DEEP IN the English countryside lies Her Majesty's prison, the Send Women's Prison, about 35 miles northwest of London at Ripley Road, Woking, Surrey, which is one of the many prisons incarcerating Jamaican women convicted for carrying drugs to England. Inside, 15 young and middle-aged Jamaican women serve their long sentences, along with another 250 long-term prisoners, who are locked away far from any village, town or city life. It is a high security prison, well maintained and, but for the barb wires and obvious security details, would remind visitors of a boarding school for girls or an old people's home.
WOMEN AND THE DRUG TRADE
On a recent visit to England, courtesy of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), I took the opportunity to visit, meet and learn from these women just why they got caught up in the drug trade and to hear their stories of incarceration away from home. As I entered the meeting room, along with my FCO's Liaison Officer, I was greeted by approximately 35 inmates, all foreigners, who gathered to meet Olga Heaven, the executive director for Hibiscus, a support group for foreign women inmates in English prisons, who in fact made the arrangement for my prison visit. Quickly, the Jamaican inmates recognised me, I heard 'is the MP from Grants Pen', 'is a shower man', as others including the prison guard wondered who I was. I addressed the gathering, introduced myself and indicated that my visit would be short.
The Jamaicans were mainly from Montego Bay and surrounding areas but the others came from Jacques Road, Red Hills, Portmore, Denham Town, Spanish Town and St. Ann. They were all drug couriers, caught at the airport and, now, serve time. They were and are treated well in the English prison, felt unlucky at being caught, and painfully reflect on their children and family back home. They tell the story of desperation, of living in the frustrating conditions of our inner cities, jobless, hopeless, without legitimate means of survival, and finally succumbing to the filthy inducement of the drug traders who convinced them that the risk was worth the three thousand pounds and more they would be paid. None really gave much thought to the drug users, the other pitiful victims of the illicit trade.
London is experiencing an escalating phenomenon of gang violence, drug usage and gun crimes. Sadly, the Jamaicans feature prominently, with their fearsome use of violence and relentless struggle for control of the drug turf. Operation Trident, a special task force to deal with the gun violence, associates many of the crimes with the Jamaican gang connections well known crews and posses with the importation of drugs and guns. Money is a major factor, as the drug trade turns over millions of pounds. I am informed that one kilo of cocaine costs £200 to produce, is worth £2-3,000 in Jamaica but, in London, fetches £25-28,000 on the street. Is it any wonder that the drug traders can pay £3-5,000 to transport a kilo of the drug?
London, interestingly, is awash with drugs and the supply is constantly augmented. "Give addicts a hard-drug fix" is the headline of the Sunday Express, as it reports on ex-Cabinet Minister Clare Short's prescription to deal with the crime problem. Addicts are going out committing crimes to get the money to feed their habit." p.31, Sunday Express, November 9. She echoed the concerns of many Britons that the drug problem is growing, responsible for many crimes, and acknowledged that the present policies are not working.
NO REAL ALTERNATIVE
To the drug pushers, the problem of the drug users is not their concern. Their concern is the money, the money to lift them from their perilous and desperate living conditions. The Jamaican inmates in Her Majesty Send Women's Prison reveal their story of hardship, frustration and desperation, without income, no prospect of jobs and with children to feed, clothe and send to school. They too feel they are victims of poverty and desperation. The drug exploiters actually have a ready market of foot soldiers. I ask: "What would stop you from transporting drugs, would counsellors even at the airport warn you of the dangers and the risks of long term of imprisonment be a safeguard?" Not really, they know of the risk and are aware that even now many are getting through, the ion scan machine is not really stopping many and, in truth, they argue, in the emptiness of our inner cities, there is no real alternative. The money, £3,000 could go a far way, it would deal with many immediate problems. As my FCO Liaison Officer tells me we have to go, another appointment beckons two hours away in London, the Jamaican inmates urge me to tell Mr. Patterson and his government to shape up, the people are desperate, re-open the factories, get jobs for the people and, I add, dejectedly: "or, allow others to do it".
Delroy Chuck is an attorney-at-law and Opposition Member of Parliament. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.