Tragedy beyond words at the Camp Street prison – Freddie Kissoon 

Tragedy beyond words at the Camp Street prison

Jul 10, 2017 Features / Columnists, Freddie Kissoon 

 What is a central prison doing in the heart of the city? Before we answer that let’s reason about the dark side of human nature. Convicts at age 30 are sentenced to eighty years in prison without chances of parole. Such persons would be willing to take heavy risks. They feel their lives are over and they will do desperate things. Why retain such persons in the central prison right in the heart of the capital?   

We have completed fifty-one years of Independence, yet not one Prime Minister or President ever contemplated removing the prison. Then came the worst prison tragedy, in the English-speaking Caribbean on March 3, 2016. Seventeen prisoners were burnt to death; one died from a heart attack related to the inferno. The Minister unambiguously said publicly the cost of building a new prison elsewhere was prohibitive.

One will have to be built now. But cross your fingers. We never had innovative leaders in politics since Burnham and Walter Rodney. Our leaders may very well rebuild the Camp Street prison on the site where it burned down last night. The concrete structures were not gutted; only the wooden structures. Our leaders may very well agree to rebuild the wooden buildings.

This is the type of leadership we have had after fifty one years of independence. We simply have not produced thinking, innovative leaders and I believe Burnham and Rodney were exceptions.
After the eighteen prisoners died in March 2017, we had a Commissioner of Inquiry. What became of the recommendations? One of the most conspicuous suggestions from that COI was the need to start thinking of removing that prison. How many of the recommendations were acted upon? Another recommendation was over-crowding.

Has overcrowding ceased since the COI? But here is the most disturbing thing that came out of the COI – sentencing format. Based on that topic, ministers, reacting to the mayhem and the COI, did make comments on the type of sentencing in the courts.

Not a damn thing was done about it since then. One minister chose to comment on what a magistrate did in relation to a search warrant request by SOCU rather than on the persistent inconsistencies in prison sentencing. The question to be asked is; could the madness that engulfed Guyana last night, (and I say Guyana because what took place in Camp Street must affect the totality of this country) have been prevented?

At the time of writing, it was reported to this newspaper that protest over late meals triggered anger that eventually led to the psychotic outbreak and which has now once again put Guyana in a nasty way in the eyes of the world.

There are some questions that must be asked and I am asking because I don’t have the facts. Since the 18 prison deaths in March last year, has there been a decrease in the arrogance or unreasonable behaviour of wardens? If the answer is no, did our elected leaders, elected to administer Guyana intervene to bring a more understanding arrangement?

Since the worst prison rebellion in the Caribbean in March last year right here in Guyana, have police attitudes to youths changed? On Saturday night I saw something on Smyth Street at around 7 PM. Some teenagers were walking; a policeman on a motorcycle stopped them and was harassing them. I stopped up and stared him in the face. Has the leadership of this country dealt with the targeting of Georgetown youths by the police? The answer in my opinion is no.

At the time of writing, there are no figures of deaths on both sides – prison and state security personnel. But in such a situation, deaths are inevitable. We know that prison officer Trim was badly chopped and was in very critical condition. I hope by the time you read this, we get the news that he is alive.

Lives should never be lost in such a situation but most important to note if how painful it would be for mothers to find out that their sons have died in the prison mayhem for being on remand for petty crimes.

Will this psychosis change the mentality of our leaders? I am not optimistic. I cannot and will not accept hard core prisoners burning down a prison but these have explanatory foundations. And I believe we have arrived at March 3, 2016 and July 9, 2017 because this country has had unthinking and uncaring leadership. Trust me! The days and weeks will pass and that leadership will forget what happened last night. Sorry to end on such a pessimistic note but this is Guyana.

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 07/10/2017 at 1:19 pm

    As an adolescent growing up in Georgetown, I saw the highly visible prison in our midst as a warning to walk in line. Those were different times, but it seems that the mentality has not changed.

  • DOOFUS  On 07/10/2017 at 4:18 pm

    This is so sad no wonder the place is rotten if they are not getting food on time. Guyana is one nasty country full of backward people who are only in it 4 themselves.

  • demerwater  On 07/10/2017 at 6:35 pm

    Yeeeees!! My elders used to keep me in line by threatening the (re)Formatory – Suddie Boys’ School. As I grew older and perhaps closer to real trouble, the prediction was “Lot 12”.
    In spite of; maybe because of these, I managed to avoid both. I did get thrown into detention at “Saints” – weekly; while I was in Form Lower 4A.

  • kiskadeebird  On 07/20/2017 at 11:09 am

    Interesting article and indeed worth thoughts. Question – why don’t the leading heads involved – including the minister get fired?????

  • tata  On 07/28/2017 at 1:42 am

    Freddie! I Don’t believe criminals deserve any sympathy. Sad to say, but If you do the crime, then you have to do the time.
    Unfortunately, as the Camp Street fire raged, it seems that people were more concern about the criminals than the victims of their brutal crimes.
    On the other hand, incidents like these always pit citizens against politicians. But, aren’t we sometimes unfair in our judgement of this administration, who inherited a disfunctional Nation, where crime and lawlessness became a way of life in Guyana.
    Sadly, the previous jail break on this administration!s watch, yielded no constructive action. Hopefully, this incident is a wake-up call for those in charge-and we see some real changes pretty soon.

    Parents must be responsible for the conduct of their children.
    Don’t have them if you can’t control them

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