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Prisoners urged to use rehabilitation to rise above circumstances

Published:Friday | December 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
One of the inmates at the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre, St Catherine, sits with his care package, an initiative spearheaded by Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security, Pearnel Charles Jr.

Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security Pearnel Charles Jr has challenged inmates at the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre, St Catherine, to use the opportunities for rehabilitation to rise above and beyond the circumstances which led to their incarceration, and in so doing, empower their children to escape prison.

"When I was 17, I was in university. When my father was 17, he was just starting high school barefooted. Generation to generation, our goal must be to make improvements for our children. That must be your goal, and the fact that you have been incarcerated should never be enough to stop you from achieving that goal. My father too was incarcerated - some of you forget that. So when I stand up and I look on the cycle of life - me, a prison baby, now in charge of a prison," he told inmates during a presentation of care packages last Thursday. The packages contained basic hygiene products such as underwear, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, wash rags, soap, and toilet paper.

"What of your children? What are we going to do to make sure they can stand proudly as the next generation and say, 'My father was incarcerated but look at me now?'" Charles Jr asked of the inmates.

In articulating his vision for inmates across Jamaica, Charles Jr, who has portfolio responsibility for penal institutions, made it clear he had no illusions about the task ahead, especially the many and varied difficulties they are likely encounter. For this reason, he charged them to take seriously the opportunities provided, especially in light of the many detractors and stereotypical biases.

"I am not fooled that it is all going to be easy, but we must set our goals at a very high place. We have to do the work, we have to be dedicated, we have to be determined, we have to have order, and we have to have discipline to make sure that we achieve those goals. On my part, I will do everything to support and encourage and to provide policies that will make Superintendent (Baldwin) Collins and his team able to successfully provide you with the activities for rehabilitation," Charles Jr assured.

... Not about being soft but being smart

Rehabilitation of prisoners is not easy and reintegration is even harder, according to junior minister in the Ministry of National Security, Pearnel Charles Jr. He told a group of inmates at the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre, "When you leave here, people are going to call you thief, criminal, rapist, and murderer - all manner of names. When you go out, anything that happens in the community, is you fus dem going look on. So get ready physically and mentally to confront the challenges. You are not the first, but you can be the last in the family (to go to prison)."

While the ongoing focus on practical, sustainable rehabilitation by the Department of Correctional Services to help inmates return to society as productive, worthwhile citizens is misunderstood by many people, it is the sensible thing to do, Senator Charles Jr said. On a day when the institution opened with a muster of 191 inmates, he was proud to share this detail.

"This evening we will close with 188 - one having been released and two among us right now who will be paroled."

He added: "For me it is not about being soft, it is about being smart, and so we intend to focus and provide basic amenities, the basic toiletries that you need to take care of yourselves to make sure that you know, not feel, but know that you are valued. Get it into your minds that you are valued, then when you are confronted with decisions you will take smart decisions. Others have leapt over these obstacles. Marcus Garvey and many other great men have proven that if you are mentally strong, you can overcome the obstacles."