walls for a drug conviction, the Rastafarian reggae artiste says he intends to spend his time seeking higher learning.
Speaking exclusively with the Sunday Observer after his 10-year sentence was handed down in the Sam Gibbons Federal Court in Tampa, Florida last Thursday, Banton (real name Mark Anthony Myrie) said he was already attending classes inside the Pinellas County Jail in Tampa and planned to attain a master's degree by the time his federal sentence is served.
"I am already going to classes. I have passed the acceptance test and I will be studying political science and economics. I hope to get a master's by the time I am released," Myrie said.
With steely resolve ringing in his voice during a telephone conversation with this newspaper, Myrie was adamant that he would not crumble under the pressures of incarceration and said he was determined to make good out of his troubles.
"I can do anything I put my mind to; you know that. I have balls of steel. People who know me know that I am very determined and will achieve my goals despite hardships. I will not allow the system to conquer me," the artiste declared.
In the United States, inmates serving federal time are allowed to pursue tertiary education in an effort to rehabilitate them and curb the high rate of recidivism.
A study by the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York revealed that inmates who take college classes while in prison are four times more likely to stay out of trouble when they are released. The research showed that only 7.7 per cent of inmates who took college courses returned to prison, compared to 29.9 per cent of those who did not. The New York study also found that college prison programmes save US taxpayers about US$900,000 per 100 students every two years.
Myrie's attorney, David Markus, has repeatedly pointed to his client's strength of character and told reporters that despite being jailed for 18 months since December 2010, the artiste had remained optimistic and in high spirits.
Markus was dismissive of suggestions by reporters outside the courtroom that guilty pleas by Myrie's co-defendants Ian Thomas and James Mack had a bearing on the 10-year sentence meted out to the artiste.
Thomas and Mack both received sentences of 51 months after filing guilty pleas. Both were held attempting to purchase a large quantity of cocaine from undercover drug enforcement agents in a police-controlled wharehouse in Sarasota, Florida, hours before Myrie himself was arrested at his home in Tamarac, South Florida and carted off to jail.
"There is a big difference. Mark has fought two trials and I think that stands for what kind of character Mr Myrie is to the other people," Markus said.
Myrie, dressed in his grey prison uniform with shackles around his ankles, seemed resigned to his fate in the courtroom last Thursday, even flashing a brief smile after his sentence was handed down by United States Judge Jim Moody .
He laughed loudly many times during his brief conversation with the Sunday Observer.
He repeated his expression of thanks for the outpouring of support and urged his fans and well-wishers to be strong.
"Even though the days ahead may be filled with despair, I will prevail over this malady that has befallen me. I may be down but not out and I shall return," was his message.
Markus has signalled his intention to appeal the judgement in an appellate court in Atlanta, Georgia and exuded confidence that the possibility exists that the 38-year-old Myrie could be out of prison in two years if his arguments hold water with a three-member panel of judges.
Moody had on Thursday dropped the charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug offence against Myrie.
"We are looking forward to the appeal," said Markus. "We believe we have a lot of good issues on the appeal and now that we have knocked out two of the counts we have got two to go. We are not going to stop fighting on those two."
Buju Banton, the only surviving son for his late mother and the only son sired by his father Benjamin Myrie, shot to prominence in the early 1990s with the hit song Browning. He ruled the world of dancehall with his raspy vocals and catchy lyrics before his conversion to the Rastafarian faith about six years later.
Since then, he has had five Grammy nominations and was awarded the Reggae Grammy earlier this year for his album Before The Dawn, just weeks before he was convicted by a 12-member panel of jurors for his role in a cocaine deal.
An earlier trial in 2010 ended in a mistrial after a jury could not unanimously decide on his guilt or innocence.