By Kaelanne Jordan
Last Monday, Archbishop Jason Gordon, accompanied by members of the Prison Executive, including one currently on pre-retirement leave, members of the RC prison chaplaincy and other invited guests, ascended the 100 steps leading to the Carrera Convict Prison (CCP), the final stop of the Archbishop’s annual prison visits.
Like other previous prison visits which began Monday, December 2 (Port of Spain) and continued Tuesday and Thursday (Arouca) an entourage left Archbishop House via a small maxi and made the journey to the nation’s prisons.
Monday was no different, as the entourage went to Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas and boarded ‘The Queen’ for the almost 20-minute sail to its destination.
At Carrera, Commissioner of Prisons, Gerard Wilson, sharing brief remarks began with a simple request for the approximately 300 inmates to “put a smile on your face”, to which one shouted, “it hard, it hard!”.
Wanting to lighten the mood, he quipped “It’s not easy for a retiree, an old guy like me to be here before 8 o’clock only to know it’s 9 o’clock it starting,” to chuckles.
He said that some of the inmates there he would have met when he began his career as a young officer.
“Now I’m leaving, and it doesn’t give me any joy in coming here as a recruit, as a probation officer, [and now] leaving here as the Commissioner.”
Commissioner Wilson shared with the inmates that he and the Archbishop spoke earlier regarding the flaws within the judicial and the penal system. There was also discussion on how the Archbishop can support.
“And I’m certain because he has been fighting this fight for a long time to try and see what he can do for some of you who would have been here for a lifetime, literally. And I know, knowing the person he is, I know that he will fulfil his promise to ensure that we have an improved prison penal system,” he said.
Echoing the same message throughout his previous prison visits, the Archbishop told the inmates—who comprised convicted persons and those serving life sentences— that one thing about us as human beings, whether we like it or not, is that we all have to wait. What we wait on is important, but how we wait is also important.
“So, you know people waiting. I know people waiting. I see you and I know you waiting. This morning we came down here and when we reach to the dock the Commissioner was waiting…I hope it was with joyful hope, eh,” he said to laughter.
Of the question of what joy is, one inmate responded that joy is an elated feeling of the heart, to which the Archbishop quipped, “Well we have a philosopher on the island,” to chuckles.
Waiting with joyful hope, the Archbishop said is not the easiest thing to do but the opposite is the worse thing to do. He urged the inmates to take advantage of the different opportunities offered to them. The Archbishop recalled when he attended the TT Prison’s Inmates Art Exhibition in August.
“And I saw my boys dress up in suits…them is big-time artists…all kind of people coming and they explaining their art and it was an amazing experience to see the creativity and the art that has come from this place,” he said.
He ended his talk by reinforcing that they can either wait by allowing the clock to tick or they can wait because there is a sense of something that they must still do. And for the sake of that, he recommends they wake every day, praise God for a new day and use that day to become the best version of themselves.
Operating challenges at CCP
There was active participation during the Q&A segment with inmates pointing out the need for fans, computers to facilitate their programmes, and a space for agriculture/agricultural programmes so that inmates could have vegetables in their diet as, according to one inmate, “half of the prisoners here suffering with constipation”.
Responding to this the Archbishop commented, “I will look at it again with Programmes [and Industry department] and see what is possible because constipation on an island is not a good thing.” “Well we are going to wait joyfully,” the inmate replied, to laughter.
Archbishop Gordon assured each time he has visited the prisons, he has found ways to help. He recalled last year their “big request” was for a new television. “And before Christmas came, I went myself and brought that TV,” he said to applause from inmates.
In an interview with Catholic News, Deputy Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar confirmed there are challenges affecting the CCP. He mentioned that while there are “very good” ongoing programmes in critical thinking, anger management, life skills, trade courses, and other programmes “yet to come”, what prevents the facility from taking on more is lack of funding.
He shared that his officers would have “dipped their hands in their pocket” too many times.
The other challenges lend to infrastructural issues. Ramoutar said that there has been renovation, and “little extension” to the ancient facility. More recently, he said, repairs have been done to the art shop and dormitory of both officers and inmates.
Regarding agriculture, Ramoutar said the facility caters to a small agricultural programme consisting of seasoning. The problem with agriculture, he said, is that they do not have the soil for any large-scale planting. “It’s stony…. This is actually a rock, not an island. We name it an island because we have inhabitants here,” he clarified.
He then made a plea to corporate sponsors to help upgrade the existing structure. Immediate needs include materials such as sand, stone, cement, chairs for classroom activities, air conditioning units and steel.
The day’s programme continued with a play of the Birth of Christ by inmates, which caused rounds of laughter. Imagine Mary, being portrayed by a male in a gown!