Prison life harder on women
The combination of societal pressure and built-in biases of Jamaica's penal system continue to make it much harder for female ex-convicts to reintegrate into society, after completing their sentences for similar crimes committed by men.
This challenge was at the heart of the appeal made last Wednesday by Vanna Lawrence, director of rehabilitation in the Department of Correctional Services, as she beseeched inmates at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre in St Catherine to balance their skills training with interpersonal relationship skills.
"A woman in an institution gets so much more punishment than a man. A woman finds it so much harder to pick up her love life when she goes home. You might not know this because you have not yet been released ... you are here to learn what society thinks you need to learn but I want to admonish you today, I want to encourage you to also learn to get along with your loved ones, to reach out to them when you're right here," the former probation officer urged.
"Many of you have children at home. Don't wait until you are released to reach out to them. Reach out to them now because if you're released in a year, two years, three years, they are going to be different children."
Lawrence, who was slated to give an overview of rehabilitation, deviated from a prepared script and instead spoke from the heart.
"For me, rehabilitation is being able to pick up your life when you're released and being able to move on with it and not just to move on with the scraps but to move on in a stronger manner than before you came here," she told the women.
She stressed, "It is very good that you can learn skills but it is so much better when you have your loved one to care for you, regardless and in spite of anything that you have been found guilty of having done."
The occasion was the graduation ceremony for 19 inmates and a correctional officer who completed an eight-week certificate training course in Beaded Jewellery and Accessories, which was conducted by HEART Trust/NTA, in collaboration with Stand Up For Jamaica, with funding from the European Union.
affected by difficulties
Lawrence, who supervised inmates on probation before moving up the ranks to the administrative side of corrections, told the audience that she had been affected by the difficulties of a woman who had been released after seven years in prison.
"The thing is, she learnt a lot of skills and got qualification but had not been able to maintain a wholesome relationship with her family - children, spouse, her parents and other relatives and since she's been released, even though she has skills and she can earn a living, she has no relationships," Lawrence shared with The Gleaner afterwards.
"She never had that kind of life skill, so the fact that she has lost so much of her life in terms of relationships, she is not managing in the other areas either and it's mainly because she has lost so much."
For the director of rehabilitation, this translates into women being doubly punished when they go to prison because they lose so much in the process that very often cannot be regained, noting that while women support men in prison, they don't usually do the same for other women.
While acknowledging the value of the training provided by the different institutions and the important difference it continues to make for hundreds of women incarcerated and who have served time at Fort Augusta, Lawrence said a critical issue was the standard prescription for rehabilitation.
"Rehabilitation also needs to touch the insides of persons to reach out to build their lives from within institutions, because that is the same life that needs to continue when you are released. Think on these things. Reach out to your loved ones right now, today, tomorrow because we all need support, we all need loved ones ... me on the outside and you on the inside and it is when you leave and are able to continue that you are truly rehabilitated," she told the female inmates.