In American society people with past criminal convictions have a hard time overcoming the stigma of their past crimes and often fail to adjust to their new reality. However in countries like Jamaica convicted felons can end up recovering and thriving because their past criminal history does not hinder their future aspirations.
In this list we will look at some popular Jamaican Reggae Dancehall stars who have criminal backgrounds and thrived inspite of it.
1 Jah Cure
In November 1998, while driving around Montego Bay, Cure was pulled over by the police and arrested on charges of gun possession, robbery and rape. He was prosecuted before the Gun Court in April 1999, found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Jah Cure was transferred from the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre to the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, which had a digital recording studio the inmates could use. It was there that Cure released three albums and a number of singles, some of which have topped the Jamaican chart. He was released from jail on parole on 28 July 2007, after serving 8 years of the sentence. Three days later, his fourth album, True Reflections...A New Beginning was released and became and instant hit. His career thrived long after his release and he is now a staple in the Lovers Rock sub-genre.
2 Ninja Man
In March 2009, Ninjaman, along with his son Janiel, was arrested and charged in connection with the murder of Ricardo Johnson on Marl Road, Kingston, Jamaica. He was granted bail for the sum of JD$2,000,000 in March 2012, and was scheduled to appear in court 15 July 2012. At least 58 jurors were needed for the start of the trial but only 15 showed up. The trial was rescheduled to start in April 2015, but was again postponed and rescheduled to start in January 2016. All the while, Ninja man continued to release music and made several appearances at numerous music events. In 2015 he parted ways with Downsound Records and opened his own Picture Frame Studio on Blackwood Terrace in Kingston.
However, on November 20, 2017, Ninjaman and his co-accused were found guilty of the 2009 murder of Ricardo Johnson. Then on December 18, 2017, Ballentine was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
3 Busy Signal
On 21 May 2012, Gordon was arrested at the Norman Manley International Airport in Jamaica due to an extradition warrant from the United States. He was extradited to the US on 19 June where he faced cocaine-related charges. In September 2012 he received a six-month prison sentence. He was released in November, and promptly released the single "Come Shock Out". BBC Music ranked Reggae Music Again No. 7 on their Top 25 Albums of 2012 listing. Busy Signal appears on the No Doubt album, Push and Shove, collaborating with the band and the production team Major Lazer on the title track. He also appears on Major Lazer's second album Free the Universe, in the track "Watch Out For This (Bumaye)", which was a hit single in several European countries.
4 Vybz Kartel
On 29 September 2011, Kartel was arrested by police for marijuana possession. Jamaica's Major Investigation Taskforce (MIT) later charged him with the murder of a Jamaican businessman, Barrington Burton, conspiracy and illegal possession of a firearm. While in prison in 2012, his book The Voice Of The Jamaican Ghetto: Incarcerated but not Silenced, co-written with business associate Michael Dawson, was published.
Though Kartel was granted bail for the Burton murder on 23 March 2012 for JD$3,000,000, he remained in custody in connection with a second murder, of one Clive 'Lizard' Williams, of Waterford, St Catherine. He was charged, along with two others including Vanessa "Gaza Slim" Saddler, with perverting the course of justice, after Saddler allegedly claimed that Williams had robbed her in order to mislead the police into believing that he was still alive.
On 24 July a jury found Kartel not guilty of the charge of murder of Barrington Burton. However, Kartel remained in custody pending the second murder case. His trial for the murder of Clive Williams started on 18 November 2013 and on 13 March 2014, he was found guilty by an eleven-member jury (10-1). The 65-day trial was said to have been the longest in Jamaica’s history. On 3 April 2014, Kartel was sentenced to life imprisonment with an eligible for parole after serving 35 years.
Despite being in prison he continues to release new music that top the local and international charts, in addition to his videos garning millions of views on streaming services like YouTube.
5 Buju Banton
In December 2009 Drug Enforcement Administration agents remanded Banton to custody in Miami, where the U.S. Attorney charged him with conspiracy to distribute and possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine. Banton was then moved to the Pinellas County Jail where he remained until trial. A six-day trial in Tampa, Florida was declared a mistrial on 27 September 2010, after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision. During the trial, audio recordings were presented of Banton and a drug-dealer-turned-government-informant discussing drugs, drug prices and smuggling. Banton was also seen on a video recording meeting the informant in a police-controlled warehouse tasting cocaine from a kilogram bag. The informant was reportedly paid $50,000 for his work on the case.
While the case was ongoing, he was released on bail and allowed to perform one concert between trials, which was held on 16 January 2011 to a sold-out crowd in Miami. A few weeks after the performance he won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album but was not allowed to attend the ceremony.
On 22 February 2011, Banton was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense and using communication wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offense. He was found not guilty on the charge of attempted possession of five kilograms or more of cocaine. He was sentenced to ten years and one month in a federal prison for the cocaine trafficking conviction. However after serving more than eight years he was released and deported to Jamaica on 7 December 2018 where he was greeted by hundreds of fans. He later went on "The Long Walk to Freedom" tour throughout the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.