By Kaelanne Jordan and Lara Pickford-Gordon
Prisoners ought to recognise that they too are living an Advent period of creative waiting as they prepare for a better future upon release. This message of hope was given by Archbishop Joseph Harris during his yearly prison visits.
The Archbishop’s prison visits began December 4 at the Port of Spain (PoS) Prison (all units). It continued December 5 at the Women’s Prison and Remand Prison, Golden Grove, Arouca; Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre Arima; Maximum Prison and Youth Training Centre (YTC) Arouca, December 7; and a visit to Carrera Convict Prison, December 8.
In a telephone interview with Catholic News last Wednesday, the Archbishop urged the nation: “We have to keep on lobbying for human rights to be respected even in the prisons. Our people are meant to be treated well as human beings. We cannot look at the prison as a place for prisoners but as a rehabilitative centre where we can treat them.”
Though he acknowledged that prison officers are trying their best, he reiterated that the physical conditions are not as they should be. He warned that if citizens treat prisoners like animals then they will act as such.
Commenting on some concerns from the visits, the Archbishop said that he has been advocating the Prison Administration to introduce entrepreneurship programmes in the nation’s jails. This would provide former inmates the opportunity to “start little businesses” for themselves.
“We’ve often experienced people in jail and when they come out and go for jobs and they tell people they were in jail, they can’t get jobs. If they have entrepreneurial skills they can do things for themselves,” he said.
In spite of challenges, he encouraged inmates to dream and to dream big.
Archbishop Harris added that issues plaguing the prisons varied, and it all depended on which facility one visited. At Remand Yard, he saw a very overcrowded facility.
“Condemned [area] is very inhumane; very small rooms; no toilet; one small door to get in and get out; one little window. It’s not nice,” he explained.
Responding to the question of the purpose of these visits, the Archbishop replied, that the answer can be found in Matthew 25:37–43. He added that the prison ministry of the Church is part of the Gospel mandate for entering the Kingdom of heaven. “I’m just fulfilling what He has asked for His Kingdom,” Archbishop Harris told Catholic News.
The Archbishop mentioned that all previous archbishops have done prison ministry, a tradition he has continued. He recalled Archbishops Anthony Pantin and Edward Gilbert went every year.
According to information from the T&T Prison Service Communications Department, Archbishop Harris’ visit to the PoS Prison began with a formal ceremony at the courtyard where he gave an address to inmates assembled, encouraging them to take advantage of programmes available and get involved in entrepreneurship.
He shared that during his retirement he planned to pursue agriculture and animal husbandry. The Archbishop told the inmates people always need food, and agriculture was one way for them to stay on the straight path.
Archbishop Harris was serenaded with three songs by Outfit International, a band formed at the prison; this was followed by a question and answer session. One prisoner took the opportunity to apologise to the Archbishop for what happened with former priest now Bishop Clyde Harvey of St George’s-in-Grenada.
Senior Superintendent Programmes and Industry Fabien Alexander brought greetings on behalf of Ag Prisons Commissioner Gerard Wilson, while Superintendent Charmaine Johnson brought greetings on behalf of the PoS Prison.
Archbishop Harris visited all units of the prison including the Infirmary, Remand Section, and the Condemned Area. After the tour, he had lunch with officials of the prison at the Sterling Stewart Reading Room, named after the former prisons commissioner. The space was formerly a death row cell.