History was made here on Wednesday when the Bordelais Correctional Facility held a mini graduation ceremony for inmates who had successfully written CXC English and those who had completed the ongoing literacy and numeracy program there. This gave a glimmer of hope for persons who have been calling for more focus to be placed on the rehabilitation aspect of the facility.
However, guest speaker at the ceremony and chairman of the Bordelais board for visiting justices, Michael Walker stated that presently there is very little rehabilitation going on at the institution which he described as “a disaster from the very beginning.” But as we said many present Wednesday used the opportunity as a sign of hope or to call for more support.
“This represents a small moment in our history, a small moment nonetheless that is being recognized. It is a moment that we are proud of, it is that moment that we today celebrate,” stated Education manager at Bordelais Lawrence Constantine as he welcomed inmates and invited guest to the ceremony which was held at the institution’s chapel.
During his remarks Director of Corrections Hilary Herman sought to address the issue of education and rehabilitation. “I stand here today with a sense of pride . . . the pride that I have today is derived from the realization of a small step in our education program which leads to our rehabilitation program,” Herman announced. He went on to underscore that the inmates worked hard under a non conducive environment, “possibly the worst conditions you can study under.”
“I say congratulations and thanks for taking on the vision even though it is not mandatory,” Herman continued. He then expressed the hope that someday the program would become mandatory. According to the prison chief the education program could help change the behaviour of students in addition to the skills training.
“So basic education needs to be the platform on which the rehabilitation system is based upon,” he intoned. Herman looking straight at National Security and Home Affairs Minister Guy Mayers seated in the front row, then called for three additional skills instructors and three additional remedial teachers.
“This is my dream that in the approval of the next budget cycle you will give me that dream and a present assistant director of skills instructor that can increase the number of inmates involved in the program,” he went on.
However during his address Guy Mayers steered clear of making any promises or responding to the Bordelais Director of Corrections. According to Mayers, he was very pleased to be at the ceremony and to be part of this history making event. “We know that it is not stopping here and in May another twenty nine inmates are sitting CXC exams. It is important that the education component of our rehabilitation program continues,” he said.
For Michael Walker, there was very little sign that any progress was being made towards rehabilitation at the prison or to equip some of the very skills workshops the Minister spoke of. Walker, who started work with the prison as an educator one year after it was built, said Wednesday that he had come across many good persons at the prison and even made some friends there.
“I am the sort of person who believes that you are born good, not that you are born bad. Things go wrong and I think that every single person that I have met here has a lot of good in him or her,” Walker stressed. He spoke of an earlier Creole literacy program that he was a part of at the prison. “This,” he said, “worked very well. Unfortunately like many things in Saint Lucia it died. It is very hard to make anything sustainable in this country and it is very hard to change things.”
Then this from Michael Walker: “Bordelais was a disaster from the very beginning, this is not a political statement it’s the truth. It is called correctional and rehabilitation, there was basically very little rehabilitation from the very beginning. The first four years there was no money allocated for rehabilitation. The then Government should have realized you just cannot move four, five hundred people from one place into another place, change its name and expect them all to become rehabilitated, and that’s sad.”
He then went on to praise Constantine and his crew for working under difficult conditions to educate the inmates. “I celebrate with the six of you who have passed your exams. I think it is fantastic, but we have to face reality this is not enough,” Walker said. He then called for a change in attitude of persons in this society as well, reminding them to accept that people can change.
The National Enrichment Learning Program coordinator Lucy Joseph in a lengthy enthusiastic address recalled her department being approached in 2006-2007 by the institution to collaborate on the basic literacy numeracy skills program. “We embraced this opportunity and this initiative and we went straight ahead with it,” she said. “We want to congratulate you, we applaud you and want to wish you the best in the future,’ she said to the student inmates.
Taiwanese ambassador Tom Chou also called on society to open up to giving rehabilitated inmates a second chance. “Making a mistake is not a shame if you don’t repeat it,” said Chou who said he had come to show his support. Through the embassy of the republic of China on Taiwan, the student’s exams and texts books were paid for.
The CXC results revealed that one inmate had secured a perfect score in English receiving a distinction one, two received grade twos, two- threes and a four. Those inmates received a certificate and a trophy. Several other inmates received their certificates for the completion the NELP literacy and numeracy skills program and other subject areas.
Wednesday’s landmark ceremony which was hosted by correctional officer (and POB tutor) Christella Leonce also featured original performances in poetry and song by some of the inmates. Marcus Lafeuille one of the graduates said Wednesday the only way to describe the day was love. He closed off with a wonderful rendition of the song “Can you feel the love,” by Elton John.