Never giving up on my children – mother of burnt teen prays for her recovery

Cheryl Benn

“I never give up on my children. I always fight fuh them and even if I have to catch crab to help mind dem I do it,” the words of 47-year-old Cheryl Benn, a mother of 14.

Benn is the mother of 17-year-old Susana Culpepper, who was severely burnt allegedly by an ex-boyfriend last week. The man is now in custody.

I approached Benn at the Georgetown Public Hospital where she spends her entire days since her daughter was transferred to that institution as she fights for her life. Benn goes to the hospital early in the morning and leaves at the end of the last visit, between visits she sits on the visitor bench in the compound.

The mother readily agreed to speak to me, saying she had “nothing to hide.”

I told her some will describe her as a ‘bad’ mother since her teenage daughter shared a common-law relationship with her accused assailant and was burnt at the home of her current boyfriend.

“Me know,” she responded in a quiet voice and after a pause continued, “But people who say suh mustn’t look at it one way but must look at it all around.”

Asked what she meant Benn said: “I ain’t give away me children and to be honest with you when I talk to them they hard ears, dem ain’t listening. If dem use to listen me to me this woulda never happen.

“And then they went away [Susana and her sister after her] by deh father family and when dem come back dem different. Since the father gone he would help out, but dem does get food to eat but not enough to eat,” she explained.

“Is 14 a dem I got, seven boys and seven girls, the biggest is 30 and the smallest is seven.

“I does catch crab and when I ain’t catch I does buy and sell. I does sell provision to and I does sell at dem market, Charity, Suddie and Anna Regina on different days,” she said.

“Is when me and they father separate he tek Susana and a next one and send dem by he sister dem drop out a school. Me had to fight to get dem back and when dem come back is like dem different. Dem use to drink beer and dem want go out. I was surprise that dem drinking beer because me don’t drink. Me is nah somebody who does go out and party and suh,” she said.

“Is a different attitude dem come back with and is when dem go out, dem use to come back early, is like is den she meet that boy [Kyle Goddette]. He come one time and say how he like me daughter and how he go treat she good and send she back to school and suh,” the mother explained.

“That is how she come to start living with he,” she said not explaining if she gave her 16-year-old daughter permission to leave and I did not probe further.

There was so much more I wanted to ask her about this situation, but Benn was in obvious distress and I was not prepared to add to her woes. I allowed her to control most of the conversation; it was her story and I believed she had a right to tell it as she saw fit.

“I never know how he use to beat she and is not long dem live, just fuh like a couple months. But a hear how he use beat she and bun up she clothes and she use to hide dem things when I call she but is somebody finally tell me,” the mother said.

“A tell she to give up the relationship how he guh kill she and a tell she come back home and she listen to me and come back, but he always after she since den. One time she went out and a hear she in a pool a blood at de hospital when I go I see she and she tell me is how he beat she up. I bathe she and she see de doctor and I tell she how de story have to go to court.

“The police arrest he and he mother and he father, you know dem get money, dem like beg she and tell she done de story. But we nah tek no money or suh from them but like she decide to give he a chance. She nah tek he back but she drop deh matter, me didn’t even know till after.

“But a next time he reach she again and cuff she and now he do this. He have to go jail for this,” she said passionately, the only time she showed any emotion during the almost hour-long conversation.

“She tell me how this next boy is she friend and she going and watch movie by he. And like he [her ex] did watchmaning she because people see he walking up and down and is just two house away she been when this thing happen.

“He put some blocks and stand up and look through the window and throw the channa bomb right pun she. Is just she and the boy went home because he mother and father does work out a town.

“To be honest I didn’t want she with no boyfriend when she and Kyle lef I put she and de sister back in school, dem in fourth form and dem went up to December and de headmistress talk to dem and suh. But dem ain’t go back fuh this term, dem say how dem ain’t get bag,” she said, this time looking at the palms of her hands.

There was so much I wanted to ask and say but as I did previously, I remained quiet. I asked myself ‘Who are you to judge?’

Finish CXC

“I just want she to get to go back to school and pass she CXC,” Benn said in a pleading voice.

“Another sister, right before Susanna and Vanessa, she write CXC and she do very good and now she is a cashier and I tell dem to look at she fuh example,” the mother said.

Now as she watches her daughter writhe in pain, the mother said her only wish is to do just that.

“She tell me ‘Mommy I want go back to school and dem nurse tell me how dey guh help me to get into nursing once I write me CXC.’

“I blame dem father too you know, is eight a dem I get fuh he and he lef me and go away in de bush and listen to he family dem. He use to do it steady but this time he start living with somebody and so when he come back I didn’t tek he back,” she said attempting to explain what went wrong with her family.

“I call after de last time he go away and I tell he come home but he nah listen and den he go and get somebody else.

“He come down and see she, but he ain’t had no money so he say how he go back and wuk and bring money fuh she. Is me big daughter looking after dem lil one and dem going to school and so. Me staying at the [Amerindian] hostel and me big son give me some money and dem rest say how dem guh work and send money fuh me,” she said.

Her childhood

I asked Benn about her childhood and she looked at me sadly before turning away and answered in the quiet tone she used throughout the conversation.

“I did not get to finish school, me mother and me father tek me out when I deh in form one. Dem say how I was sickly, but you know looking back I really sad about it because I was no dunce. I use to always bring first. Right now, I just sorry dem tek me out a school because me life coulda been different,” the almost 50-year-old mother of 14 said candidly.

“I grow and den I get boyfriend and when I was 18 I get me first child and I move in with he and is six children we get together. But he get mix up with bad company and he use to thief and den he get sentence to jail and is suh me get to meet Susana dem father and is eight children me get with he. We live lil good.”

I asked her if she had been abused.

“He use to beat me yes, but nah steady, you know, not on a regular basis. And every time he do it is den he use to go away in deh bush and den come back. Is like when he drink is den he would like knack me,” she said the words without showing any emotion.

“Right now I live in a rent house. I have a house but is me and me children father build it and because me have somebody else I frighten to go and live in deh.

“… Me and me new husband does rent, he [her new partner] is a fisherman,”

For now, Benn will continue to spend her days at the hospital as she prays for the speedy recovery of her daughter. It is hoped that some good will come out of this horrific situation – that Susana will get the opportunity to finish her schooling.

“No, no, she say she don’t want no boyfriend, dah is the end of she and de boy,” her mother said of the relationship she shared with young Chavez Watson.

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