The Prisons authorities have taken to the road to sensitise Grenadians about the harsh reality of life behind the walls of the institution at Richmond Hill St. George’s.
Officials at the island’s lone prison facility have developed what they refer to as the Prison Outreach programme by visiting various villages on the island where the inmates are from to engage the persons living there.
This new programme seeks to serve as a preventative measure in having people refrain from committing crimes that could land them behind bars for several years.
The programme which was launched at Fontenoy, St.George’s made its way to Mt. Rich, St. Patrick’s which at the time had 12 persons of its own in jail.
In an interactive session with the community, one of its members whose name was given as Roydel provided a chilling account of his four year experience in jail.
The former prison inmate who was sentenced in 2011 said inmates are locked in their cells at 5:00 p.m and allowed outside at 5:30 a.m every day and given rice and bread to eat on a daily basis.
While stating that he is glad for the experience, Roydel urged the young men of his village to make the best of their freedom and do not fall victim to crime as he did.
On the positive side, he said he learnt certain things in prison including life skills training from which he acquired the skills of general maintenance.
Roydel glorified the reform that has taken place in his life as a result of his stint in prison.
He recalled that when he first entered prison, he found himself engaged in reckless behaviour by giving trouble and getting involved in drugs.
This behaviour, he said, caused him to be constantly locked up, and in one instance he was locked up for three months.
“It is over bearing to be a prisoner and locked away from your home,” he told fellow villagers.
According to Roydel, while in prison he saw some inmates being carried away in stretchers to the hospital for treatment due to gang influence, as well as for being disobedient to the law.
He spoke of some inmates smashing up the pipes within the building to use them as instruments to kill another prisoner.
He said that behind the prison walls, gang members will also arm themselves with pieces of cutlass and knives.
During the session, prison officials provided those in attendance with a breakdown of the number of persons from Hermitage to Snell Hall in St.Patrick’s who are currently in jail.
The survey showed that Mt. Rich which had 12 inmates is the village with the largest number of persons serving time at the prison, followed by River Sallee (4), Mt. Raven (4), Hermitage (3), Mt. Rose and Fortune (2), and one each from Pointzfeild, Rose Hill, Snell Hall, La Taste and Mt. Alexander.
It was pointed out that out of 38 persons captured in the survey, Mt. Rich had the highest number of prison inmates hence the reasons why that village was targeted for hosting the second outreach programme.
Social Worker at Her Majesty’s Prisons, Christopher Stroude gave an outline of the programmes offered to prisoners.
Stroude, a former inmate who was incarcerated for the 1983 bloody murder of leftist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, indicated that out of a prison population of 467 inmates, 460 are males while just seven are females.
Stating that prison is a waste of someone’s life and the time of inmates, he said the new thinking within the prison is for rehabilitation rather than embarking upon harsh and cruel treatment.
The former Major in the disbanded People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) said it is better to rehab inmates so that when they leave the facility they would be better able to make a valuable contribution to society.
However, he pointed out that whenever a prisoner is released from the Richmond Hill institution, in many instances they leave worst than when they came in.
Stroude said that an inmate coming into prison would have lost his job if he was employed, as well as his girlfriend or wife, he would become older, as well as lose money in legal fees to lawyers and upon release from jail that person has to start his life all over again.
According to Stroude, education and skills training are among the programs being offered to the inmates at Richmond Hill.
He said that they have discovered that from among the male prison population about 70% of them cannot read nor write, while it is different among the female population.
He indicated that the reason for this state of affairs is the fact that males tend to drop out of school at an earlier age, and as a result are unable to secure a proper job, and in addition do not have skills.
Stroude disclosed that over a one year period, 23 inmates under the age of 30 were provided with skills training in crop production, wielding and maintenance that was offered by the Ministry of Youth.
He also felt that the way in which young boys are now brought up by their parents was also a contributing and influential factor in their way of life as opposed to the case in which the young girls are closely monitored and having to remain close at home unlike the young boys who are left to stray and get into trouble.
“Maybe this is one of the reasons why we have the boys not so focused on their education… if we could just spend a little more time with our boy children as we spend with our girl children, (give them) a little more attention then we might not have the problems we have with our boys as we have now”, he remarked.
Boys, according to Stroude “need a lot of hugging and attention just like the girls, and many times we don’t treat the boys that way”.
The former prison inmate encouraged the young men of Mt. Rich to not allow anything to take away their freedom while outside of prisons since when they are in jail, all of their freedom are lost.
Prison Commissioner Ashley “Ram” Folkes said it is very difficult for someone who was an inmate at the Richmond hill prison to obtain a clean police record even though he would have committed the crime many years ago.
Folkes noted that even some construction companies are asking for police record of young men looking for work.
He spoke of visiting Acting Commissioner of Police, Winston James on a matter regarding someone who had served time for Ganja in 1978 and having difficulties obtaining a clean police record which will allow him to travel to the United States.
“I am saying to the government… the law makers, it is totally unfair that somebody paid their dues and their crime has to live with them like diabetes until they dead, “he said.
“Is it fair that someone who served their time, pay their dues and you come out for the next 20 years (and) you’re still paying dues? “ he asked.
Folkes lamented the fact that once a person spends time in jail he faces discrimination for the rest of his life from the entire society.
He also said that whenever a male person get into jail they are visited only by their mother and girlfriend, and would receive just a mere hello from the friends they had while they were not in prison.
“You have to be careful with the friends you have because when you mess up, 99% of the visitors in the prison are females. When they come to jail the girlfriends and their mothers are the ones who visit them. Their partners, their friends – they gone missing and if you don’t understand that I don’t know what you will understand, “he added.
The Prison Chief said when he took up his assignment 21 months ago, the institution was in a chaotic state with gangs, and inmates assaulting Prison Officers.
He also addressed the over-crowding situation within the prison due to the fact that a number of persons are handed down prison sentences for minimal offences by the Judiciary.
He singled out for mention Magistrate Jerry Seales for handing down sentences that he described as quite mind-boggling.
Folkes felt that in many instances the penalty for most of the crimes should be community service.
Attorney-General Cajeton Hood is said to have made a move within the Cabinet of Ministers to get Seales removed but it was reportedly blocked by Minister of Legal Affairs, Elvin Nimrod.
Sources told this newspaper that the move was initially supported by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchel but he backed away when Nimrod stood his ground.
According to Folkes, government has to spend too much money for the upkeep of prisoners and some of the money could have been pumped into the schools for education purposes.
He pleaded with residents of Mt. Rich to embrace the prisoners from their village when they are finally released.