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The other side of Armadale

Published:Thursday | March 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Lance Neita is a public relations and communications consultant.

Lance Neita, Contributor

The picture of what an earlier Armadale was like has been drawn for us by Ken Jones in his Sunday Gleaner article of March 21 where we were reminded that the institution was once the "pride of rehabilitation centres" in Jamaica.

Certainly those who were familiar with Armadale during the 1960s up to the '80s came away impressed with the high standard of decorum and the pursuit of excellence demonstrated by the girls in every field of endeavour charted by the curriculum.

In those days, Armadale was referred to as a school, or a home, and it was always difficult to associate correctional sentencing with the behaviour or presentations of the wards in their art and craft, speech, music and other concert items which were the highlights of any tour or courtesy call.

Unfortunately, their impression arising out of the recent incident is that Armadale was always a horrendous prison with the girls at war with supervisors, and the community kept at bay for fear of any outbreak or acts of terrorism.

Not so, as neighbouring communities of Armadale, Alexandria, and the wider St Ann saw the centre as an open institution with volunteers assisting with teaching, devotion, deportment and rehabilitation.

Attracting nearby giants

Further to what Jones saw and experienced from his visits in the 1960s, Armadale went on to attract the attention of nearby industrial giant Kaiser Bauxite and its employees to the extent that Mary Hutchcraft, wife of Kaiser Aluminium President Steve Hutchcraft, became a godmother to the centre.

She and her husband were frequent visitors during the 1970s and '80s and her California home became a headquarters for rallying and fund-raising efforts. The Hutchcrafts and other Kaiser employees developed a close personal relationship with the home and its dynamic superintendent of the 1970s Gwen Goodison who herself incorporated everything in caregiving.

The corporate care and concern demonstrated in this instance is not unique to any single company. The surveys and 'life after bauxite' stories that became a fixation following partial closure of the operations last year only served to reveal that the bauxite industry landscape is literally dotted with institutions and organisations bearing the stamp of bauxite partnership and assistance. Many of those untold stories were driven not just by corporate donations but by the humanitarian interest of employees who gave of their time, energy and money to help deserving cases.

Reference has been made to the heroic and extraordinary efforts of the Alcan workers who spearheaded the emergency health care, shelters, railroad restoration and comfort needed in the immediate aftermath of the Kendal crash on September 1, 1957.

UC RUSAL of Russia and Hydro Aluminum of Norway were among the first corporate donors to the hurricane alleviation efforts following Ivan in 2004 and Dean in 2007.

In June 2002, the United Steelworkers chapter at Gramercy Alumina in Louisiana mounted a massive drive to rush relief items to Jamaica for distribution to flood victims with the message that "there are many families here who have first-hand understanding of the relationship that Kaiser Gramercy has with Jamaica".

Prevailing conditions

It is important to point out, however, that institutions like Armadale did not rely solely on the generosity of the bauxite companies to enjoy the respect earned in earlier times.

We who visited regularly saw love demonstrated at Armadale, where "the wardens had a deep care for their charges and worked extra time to provide conditions akin to a stable home".

Prevailing conditions, cash restrictions and a harsher quality of life in Jamaica today pose a challenge to those in the correctional services who would wish to see a return to the halcyon days when a centre like Armadale was considered a welcome asset in the community.

The stories that came out of the enquiry are poignant. Hopefully, this episode marks a new beginning and possibilities for new relationships not just with the government, but with private-sector interest that will see businesses enacting their responsibilities to social development and reconstruction.

Their is a business advantage bottom line to any such effort. It's still called 'Jamaica land we love'.

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications consultant. Feedback may be sent to or