Education: The ‘Key’ to Bordelais

Bordelais is more than just a prison. The facility does not seek to serve solely as a confinement for criminals, but also to aid its inmates in obtaining a certain level of personal development, with opportunities such as its educational program.

I visited the prison, this time to liaise with a few of the inmates who in May 2014 successfully sat the CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) examinations. This year marks the fifth consecutive year in which inmates have been afforded the opportunity to write the exams, with the education program being in existence for the past seven to eight years. I wanted to get a proper understanding of the Bordelais education system.  Mr. Lawrence Constantine, Education Manager of the prisons, gave me a rundown of the operations.

“The system caters for two distinct sets of inmates: those who have attended secondary school and those who have not, and so our program has a basic and advanced component. We are basically following the same curricula as in the public school system geared towards CXC, so we classify people as being secondary level or CXC level and basic level. For our basic level students, we follow the NELP program which is the ministry’s adult part of it. And of course the inmates have the opportunity to move up until they get to the CXC level, providing that they have the time to do so (depending on the status of their case). They write the NELP exams as well, they get their certificates here and receive them on their way out,” explained Constantine.

The facility is geared to catering to both sentenced inmates as well as those awaiting trial, and enrolling in the education program is voluntary.

“At the secondary level we have what you call a pre-CXC level and the CXC level. At the pre-CXC level we begin to groom them for CXC, so they would spend a year in that program, then those who are ‘ready’ would move up and are prepared for CXC. For Social Studies and Principles of Business (POB) we give them a year at the CXC level. Last year we didn’t allow them to write Math and English but let them go through two years of work because these are generally more challenging. So we experimented with two years of English and Mathematics  and it did pay off. We have also offered EDPM in the past but our equipment and facilities are limited.”

Constantine explains that the program has grown beyond expectations over the years due to the level of performances produced by the inmates.

“At first, our mandate was basic education but when we started and we assessed the progress and we looked at the quality of inmates, we decided to push to have the inmates write CXC. We have also been fiddling with tertiary courses at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, or even distant learning courses but then again it all comes down to the type of facilities we have. But we certainly have folks here who are more than capable of going being the CXC level,” Constantine concluded.

This year 15 inmates sat the CXC, totaling a sum of 26 examinations, managing 23 passes and three failures, and recording an overall average of 87%.  Last year over 70 inmates enrolled in the education system and this figure has grown significantly to 107 enrollments for 2014/2015.

I was hoping to have a one-on-one with the top performer at the examinations but Mr. Constantine gave me the privilege of interviewing five of the aspiring inmates.

These men include Samuel “Sammy” Edmund, 24, of Pierrot, Vieux Fort who obtained a grade one in Mathematics, two in Social Studies and P.O.B and a three in English A.

Moses Francis Leon, 56, obtained grade twos in Social Studies and Principles of Business.

Vern Henry, 29, obtained a distinction in English A and a two in Social Studies.

Kurt Oculien, 25, of the Mabouya Valley, Dennery obtained a distinction in Mathematics and a two in Social Studies.

Jonathan “Ninja Dan” St. Rose, 35, of Marchand, Castries obtained a grade one in P.O.B and a two in Social Studies.

The interviews with these gentlemen were each very interesting in their own way, some filled with eye-openers but each with their distinct lesson. Here’s a general outlook on the individuals: of the five interviewees, surprisingly every one of them attended a secondary school with only one being unable to sit the CXC examinations due to financial problems. What did not come as a surprise, was that three out of the five men had not properly considered their life goals and aspirations.

In terms of crimes committed, the offenses tagged to the accused range from armed robbery, to possession of firearms and ammunition, to grievous harm and attempted murder. Of these five inmates, only one has been convicted with the other four languishing on remand.

It is said that experience brings forth wisdom, and being locked up in a cell definitely leads even the hardest of criminals into contemplation. All of the inmates confess that being incarcerated forced them into reflection and led them to accepting the education program as a second chance and a golden opportunity to obtain subjects which they had not passed or studied before. They all have made reading a part of their lives.

The best of luck to you, gentlemen!

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