Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Prison ‘cellfies’ - Hundreds of photos, videos and other posts give rare look into life behind bars

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2015 | 9:00 AM
The inmates’ almost daily photoshoots are not limited to their cells.
Despite being behind bars, the inmates still have access to several electronic devices and appliances.
Being behind bars doesn't necessarily mean being cut off from the outside world as smartphones such as the one used to take this photo are quite popular.
Several photos taken in the prison have been posted on social-media sites.
An inmate shows off his range of toiletries in a Facebook post.
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An accomplice in an armed robbery counts down his time remaining in prison on Facebook.

"Freedom day creeping up like rum," he posts from his cell at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, the island's largest penal facility. "2016 expect mi well for now I am just looking true that window for that day like a theft ina that night."

He accesses the popular social-networking site with his smartphone, sharing regular updates - sometimes several times a day - on happenings behind bars and the world outside. The round-the-clock posts touch on a range of topics - from battling chikungunya in prison, to the passing of United States President Barack Obama's helicopter, to the sound of gunfire in nearby Southside. And he's not alone.

The Gleaner has been monitoring the activities of more than a dozen convicts online for some time. Their photos, rants, and videos give a glimpse into life behind bars, where graffiti celebrating some of the island's deadliest gangs battle for space with newspaper clippings of skimpily clad women on the walls. It's a first-hand look into the cramped cells at the overcrowded facility where they parade drugs, alcohol, jewellery, gadgets, and cash in daily photoshoots.

"Lol yow mi rate you enuh mi don," one Facebook user commented on a photo of an inmate sporting shades, a cap, a watch and other jewellery, while puffing away on a marijuana spliff. "Come like a yard you deh you nuh mek the thing reach to yo head mi rate that live up same way yes."

"Tru tru mi cant frass out mi self u crazy," the prisoner responded.

In another post, an inmate claims to be living better behind bars than "bad mind people outa road".

And, indeed, some inmates appear to be living large and quite at home.

"Me cooking. Mi own food ok," one convict shared, along with three photos showing a pot with rice and peas and another with chicken being cooked. In the third photo, he poses with the finished meal.

"This is how I live in prison," he captioned one of the photos. "Mi nu eat prison food i cook my own food."

bashing power company

There are several other posts from other inmates speaking of cooking their own food, seeming with electric stoves, as there are posts bashing the power company if there is a power cut while they are preparing a meal.

Other inmates pay their 'send-outs' (correctional officer) to go on the road to purchase fast food for them.

"Mi feel fi a pizza, burger, or kfc with a slice a cake with coconut trash on top....but mi send out nuh deh a wrk 2nite...[expletive] hell kmt wonda if nuh gud youth a pop on 2nite cya guh duh suh...feeling for dat cake Mhm dwl," one inmate posted.

There are several other photos with TVs, radios, and even video games in cells, with one inmate posting a photo of him playing a game on a PlayStation 3, saying, "Am just chilling making my day usefulll playing grandthef5 nah mean."

There are also regular selfies and group shots - and they are not restricted to the cells. Several images show inmates smoking, drinking, and posing for photos in the prison yard in plain sight, "ina braah day", as one inmate captioned one of the outdoor group shots. "Wah noh drop a night drop a day," he added.

days of sorrow

Despite several photos and posts reassuring family and friends that they have "everything govern" - slang for under control or to their liking - there are days of sorrow, regret, and reflection as they face the reality that life is passing them by. The sadness usually peaks when there is news of a loved one's passing and they are not allowed to attend the funeral to pay their last respects.

Despite their best efforts to put up a faÁade, inmates' posts reveal it is a rough-and-tumble life in prison.

"K.m.t yow life boh yah nuh easy ... enuh u affi prove yuh self," an inmate wrote indicating you had to be tough to survive life behind bars without going mad. "Many wars fight an man still nuh drop."

Among the hundreds of unvarnished photos and other posts, there are warnings to others on the outside to shun a life of crime.

"Big man thing to all the man them uno need to go easy pon the killing star badman a life sentence to such act 25years to to 40," a 24-year-old convict appealed to murderers. "Man them need to try make some money star badness nah wear again life fi me a party mi seh wen mi do road wise up yutes system nah play with the man them jah."

The post gained more than 30 likes and several comments of approval.

"No bother gwan like seh unno a fool enuh bredren," another young inmate appealed to his friends in a video on his Facebook page. "Mi no want none a unno end up like weh mi deh ya now cause ya so nuh nice enuh, mi fren. Mi a beg unno, mi fren dem, just keep unno life bredren and keep far from out a trouble."

In the almost two-minute-long video, he said he had seen inmates go crazy within a week of arriving at the penal institution. His advice to friends: Keep loving the girls, work hard, earn a living legally, enjoy life, and stay far from crime.

In all this, they all look towards one thing: freedom.

"For every lock there's a key freedom is a must for me this is not were I wanted to b see my face but you can't see what's inside of me noh thing but pain and no 1 but my self to blame," posted one inmate.

Several attempts by The Gleaner to reach Commissioner of Corrections Ina Fairweather for comments were unsuccessful and questions emailed to her more than a month ago have not been answered.