Orlando Wong was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1952. He grew up in the slums of Eastern Kingston’s Franklin Town and received an informal education from a Rasta named Negus. His rebellious nature initially led him to engage in demonstrations against police violence and painting slogans on walls. When a project to provide a ghetto school and community centre to benefit the area’s youths hit financial difficulties, Wong began engaging in guerrilla activities, based in the hills around Kingston, these including armed robberies. After one of these robberies, of a post office, Wong was captured and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 1970. After attempting to escape twice (he was shot five times by the police during the first attempt), instigating a prison riot, and campaigning for prison reform, Wong was classed as a security risk and subjected to a harsh regime at the Fort Augusta prison.
He began writing poetry in 1971, and became the first inmate to be allowed to perform with a reggae band in 1974 when Cedric Brooks’ band The Light of Saba performed in the prison. After the performance, however, Wong’s poetry was declared “subversive” and his writing was confiscated from his cell. He considered himself a political prisoner, and continued writing, with his poetry finding an audience in the outside world after being smuggled out of prison, coming to the attention of Jamaican writers, especially UWI Professor Mervyn Morris. Wong’s poetry also won three prizes in the 1976 Jamaica Literary Festival. His profile was further raised when he was allowed out of prison for a poetry reading at the Tom Redcam Library in 1977. Also in 1977, several of his poems were published in Jamaica’s national newspapers, including the Daily Gleaner and Jamaica Daily News. His play Confrontation was performed on JBC radio, and Morris arranged for the publication of his first collection of poetry, ECHO by Sangsters (1978).
Well-known literary and cultural personalities, and students at the University of the West Indies, through the Human Rights Council & the Prisoners Rehabilitation Committee, campaigned for his release, which was achieved on 1 September 1977, when he received the equivalent of a presidential pardon from then Attorney General Carl Rattray, a poet himself.