'Nobody' behind bars!! - Hundreds of inmates abandoned by their families in prisons -
Locked away from society for crimes they committed, the agony of more than 300 prison inmates is being compounded as they seem to have been abandoned by their families and friends.
Some are hardcore criminals guilty of the most heinous crimes, while others have been convicted of lesser offences, but they share two similarities: locked down at the time prescribed by the Department of Correctional Services; and starved of a home-cooked meal, which many prisoners look forward to on visiting days.
These inmates, who get little or no visits from loved ones, are often the ones targeted for abuse by fellow prisoners as "man who eat prison food on Sunday a nuh nobody", as one former inmate declared recently.
The abandoned inmates represent approximately 10 per cent of the number of persons in prisons islandwide, and, according to Senior Superintendent Rueben Kelly at the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, most have mental challenges.
"Of course, there are inmates who don't have this kind of challenge but still don't receive any visits. Sometimes family members are from very poor backgrounds and sometimes the distance makes it hard for them to come and visit their families. Sometimes the jobs that certain family members do don't allow them to visit during the times we set for visitation," added Kelly
He argued that sometimes, family members abandon inmates because of the nature of the crimes they committed.
"Sometimes when you look at the inmates' penal record and the interviews done with them, some of the information that they would have given clearly tells you that it is not likely that they will get visits, especially when the crime is committed against a family member. In that case, you don't see anybody at all - worse if it was a murder - so you wouldn't find anybody coming any at all for those inmates."
worsens near sentence end
Kelly said the problem of abandoned inmates worsens when their sentence is about to end and they are up for parole.
"If an inmate is to apply for parole, there must be a place of accommodation for him or her, and it is the family who has to provide that. That is why it is so important to be in constant touch with your family while in prison.
"That is one of the criteria for eligibility, so it is very, very crucial that families maintain contact. In the case of community service, the probation officer has to go and speak to a family member to see if they are willing to accept the person being released. So what if there is no one to speak to? Well, we have to keep him or her until the sentence has expired," noted Kelly.
But after the inmate has served this time, the prison administrators are duty bound to release him and head of The Department of Correctional Services Ina Fairweather says that presents other issues.
"If your family member is released from prison, whether or not you have brought closure to problems you have with them, he or she is coming home. I am not sure if he or she would be at your home, but they have to leave the prison, so you know the implications. Inmates need to be successfully reintegrated. We have no legal authority to find a place to put them," said Fairweather.
She argued that although correctional institutions across the island put measures in place to engage family members, forgiveness is a major part of the rehabilitation process.
"We have family day activities at the institutions, which gives persons the opportunities to come and visit. We also have our probation officers who also try to engage family members," said Fairweather as she appealed to all those who may have "forgotten their loved ones" who are behind bars,
"Rethink your position. If it is that you have not forgiven, there is room for forgiveness. And if you want to help in the rehabilitation process, you have to visit, you have to heal, you have to bring closure.
"If it's a genuine economic reason I can understand, but still try to see how best you can bridge that divide, but if it's a relationship issue you have to get past that. You must have known the person in better times, and if it is that the person has found himself or herself on the wrong side of the law, you still have to be there for that person if you are talking about relationship building, rehabilitation, and reintegration," added Fairweather.
For more than 10 years, Moses Treston served time at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre after being convicted on gun crimes.
Over that time, he had to come to the aid of several inmates abandoned in the facility by their family members and friends.
He told The Sunday Gleaner that abandoned inmates are sometimes bullied by other inmates as they are deemed less than the other prisoners.
"When you no have no visitor, man pick on you inna prison. Dem try fi pick on the weaker man, so a man who nah get no visit is like a nobody in deh," said Treston, who, having served his time, is now living a life away from crime.
"You get one toilet paper a month and one bathing soap and that can't hold nobody. So when you see a man who nah get no visits a get one toilet paper and one bathing soap, you can imagine. And you have a time when the prison food nuh cook good, or a time when it cook and it run the prisoners' bellies, so a man who nah get no visit have to depend on that because him nuh have nothing else a get," added Treston.
He said that while there are some inmates who look out for the less fortunate behind bars, many are not able to share the little they get from family members.
Treston agreed that some inmates are abandoned because family members simply cannot afford to visit
"When you have a man who commit a crime in Westmoreland and him in a prison in Kingston, him family member them might come but not all the time."