WATCH: ‘I tried everything’ - Sister of man who died in custody after 40-year wait for trial speaks out
For more than three decades, Joyce Davy sought justice for her brother, Noel Chambers, stepping up her efforts as visible signs emerged that his health was deteriorating at the Kingston-based Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, where he spent 40 years without a trial.
In January, it seemed like her fight had come to a shattering end when prison officials ushered her to his emaciated frame sprawled on the floor of the prison hospital and draped in a hanging white merino, shorts, and a surgical mask attached to his face.
On that visit – the last of dozens over the years – Davy said her weak and withered brother could only muster a glance in her direction before closing his eyes. The ordeal left her and relatives in shambles, even more so days later when prison officials telephoned to say he was dead.
“That was the end of it. We just call it that,” the 69-year-old said of the case that has sparked national outrage and has highlighted the relevance of the often-embattled Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).
Chambers was reportedly arrested on a murder charge in 1980 and remanded into custody in 1982.
He is one of 146 mentally ill inmates into whose detention INDECOM has launched a probe. These inmates have been detained at the governor general’s/court’s pleasure as they have been deemed unfit to plea, the commission noted in its quarterly report released this week.
At least 15 of the 146 inmates whose cases are being probed have served more than 30 years in prison without facing a trial, the report revealed.
“I started to write letters. The first one was to the governor general. They answered me back, and they said that I must write to Peter Phillips because he was minister of security at the time,” a heartbroken Davy told The Gleaner yesterday.
“I wrote a letter to him, Phillips; they don’t answer. I wrote a letter to K.D. Knight. I remember I went up to a place up at Eureka Road and spoke to a lady who said she going to see what she can do – nothing. Another time, they called and said I should talk to a gentleman down by King Street, ... stairs again ... statements again,” relayed the elderly woman.
“It’s just pure statements and nothing,” she said, outlining various visits to legal-aid clinics in the Corporate Area.
“They told me that he was going to come home, and that is why we signed up paper in 2004. We send go to country, we prepared place for him, everything,” she said. “Them got bed for him and everything.
“It is not to say I never tried. Is that hurt me - to know that I tried. Me try everything for him,” said the despondent Davy, who yesterday spurned criticism in sections of the media that Chambers was abandoned by his relatives.
“It is not a matter of that. Him don’t have anybody, but they treated him as if he didn’t have anybody,” she continued, questioning whether her brother could have had a longer life had he received proper medical care outside of the facility.
Chambers’ niece, Ruth Perkins, cried openly as she recalled the deplorable state her uncle was in when he was turned over to the family at a funeral home earlier this year. Funeral home workers reeled in disgust at the bedsores and open wounds that riddled his body, she said.
“Me used to my uncle as this nice, strong, well-dressed Rastaman ... neat! His hair always covered, and then for years, you don’t see back that hug, that smile,” she explained, noting that Chambers had vanished for years before his relatives found out that he was in prison.
“When me see him, his body look like a little something you throw one side,” she continued, the pain in her voice getting more evident.
Yesterday, INDECOM boss Terrence Williams said Chambers’ death and the treatment of mentally ill inmates was an indictment on Jamaica’s parliamentary and justice systems.
“All these pleasure clauses are basically how the Englishman used to describe or put a nice spin on an indefinite detention. What they are saying is that we are detaining you indefinitely for the protection of the public as we think you are unfit to plea,” said Williams, noting that there is usually no evidence of follow-ups with the inmates, who then languish in jail.
“If I was tabling blame, I would say 60 per cent of it is [for the Department of] Corrections, 20 per cent of it is Parliament, and 20 per cent is for the courts,” he said. “They are casting the burden on the men to put themselves back before the courts, but it should be the State who puts them back before the courts.”