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Heart-rending! Former state ward praises Spence-Jarrett

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Lisa: Some parents deserve to be placed in correctional institutions far more than the children.

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

WITH CALLS mounting for her dismissal in the wake of the damming report from the commission of enquiry into the Armadale tragedy, head of the Correctional Services Department, June Spence-Jarrett, is getting backing from an unlikely source.

A former ward of the state has come out in defence of the embattled commissioner of corrections.

Twenty-year-old Lisa Solan told
The Sunday Gleaner
that Spence-Jarrett - the closest thing to a mother she has known - never received the full support of correctional officers.

"She (Spence-Jarrett) used to visit us often, all of us, and listen to our concerns, asserted Lisa. "She would meet with the girls as well as staff members to find about the challenges we were facing. She always gave us a listening ear."

Having established what the problems were, Solan said Spence-Jarrett would move to address them.

"Ms Jarrett treated us better than those who were there night and day with us," Solan declared.

Vehement denials

She charged that complaints by the wards to Spence-Jarrett would be met with vehement denials from the correctional officers who were always on their best behaviour when the commissioner visited.

"Even the food miraculously became presentable," she quipped. "Let me tell you this, Ms Jarrett was never there when the officers administered inhumane treatment.

"The truth is that they tried to make everything look good and deny everything when we complained because we were supposed to be the troublemakers."

Solan recalled how Spence-Jarrett stayed with her when she was taken to hospital during a previous riot at Armadale.

"One night there was riot and I got angry and had to be taken to hospital after they tried to administer medication to restrain me," she said. "Ms Jarrett was there with me until after midnight, that is how much she cared."

She said Spence-Jarrett was back the next day to see how she was coping. "She even brought professional counsellors for me and the other girls."

The former ward recalled that at the time, Spence-Jarrett was the deputy commissioner of corrections.

Spence-Jarrett was promoted after the then Commissioner of Corrections Major Richard Reese resigned to take up the post of permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security.

Solan, a former student of Vere Technical High School, is no stranger to places of safety. She has spent time in three of them.

She admitted that she was "a problem child" but said she pursued this course because she had no one to listen to her. "Me give trouble because of reasons," she said defensively."

Solan told
The Sunday Gleaner
that she was taken to court by her mother who complained that she was uncontrollable.

The court agreed and placed her in the care of the state.

That would be the beginning of her real troubles. After a short stay, she ran away from the Glenhope Place of Safety, but was recaptured.

In later years, the teen was embroiled in an altercation with another ward and taken before the court where she was convicted of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm and sent to Armadale.

The articulate, young woman said she has come away from the Glenhope, Homestead and Armadale places of safety a bitter person.

She has fond memories of the day she and other wards at Armadale complained to Spence-Jarrett that they were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor because the facility was overcrowded.

"Ms Jarrett transformed a cottage which accommodated staff members into a prestigious dorm," she recalled.

"It had hot and cold water, television and settees on the veranda - she tried to make us comfortable and now this," sighed the former ward.

Deplorable condition

Solan said the comfort zone was sort of a reward for girls who were well behaved. "And I was one," she boasted. "She was like a mother, she was so caring."

She said at the time, the second-floor dorms were in a deplorable condition. "Some of the girls called it 'the muck'."

"At nights when we were upstairs, we had to relieve ourselves in buckets or plastic bags and use newspaper," she sighed.

But for her, even the messy dorms were no match for the bathrooms.

"Deplorable doesn't even begin to describe it," she said. "When I was leaving, they were in the process of refurbishing them. I hope they got rid of the small flies which terrorised us."

Solan related in heart-rending detail how the correctional officers treated them in the filthy bathrooms.

"Some of the officers gave the girls between two and five minutes to bathe, depending on their moods. if we were not finished by then, they would throw way the water and we had to find ways to wipe away the soap."

She said when there was a shortage of water, they were given "a paint pan of water" to do everything. She complained that the water was not clean and was always overrun by insects. "Bwoy, mek me tell yu it grieve me. It cause my skin to break out."

Solan claimed other places of safety were no better than Armadale.

"Blood shed every day at Armadale, but the maggots in the bathrooms at Glenhope was no better ... me get so angry that one day they call the police," she recalls.

"Even when I was at Glenhope, they would bungle the girls with leering male prisoners in vehicles.

Solan also recalled that in the lead-up to her ordeal at the places of safety, she slept on the floor of the May Pen Police Station and another time on a desk.

A young woman "furious with the world", Solan said "person who decide to have children must be prepared and don't throw them on other people and places to make them better - it will not happen," she declared.

"All that happens is that you will get abused - all they do is criticise and as soon as they find out why you are there, they use it and curse you."

According to Solan, some parents deserve to in custody far more than the children "who are left to be treated badly".

"Sometimes, I am so angry with the world for what I have been through that I can't go to school," Solan said.

But she has persisted and appears to be doing well at a Heart training facility in May Pen - a rural family support programme, where she is pursuing commercial food preparation.

"My aim is to get a job on a cruise ship," she said.