A former cultural officer says he is trying to recover a number of items, including three flash drives containing the sole copies of manuscripts for his books and poems, that were removed from his office while on sick leave after suffering a stroke.
“When me ah write poetry, is like rain coming down. … It’s plenty poems. I wrote poems when I was in Jamaica studying, even when I was St. Martin’s [Secondary School] — the first days of school when they locked me up in the toilet,” Martin “Prince Yogi” Quashie told iWitness News on Sunday.
“I am not looking for sympathy. I want to get back the thing they took from me,” the 60-year-old retired public servant said.
He said he is also trying to get back 152 DVDs of primary and secondary school performing arts that he had “curated” over 17 yeas and which he had planned to allow the National Archives to copy.
Quashie, who was the drama officer in the Department of Culture, told iWitness News that he retired in August after 33.3 years of public service.
He said the missing manuscripts are of at least five books he had written and which the Department of Culture, during an earlier period, had wanted him to print but which he had refused to do because they had offered no compensation for his work.
“I did not have copies of these books anywhere else. That is why they were in my locker and looked up,” Quashie told iWitness News, adding that the items went missing after someone broke into his desk and removed the contents.
He said the missing flash drives also continued two collections of poems he wrote in dialect and one in standard English.
Quashie said he took the COVID-19 vaccine under the government mandate in 2021 because he did not want to lose his job or his benefits.
In April 2022, he suffered a stroke while preparing to go to the state-owned NBC Radio, where he worked as a freelance announcer.
Quashie said he did not take a medical examination before getting the jab as he was feeling “healthy and everything.
“There was nothing to worry about,” he told iWitness News, adding that while he has no proof that there was a link between the vaccine and his stroke, “I know a lot of people suffered a stroke after getting the vaccine.”
He said he spent about a week in the hospital recovering from the stroke and was later discharged, with the staff prescribing medication and psychotherapy.
Quashie spent over a year at home recuperating before making a final decision to retire from the Public Service.
He told iWitness News that while he was on sick leave, a member of the staff told him that the department had opened his office to put some costumes inside.
He said he told the staff member that this was not good, because there was an even bigger officer nearby where the items could have been stored.
He explained that after suffering the stroke he had not had an opportunity to return to the office to remove his personal belongings.
Quashie explained that as creative, he used his money to buy items to create in his office the type of environment that he wanted.
“I didn’t want a boring office,” he said, adding that he also created artwork and placed them in his office.
He told iWitness News that he had pictures and other items in the office and after he learnt that someone had opened it, he became scared that things would be removed from the office.
He said that one day he called a senior public servant at the ministry, indicating that he would like to go there on a Saturday to remove his personal belongings from the office.
He asked that a member of staff be present to verify that he only removed his personal belongings, but the senior public servant said they would not allow him to go there on a Saturday.
Quashie said he found this strange as he was still a member of the staff, had had keys to the office and, before his stroke, could go there anytime he wanted.
He said the senior staff member said he could come to the office sometime during the week and the ministry would organise a vehicle to pick him up and take him back home.
Ultimately, another senior staff member arranged a vehicle to transport Quashie from his home to the office and return him home on a Tuesday.
He said he took along his son with him to help with the removal of the items as the stroke has disfigured one of his arms.
“And I had my bunch of keys to open the door and so on. When I went for the keys to open the doors, the door was already open,” Quashie said.
“A lady was there and I asked her to stay back as a witness because I don’t trust people and I am very cautious about what I do around people,” he further stated.
“The door was opened. So, I said, ‘Lord, way me ah see yah at all,” he said in the Vincentian vernacular, adding that he went into the office and packed up his files that he used to write his stuff on, including reminders of meetings.
He said he then took out the key to open his desk.
“When I pulled the first drawer, it was open; the second drawer was open. All the others were open.
“I said, ‘Oh Lord! Mudda! These people come and thief all my things from my office’,” he told iWitness News, adding that he called the lady to see the situation.
“I had my personal keys so they wrenched out all the locks,” he said.
Quashie said 152 DVDs meant a lot to him and he “used to watch them like how a fowl watches its chickens”.
He said that in addition to the DVDs being removed from his desk, the artwork and posters had been removed from the walls.
He said that when he called a senior staff member the following day, they said that what had happened was wrong and that he should make a list of what was missing from the office.
Quashie told iWitness News that he sent the list to the senior staff member, who confirmed receipt and said they would find out from the staff about what had happened to his items.
He said that three weeks later, the senior staff member told him that they were yet to find out from the staff, so he decided to stop calling and reported the matter to the police.
He said that after some back and forth with the police, a junior detective was sent to his house and took a statement from him, including a list and description of the missing items.
Almost a month later, he was yet to hear anything further from the investigator, whose last indication was that he had submitted the report to his superior officer.
He told iWitness News that one day he was in Kingstown and learnt that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, his MP, was at NBC Radio, where Quashie worked part time.
He said he visited the station and was telling the prime minister what had happened but the prime minister had to attend to another matter and told one of his security officers to take Quashie’s number and remind him to call.
“I don’t know what happened, or if the security reminded him. Up to now, I have not heard anything,” Quashie told iWitness News.
Quashie said that the festivals recorded on the DVDs were held under the auspices of the government.
“They were paid for by sponsors and not the government. The production part of it and money was the companies that paid for it,” he told iWitness News.
“What people are saying is, even if they were paid for by the government, they had no right to break not the drawers, which had keys for me to open them. They should have allowed me to hand them over. I was the curator of these things for years,” he said.
He said he would also like to get back four textbooks that were removed from the office, as well as other personal items, including a mug with a painting on the outside, a corded microphone and magazines.