We’ve all heard bits and pieces of the horror stories coming from prisoners who’ve done time at the Bordelais Correction Facility; complaints about the prison being overcrowded, the amount of time some people remain there on remand, about Bordelais not really being as rehabilitation oriented as it ought to be and a host of other issues.
Last week an ex-inmate of Bordelais came to the STAR and shared some of his personal experiences. The ex-inmate, who we’ll refer to as John completed an eight month sentence in January. John’s 2010-1011 sentence made it his second time in prison. The first time around he’d spent two years locked up. He said things were worse the second time around.
“It’s worse now and it will be getting worse,” he said. “The way the unit is built, the officers can’t watch the amount of prisoners they were trained to watch. That is what’s causing some of the escapes. Most of the things I’m coming to say here isn’t on my behalf, it’s on behalf of the entire prison. There are people in prison who are only there on remand; they are not serving a sentence for a crime, they are human beings as well. It had to take somebody to do the job; I decided it would be me. That doesn’t mean I like being a prisoner or I’m willing to remain a prisoner but on behalf of human beings, I have to speak out.”
John felt the facility didn’t pay enough attention to the medical background of inmates when it came to their food menu.
“As soon as you arrive they just ‘chock’ you in and start giving you things like sweet tea and that can actually cause problems when you leave prison. They couldn’t be bothered with what you’re allergic to. As soon as you reach they treat you like any ordinary person already in there.”
According to John, it didn’t matter how long a person had been a prisoner; anyone could come in and a week later they could be on kitchen duty, something that bothered him because he felt those persons were not being screened properly, or “medically tested” before being given the responsibility of cooking for the entire prison population.
“They pay 50 cents or 80 cents a day and from the time you ask for a job, maybe because one person may not want that amount of money, they give it to you. You have to work from 6am to about 5pm every day. Someone who doesn’t know about cooking may just cook something like red beans and send it up. You may have an illness they are not measuring seasoning, sugar or salt to put in anything at the facility. Additionally the water from the pipes there comes in with worms and dirt sometimes; there is only one tank. It causes diarrhea and vomiting for those who drink it, but not every inmate’s family can afford to buy water.”
Back when Gus Small served as deputy director of the Bordelais Correctional Facility, Small noted Bordelais had become “a dumping ground where we accept the criminally insane.” Not much had changed according to John who noted there were now normal thinking prisoners mixed in with mentally ill inmates in the special Fox Trot unit.
“They classify that unit specifically for mentally ill inmates,” he said. “They have sane people on remand until their court dates among what St Lucians would call mad people. They do ‘off’ things. It’s actually designed that way so normal thinking prisoners would take care of the mentally ill patients.
“The prison is overcrowded and the officers do not have the special skills training to cope with the amount of prisoners in a unit,” he said. “There may be 10 people in one cell and seven people may call for different purposes but the officer may not want to get up the eighth time because of the amount of people in the cell.”
John said some inmates were on remand for a longer period than the penalty for the crimes of which they were accused.
“There are people in there now who stole a bag of breadfruit, and they are on remand now for six months. The penalty for the crime, they’ve already paid and they haven’t even received their penalty! There is a young man in there for attempted murder and he’s in there going up to six years and he’s only faced the Castries court twice. He’s a mental patient and they’re giving him medical care up there.”
He added that inmates who’d spent 20 or more years incarcerated were now calling for their cases to be reviewed.
“This is a facility where they are telling us behaviour counts. Behaviour is not counting. People with life sentences are saying they should be getting more privileges because Bordelais is now their home. They are asking for their cases to be reviewed after a certain period of time to see if they are fit enough to go on the outside.”
Instead of rehabilitating, the ex-inmate reiterated the view that Bordelais was a breeding ground for criminals.
“You may come there for stealing sugar and you may learn how to steal a cow, which is a bigger offence,” he said. “They are not evaluating prisoners to see if they are fit enough to go to any section of the jail.”
Despite his long list of grievances with the prison, John said he didn’t only speak for the prisoners. In some instances he felt as if the lives of officers were at risk.
“The officers on the ground are always trying their best to see if they can meet certain needs,” he said. “I will not lie about that, but they don’t have the okay to make things happen. Everyone’s heart is different; you may feel sorry for someone and sometimes is a fake; that person faking to escape or whatever, but they’re always reaching out to inmates.”
Inmates found issue with the fact that they could only air their concerns to persons in higher positions by posing their concerns on paper.
“By right what you are asking is supposed to come back with an answer,” he said. “I asked the prison for an appraisal, a conduct letter, which is what they are saying, behaviour
counts, automatically it’s supposed to be part of getting you out of there with a cleaner record.”
With the words ‘correctional facility’ attached, John felt the facility left much to be desired in that regard and for that reason, wound up in some cases releasing hardened criminals back to the streets.
“I’m not saying people have to go to prison to be rehabilitated, but since that is a correctional facility, it’s supposed to work in a way that society can accept
you again. There is
supposed to be a Halfway House where prisoners can be out of prison and still be monitored up to a period of time. Something that takes you from one side to another, and even helps you to find a job. If you were having lessons at the normal facility when you come out you should still be able to continue. With a Halfway House there could be a record of them saying, “yeah he’s doing fine” and police can know your whereabouts as well.”
That, John said would work better than the present system he felt targeted persons who were released from prison and kept them categorized as prisoners even when they were on the outside.
“Since I came out police have searched me more than twice,” he said. “They’re telling me that is the new style of policing; when I’m just walking through town. That is a form of embarrassment as well. Even if someone is trying to change their life, they just want to tell you okay you came from prison. What if I’m talking to a genuine person? Maybe a man or woman and I want to take out myself from that frame, that prison frame, I wouldn’t be able to.”
Overall, John had a message to society that he said reflected the way many persons on the inside felt about the current situation.
“People who have been incarcerated can be on a different level after facing whatever trouble they experienced. Inmates are trying to come together now to realize someone has to take up that responsibility when they get out to let society know what’s going on.”
Hilary Herman, director of the facility, found issue with some of the allegations made by the two time ex-inmate about the facility he said had long since gained the reputation of being a five star resort of choice.
“He raised the issue of the quality of the water. Obviously we have the same quality that is provided to everyone around; our water supply is from Wasco,” Herman said. “We have the same issues everyone had following hurricane Tomas.
“He spoke about the rehabilitation program,” Herman continued. “There is a screening but not everyone qualifies. We don’t have enough support staff tied into every program we have so he’s correct in saying not everyone is being enrolled in a program. We just don’t have the staffing to do it.”
Herman said within the last month and a half Bordelais had seen the lowest population ever and presently there were 532 inmates.
“We’ve touched 600 and we’re built for 450 beds,” he said. “There is some overcrowding but we’ve actually created some bed space. We’re above capacity but still at the lowest number of inmates we’ve ever had.”
In terms of the food, Herman said meals were served with or without salt for hypertensive inmates, while the facility made a point of giving vegetarians more vegetables than regular food.”
“Come and see what we do,” he invited. “I’m opening the door to you. We have nothing to hide here, absolutely nothing.”