Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | February 1, 2009
Home : Arts &Leisure
A story of triumph over adversity


Title: A Child's Voice

Author: Michelle Pranger

Reviewed by: Dr Alfred Sangster

The Jamaican society is greatly concerned about the threats to its children. Children are murdered by ruthless criminals, ill-treated by uncaring parents and are in general, traumatised and hurting.

Michelle Pranger's book describes how she lived in an abusive family situation for many years, with details of that experience graphically described. It is a story that is not unique to Michelle, for there are many similar experiences that can be found in our own society.

When she was three weeks old, Michelle was left with a grandmother in the Old Road country district in St Catherine. It was there that she found a home with the love and security that she would later miss.

love and discipline

She lived in the great outdoors running barefooted in the bushes, eating the many fruits that were in season and basking in grandma's (Mama's) love and discipline. Grandpa was there, too, to provide the supporting male presence and the community in the district provided the security for those early formative years.

That idyllic life was to come to an end with the arrival of a telegram from Michelle's parents. They wanted her back and were coming to collect her. The day arrived and Michelle bade a tearful and bitter farewell to the haven that had been her home for those first eight years of her life.

She arrived in Kingston to an upstairs apartment at 8 Avondale Drive which had a grille gate and a lock. This, writes Michelle, was to be her cemetery plot for her teenage years.

It was soon after, that something abnormal began to happen. Father started kissing on the lips. He said how he loved Michelle and she was his favorite girl and this was to be their secret. The sexual predator continued his obsession with his daughter. Michelle felt at those times "so nasty, so sick. I was disgusted with him, my life and myself. She kept her father's secret for years.

But how to get out of this trap? For her, the stress with her father was compounded by regular beatings and obscene cursings by her mother, often in front of her mother's friends. The recollection of those nasty names is a bitter memory. Michelle shares the inner tensions

"The more I kept the burden I called a secret, the more I was required to lie and pretend. The more I lied and pretended, the more I lost my sense of self until there was no more self to lose. By the time I lost myself I had become acclimatised to my parents' deeds and they became normal to me. I no longer tried to fight; I no longer tried to think. I just allowed these vultures to do as they saw fit. Although I knew that what they were doing was wrong, I no longer had the energy or the will to fight. The truth is it felt easier to be the victim."

A sanctuary

While the abuse was going on, Michelle moved to Merl Grove High School. The school became her sanctuary for the next five years. It was home because there was no home and she makes special mention of teachers Shirley Thompson and Zoe Dumas who were special in her life. Michelle says that although she was close to her teachers she never dared to tell them her secret. She was too afraid and ashamed. And, the abuse continued. She did as her parents wanted, and in return got nothing more than heartache.

There was an interlude with a boyfriend Devante who filled an emotional void in her life. The confusion in her own make-up was apparent; there were too many secrets which she felt she could not share. And, then Devante moved to New York and the bond was broken for a time.

But her parents soon moved to New York as well and the connection with Devante was renewed. The interlude with Devante, her love for him, his pressuring her for sex and then abandoning her is a typical Jamaican tale.

But a way was opening up. Her experience at Merl Grove led her to recognise the value of education and the challenge and discipline of hard work. She enrolled at Queens College and had the good fortune to become enrolled in a counselling programme at the College. It was there that she began to find herself and eventually to find the courage to face her parents with the truth of their behaviour.

That event with her mother and father was the real beginning of finding herself. To quote Michelle in that traumatic encounter:

"Listen Daddy, don't forgive me. I didn't do anything wrong to be forgiven. You are the one that hurt me. You need to confess and ask God for forgiveness from me and God. Both of you don't worry about me and God. He will one day make it up to me for sentencing me to live with demons."


Her mother did not believe that her husband had been abusing Michelle, cursed her and put her out of the house. Fortunately for her, Devante's mother and her aunt in Brooklyn provided the support that was so important at this critical juncture.

The book ends dramatically with Michelle's final comments clearly showing that she has left the trauma of silence behind.

"I'm still hurting inside, but I am ecstatic, I finally found my voice. Unhampered, I continued on my life's journey, determined not to let the events of my past define me."

But there are questions that the reader will ask. For in the dedication, Michelle, among others, dedicates the book to:

"My wonderful husband and three children."

How did Michelle move from the trauma of a battered childhood and dreadful home life to a husband and three children?

The reviewer made contact with Michelle Pranger (formally Michelle Harrison, class of 1992) in the United States who provided the missing information which might well be described as an afterword.

Michelle's afterword

Even before graduating, she was hired by a non-profit organisation. The job provided an element of independence and provided an opportunity to reflect on the love, kindness and encouragement that was bestowed on her by those who have shared her journey. She declares:

"My core belief now is that everything happens for a reason. I believe that no matter how dark a situation may seem, there is always a flicker of light. There were moments in which the light in my life was dim, but I have always concentrated, focused and learned to be patient while allowing the flicker of light to guide me. I am blessed to be married and have three children with a man who is my best friend. A man who is non-judgmental and has accepted not only my imperfect past, but loved and respected me more because of my strength to persevere through the darkest hours of my life."

This is a courageous book and should be in every childcare worker's library. It is a story of triumph over adversity.

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