Prison cheer comes to Tower Street
Christmas comes to Tower Street
From all indications yesterday's festive mood at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, when spouses and children of inmates were allowed to spend 15 minutes of quality-time interacting with their partners and fathers who are incarcerated at the institution, will carry over into the Yuletide season.
The women and children journeyed from all across Jamaica to be at the sports club across from the correctional facility, where they had to register for participation and be subject to security searches, before being allowed to meet with family members and loved ones. Over at Brick Yard, a secured section of the institution well away from the confinement area, the inmates waited with gifts and eager anticipation for this once-a-year event which allows them the opportunity to hug, talk and interact one-on-one with sons, daughters, wives and common-law wives.
Unsure how to act in the presence of correctional officers and other inmates seated under a shaded open area, some family members are hesitant at first.
However, the younger children invariably rush to greet their fathers, jumping into their arms and the men reciprocate, pulling the toddlers to their chest. There they remain locked in a warm embrace before being held at arms length and then smiles begin and the talking is non-stop.
When a correctional officer announces the five-minute countdown, things take on a sense of urgency, as both parties try to cram in as much as possible - last minute reminders of things to do, people to greet and definitely, expressions of love.
Then comes the order, "all inmates stand", and the children struggle to understand the sudden disruption; after all, things had been going so well. Confusion is replaced with tears as reality sinks in - the visit is over.
All the children received a gift on the way out, a measure designed to soften the blow of parting. And the inmates holding true to their macho image remain stoic, some venturing to shout the names of their loved ones, who turn in response, grasping for just a little bit more.
This is the fourth year of the Christmas treat for spouses and children of inmates incarcerated at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, organised by the office of the Custos of Kingston, Steadman Fuller, and the Kingston Chapter of the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica.
Despite, or maybe because of, all the hard work involved, to date it has been an unqualified success.
"Inmates and staff benefit alike," was the prompt response of Baldwin Collins, superintendent in charge of the institution. Dressed in civilian clothing, he was actively involved in the day's activities.
"Inmates benefit because of the interaction and the connection with loved ones. Staff benefit because when the inmates are happy our job is much easier; when the inmates are not happy, miserable and acting up, our job becomes much more difficult. So this is a definite benefit for staff and inmates alike," he assured.
And even though it means extra work for them, prior to and on the day, correctional officers are in full support of the event, according to Collins.
"My staff alike is very co-operative and, in fact, half of the persons you see working, it's their day off but they came out to make sure we have a good event. So far, the day is going almost perfect."