If you ask me for three places where I don’t expect to have fun, the first three that come to mind would be the hospital, cemetery and jail. Eliminate the latter. My opinion of jail has not changed and certainly will not anytime soon, but I now have another experience to attest that some good can come out of even the worst situations.
I got a firsthand experience of the entertainment and creativity that can be mustered within a maximum-security facility even under sometimes-adverse conditions.
Two weeks ago I visited the Bordelais Correctional Facility at the invitation of the programs manager Casilda Severin, for their first ever Calypso, Groovy and Soca Monarch competitions. I had mixed feelings about the initiative at first. But, since I had never entered the facility before and wanting to experience the activity, I went along with it. Not to mention the fact that I thought as a reporter, there would indeed be an opportunity for a story.Well, as it turned out, the day was certainly one where I learnt a lot.
As young adults, we expect to see much less of our friends from school, as everyone looks to make a life for themselves. I was of the opinion that many of my male friends that I do not see anymore may be overseas or had migrated to some northern part of the island in search of greener pastures. My assumptions were wrong.
As I entered the prisons and walked along the cell blocks, all I could hear were chants of, “Woye….yoooo!”
Continuing along on my way and not at all expecting it to be me being referred to, the yelling didn’t stop.
This time the shout outs which came were much more precise.“Kerwin! Kerwin! Wah happening dere my G?”
Feeling a little surprised, I now focused my attention on the inmates, only to realize the number of friends and acquaintances that I actually knew who were now housed at BCF. The only thing able to escape my mouth at the time, in all my bewilderment was, “boy what you doing in here?” and producing a shake of the head. This would turn out to be the recurring theme as I walked toward the designated presentation area.What was even more shocking was how comfortable some of the guys seemed to be in here.
Another shocking discovery for me was the fact that most of the women at the prisons (though fewer in number compared to the male population) looked between the age ranges of 25-40. Intrigued by the observation, I pondered throughout the day on the possible circumstances for which these women may be incarcerated. “Pilfering and robbery?” “Could it be manslaughter as a result of abusive relationships?” I thought.
“Maybe it’s aiding and abetting or being a drug mule” I continued, as my mind went round in circles. After all I thought, when it came to more violent crime the stastics would show that the men by far outnumber the women. “What was it that was creating this disparity between men and women? Was it the fact that we raise and socialize our boys differently to our girls?” More thoughts on which I pondered.
Despite my innitial discomfort, the day was a fairly enjoyable one. Even with persons like pathologist Dr. Stephen King and justice minister, Victor Philip La Corbiniere in attendance, the inmates did not hold back at getting their messages across. In fact they seized the opporunity. They threw jabs at the current government and presented commentary on issues such as the living conditions at the prisons, the remand situation, overcrowding at the facility, VAT and more. Having former soca artist and inmate Ninja Dan assisting with the program on the day, along with the correctional officers and employees, allowed for the show to go on with relative ease.
Soca artists Superman HD, Teddyson John and Q-Pid also lent their vocals in support of the venture. It did not come as a shock, that the latter drew cheers from the male dominated prison. And it wasn’t just for her voice alone. I am certain some of the inmates, especially the juveniles of the “H” block, who obeyed her whining instructions to the ‘T’, had a more restful night.
The “make shift” back up band who had seemingly not properly rehearsed with the performing inmates, may have been one of the slight down-sides of the day. But, then again, it’s prison so how much time did they actually have to practice anyway? The inmates themselves did not make a big issue of it as they valiantly sang their songs and even got the audience involved. So who am I to complain?
All in all I left with a renewed spirit that certainly prison is not where I would like to be despite that one day of what seemed like fun. However I also had a bit of an education about the number of prisoners on remand, which has refreshed my mind on the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around as some of us like to lump all prisoners.