Fri | Oct 19, 2018

15 magical minutes

Published:Sunday | December 21, 2014 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer Juliet Balliston (center) and her two sons burst into tears after their 15 minutes with common-law husband and father ended at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre last Thursday.
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer A little girl smiles as reads the words from a post card to her dad which she made at a the Christmas treat for inmates of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre last Thursday.

It was two years in the making, but last Thursday Natalie was able to keep a promise to her three daughters as they were finally able to see their father who is serving time at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston.

The family had missed the trip last year and Natalie was determined that the girls would keep their date with dad, even though she and him are no longer in a romantic relationship.

The occasion was the fourth annual family day organised by the office of the Custos of Kingston Steadman Fuller and the Kingston Chapter of the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica in collaboration with the Department of Correctional Services.

The 14-year-old identical twins and their 13-year-old sibling had completed their Christmas cards made with cartridge paper and crayons provided by Kingston Book Store and were awaiting their turn to be called, when The Sunday Gleaner caught up with the family.

Their mother, who is self-employed, had decided to give up on the day's sale in favour of giving the teenagers some time with her former spouse. The 13-year-old was just five months old when he was incarcerated. Natalie recounted the joy and pain of previous visits.

"Is a special day for them with their father and it means a lot to them. But it only brings back memories and leave sadness on them because him not coming (home) with them. So them feel more better in themselves to know that them see and talk to him and tell him that them love him. And him do the same," she explained.

Looking forward to his release

The girls are all looking forward to their father's release some time next year when they will, hopefully, be able to spend more time together and really get to know each other. Until then, it's as if they are also serving his 13-year sentence, especially on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter.

"Sometime them talk and seh them father should be here because them see how hard me alone haffi work during the holiday fi we have money fi spend and enjoy we self," Natalie shared.

Even at personal sacrifice she remains committed to allowing the girls to maintain a strong relationship with their father. This she does through regular visits throughout the year. On such occasions, she takes messages from the girls to their father, and on returning home tell them about his many questions and concern for their welfare. This is her small way of helping to keep daddy alive in their minds and lives, until they can be reunited.

On regular visits to the correctional centre throughout the years, only adult visitors are facilitated and they and the inmates meet in a cubicle but are

separated by a glass partition, under supervision.

The Christmas visit is special not only because it accommodates children and babies but especially since they get a chance to interact directly with the inmates in an open space, even though under still under supervision.

Since the initiative started four years ago, visitors and inmates alike have come to appreciate and deeply value those cherished 15 minutes they look forward to, all of 12 months in advance.

Inmates motivated

Lieutenant Colonel Euken Mills, chairman of the planning committee, says this brainchild of Kingston Custos Steadman Miller has grown each year, with inmates motivated to make gifts for their visitors and doing their best to stay on the right side of the law, within the institution.

He told The Sunday Gleaner: "That is the feedback from the superintendent that they (inmates) are on their best behaviour, so that in itself is a success story as well."

Though primarily designed to keep relatives entertained, as they await their turn to visit, the entertainment package also pulls out many members of the Rae Town community with enterprising local vendors also enjoying brisk business.

But for the real beneficiaries, the inmates and their relatives, this entire day really comes down to those crucial15 minutes spent together, one-on-one, when nothing else matters and those 15 minutes become a lifetime.