June 2009

Issue Home >>


Sentinel Simmons : Heeding a call to arms

She can’t be any taller than 155cm. So petite that each time I passed her at the security booth, standing erect and serious in the blazing sun, I wondered how she came to be an estate constable on a university campus.

Even her name seemed larger than her frame: Marie Michelle Petal Simmons, but as we got to talking, it grew clearer that size had nothing to do with her outlook or content.

Marie is simply a tough young woman who grew up around a military male and that was what cut her cloth.

In Belmont, she grew up with her mother Mary, six aunts and her grandmother, in an environment where everyone looked out for each other. So much so that Mary and her sister Karen practically traded responsibility for each other’s children.

“I was too fussy,” said Marie.

It meant that she has moved back and forth between their households, mostly with Aunt Karen, her “second mother” and the two sons her mum had helped raise.

Karen’s husband, Major Sarwan Boodram was running a martial arts school in Warrenville, not far from their Cunupia home, and Marie started training by the time she was about seven. She now has a first degree brown belt. She also likes badminton and track and field. Last year at the staff inter campus games, she won the women’s 100m and 200m, and her relay team won the 4x100m.

Perhaps seeing military possibility in her athleticism, neatness and “knack for discipline,” her uncle brought home some application forms one day and advised her to fill them out.

He had done staff training at The University of the West Indies (UWI) in areas like physical and combat training. She had long left Woodbrook Government Secondary School and was doing the physical training instructors’ course run by the Defence Force. The UWI was recruiting for its security department. Her dad, Michael Blackman, is a shuttle driver at the St Augustine campus. Everything seemed connected.

She sent in her application, wrote the entry exams three months later and was inducted as an estate constable. That was five years ago.

Has she found her calling?

She’s registered to do either Human Resource Management or Criminology at the Open Campus come September, and having turned 26 on May Day, she is considering possibilities.

“It’s not really my dream job,” she says of the security post. “It’s a bit challenging at times. Because this is a university you expect some intelligence from staff and students, and some of the students look down at security [guards] because they feel we are not as intelligent as them, but there are officers who have graduated from here.”

It isn’t only a condescending manner. Students often rudely disregard them, she said. Some tell guards that they pay their salaries. She says that in buildings like the library with heavy traffic a common situation is that students produce their mandatory ID cards when entering, but leave them behind when they subsequently exit and re-enter the building. If they’re asked to produce them, they get riled up.

“We just come in here. Why you asking us for that?” they’d say, and no amount of explaining to them that hundreds of students pass through and guards couldn’t be expected to remember every face, gets them to respect the security position.

It might be tiresome for students to remember to wear their ID cards, but it has become an important tool for the guards in terms of providing campus security. Students complain about crime, but they don’t act responsibly, she said.

“We advise them to take the shuttle and don’t walk on the streets late at night. Sometimes they say the shuttle takes too long, or they ignore you and go about their business. When something happens, the first person they run to is you.”

Not all are like that, she says. The majority of students comply with the guards’ requests, “but some students like to give trouble,” she sighs. “They just don’t like people in authority.”

She’s never had any scary incidents on duty, and she’s not afraid because “once you’re working with someone you trust,” you don’t worry. Standing for four hours at a time, and stubborn, unruly and rude students are her challenges. Sometimes one or two might drop a pick-up line her way.

“Wearing a uniform by the gate, men hassle you. People, men or women in uniform, just attract a lot of attention,” she said, forgetting that she is an attractive young woman, though she must know.

“I really would have liked to be a flight attendant,” she’d said, as she talked of her dream job. She came into the security arena mainly because many of her cousins were in the Defence Force and her uncle was a big influence, though she insists that none is the type to bring home his work persona. The toughness she learned was from attending a co-ed secondary school, and growing up around teenaged boys.

“If you can handle them, you can handle anything,” she said.

She thinks forensic science might be an area that she might like, especially as it means getting out of uniform. The way she talks you get the sense that it’s not so much the job, as the uniform she wants to shed. The job means something more to her.

“To me, we’re like community police. We’re here to protect and make sure there is order and to build a relationship with both staff and students.”