Being largely administrative, I haven’t been in at the correctional facilities for awhile. Kevin on the other hand has been a trooper visiting almost everyday and making reports. So it was time for me to go along and get feedback straight from the inmates.
Here is a report of what transpired on my visit to Jamaica’s maximun security facility!
Visiting Tower Street
On Wednesday, I accompanied the Kevin to General Penitentiary. My visit has been long overdue since I haven’t been in the institutions for sometime. However, Kevin, Wayne and I were off to spend a couple of hours with the S.E.T group at Tower Street Correctional facility.
We were ushered into the institutions – no delays this trip – and as anticipated I had to deal with the heckling and whistles from inmates. Thankfully, this no longer bothers me and we progressed directly to the S.E.T lab.
At first, it seemed as we were going to meet with only a few men as the prison was abuzz with preparations for a concert to be had the following day. However, soon after we were informed that the concert had been postponed to March 6, 2008 and so we would be able to have a full gathering. This was good news because we had a lot to share with the group.
Sports day coming!
As soon as the meeting was convened the group eagerly told us about an upcoming football competition and domino tournament which they had been directed to oversee. The S.E.T group is widely respected within the institution and so when the institution’s superintendent thought of organizing a sports competition, he naturally called on S.E.T to organize and oversee the event. This was a welcome challenge by the group which already has in place a Director of Sports who quickly worked along with his committee to ensure that all goes well. It is enough to say that the event for March 1, 2008 has all fixtures in place and is ready to go!
Training and bonding
Having shared the good news it was time for S.E.T matters. Kevin expressed his desire to see the team undertake more activities as a group. He felt that was the process required to make the bonds stronger. He also expressed the desire for more training programmes to be in place. The core team of 18 pointed out that many of them had completed basic training in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and Typing tutor however; they would begin a second phase of training that would allow others to catch up and then progress to a more challenging level. This process would be coordinated by the Education Director. The inmates expressed the following challenges:
- Computers need to be upgraded
- Some of the computers were missing the required programmes
- Need for a sound card
The S.E.T group would also begin to make arrangements for the rising star and quiz competition projects.
The S.E.T group then went on to speak about the radio project and their roles as announcers, etc. It was noted that in order to ensure that the music was fit for airplay, only music selected from the library would be played on air. The station manager pointed out that he has been receiving concerns about the quality and content of some of the presentations.
In order to address this issue Kevin requested that each presenter should select a producer and both parties work together to ensure that a high standard of each show is presented each week. The following recommendations were also made:
- All songs should be properly edited
- The music library PC needs to have an editing suite
- Need for more workshops to assist the personalities in: time management, delivery style, vetting and selecting radio appropriate content
Inmates Diaries project
Inmate diaries project was also presented to the S.E.T group who agreed to use FREE FM the prison radio as a medium to spread the invitation to other inmates. Some inmates expressed concern at their stories being used against them by the authorities and especially of the authorities recognizing their recorded voices and using it to penalize them. We had to quickly reassure them that no names would be required and the inmate did not have to speak about the particular event which led to their present situation. In addition an inmate could choose to relate and compare his life being free as opposed to being in prison. We sought to assure the group that everything would be done with the utmost confidence.
We understood their concerns as most inmates are reluctant to do anything that may interfere with them receiving and early parole. The inmates, however, endorsed the idea and added that they knew how they could use positive messages to reach those on the outside. They pointed that there were a number of inmates with considerable influence on the outside and if they made a powerful statement denouncing crime this would impact significantly on the impressionable youths within the inner city communities. This was endorsed as a great idea!
Inmate Diaries prizes
We continued to discuss the incentives that could be given to encourage inmate participation in the Diaries project. The S.E.T group provided strong guidance in this area assuring us that it didn’t require more than basic hygiene items and clothing to get inmates excited. The suggestions were:
- Body spray
- Pocket radios
- Pocket radios
The S.E.T group will make packages and baskets of these items to give to inmates as incentives. It was useful information from inmates who stressed that many of their colleagues rarely received visitors and as such had very few hygiene items and even less items of clothing. Consequently, most would welcome the opportunity to receive these items.
Matters progressed to the supervising officer commenting that he had received complaints about undesirable behaviour from S.E.T inmates. He argued that the S.E.T group should realize that they are respected by all the members in the institution and even the officers looked to them as examples and role models. Kevin insisted that the group should always hold themselves to a higher standard than anyone expected of them and should always remember that they live S.E.T both inside and outside of the labs. The inmates, agreed with this, however they were quick to point out that in a maximum security facility such as Tower Street it was very difficult to maintain control at all times as an inmate is always required to hold his ground and prove himself so he is not abused by others. They gave examples of being tested and abused but yet managing to maintain their calm in all situations. Most inmates were able to testify of the difference in their behaviour and temperament since becoming a part of the S.E.T group.
A particular S.E.T member, with whom everyone agreed, spoke volumes about how S.E.T has helped him to become tolerant and patient and he expressed amazement at himself being able to withstand many of the temptations to retaliate and ‘discipline’ someone who ‘dissed’ him. However, he now has the ability to ignore a lot of what goes on around him and for this he was happy. This inmate, like the others, accepted that while he had shown tremendous growth, there was still room for improvement. It is always a pleasure to see how these men are able to think through and analyze situations coming to positive and proactive decisions.
Time to go!
Our final order of business included plans to have branded S.E.T shirts for all core members of the S.E.T group. It was agreed that 25 white shirts would be made. An inmate who has exceptional skill as a tailor volunteered to make all the shirts, it would then be our responsibility to make arrangements for the logos to be sewn on. The group also requested 1½ yards of red velvet for a project that was considered a surprise.
Time was upon us and we soon left the inmates, highly inspired and motivated, enough to keep us going… until we visit again!