‘I will never see a prison gate again’
Steve Clarke* has been to prison 16 times in two different countries, but he is confident that this time will be his last.
He is one of several persons currently enrolled in an inmate exit programme called Imagine Me at the Tamarind Farm Correctional Centre on the outskirts of Spanish Town, St Catherine, which is geared at ensuring that convicts who will soon leave prison are equipped to make a meaningful impact on society when they rejoin it.
At 44 years old, Clarke, who is serving time for simple larceny, left Jamaica when he was just nine years old to live with his father in the United States.
When The Gleaner caught up with him at one of the sessions on Thursday, the deportee of 17 years described a life of the streets, drugs, and alcohol. Clarke is banking on his relationship with God to keep him on the right path when he leaves the low-security facility.
“Father God is the key of life. When I entered Spanish Town prison, the first of January 2019, the two years I got was the most time I have ever gotten one time, with no family member, no friend to assist me. I took up an exercise book and start write down my thoughts to God in it.
“Me not even used to pray, but when I was in America during one time in jail, a pastor come and invite me to night service, pray with me, and give me a rosary,” he recounted.
But when Clarke got out, he got enmeshed in a web of selling drugs and alcoholism and he recalls escaping from a brush with death when he came under fire – “about 50 bullets them send through the car” – perhaps surviving by virtue of providence and the fortune of wearing the rosary.
“I was the driver, and the investigator tell my father that I am one of the luckiest man he has ever met due to the placement of the bullets. A so comes me is a strong believer, a so comes me have a nice relationship with Father God,” said Clarke, who has tried – with lots of hits and misses – to shake his nagging cocaine dependence.
While the clock runs out on his time behind bars, Clarke said he would continue to record his experiences and is hoping to publish a book when he is released and spend time farming – one of the self-help activities in which Tamarind Farm prisoners are involved.
“This programme helped build up my confidence. It rehabilitates me mentally and physically. Me see hope in myself. I will never see a prison gate again,” said Clarke, who left three children in the United States.
His message to persons on the outside is to stay positive.
“Pray to God to change your ways. Change your thinking from negative to positive. If you don’t do that, you going to end up in here,” he told The Gleaner.
“Life have to live positive. If you try anything negative, you a go dead or end up in a prison, and prison is not a nice place. We no have no control over what we do.”
Also in the programme is first-time inmate Brown Chaps*, who is from St Ann. He is serving three years for manslaughter. With 136 days to go until he is free, the 22-year-old, who said he has Level 2 chef certification from state training agency HEART Trust/NTA, is hoping to get a restaurant up and running again.
“The most important thing I learn is that the more time you have, spend it around your kids, around your family, around people that love you and want to cherish you.
“The programme is important because a listening ear is always here. No one is going to look down on you and judge you by your bad side or kick you to the kerb and don’t care about you,” said Chaps.
The three-month pilot programme is sponsored by the United Kingdom Department for International Development and will end in March. The sessions, led by case managers, are held with inmates daily and run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lessons are geared at the overall development of the inmates.
* Real name withheld