General inna penitentiary
Reaching out to those behind bars
AS the huge metal gates at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility are closed, the visitor is overcome by an eerie feeling of confinement.
With security checks done, it is time for Grammy winner Shaggy to meet his fans -- inmates at the facility also known as the General Penitentiary in central Kingston.
The entertainer, in association with the Department of Correctional Services and the Swiss rehabilitation organisation, Art of Living Foundation, visited the maximum security facility yesterday. They not only entertained, but offered solace to the wards.
"Welcome, big man, to our temporary home," an inmate shouted as Shaggy and his team headed to the area where the concert was held.
While the venerable drum and bass duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare prepared for their set, hundreds of inmates in white shirts and khaki pants waited anxiously but orderly for the performances.
Minutes later, it was time for the live show and inmates David Edwards, Serrano Walker and Howard Davis showed off their musical skills.
"A lot of us here are parents and we love our children and family and they are never far from our thoughts," said Walker, before churning out the lyrics to This One Is For The Children, an original song.
After Ity and Fancy Kat's comedy stint, it was time for the main act. Shaggy was welcomed by deafening 'salutes'.
Backed by singers Jimmy Cozier, Aisha Davis and Tony Gold, he delivered songs like Call My Name, Boombastic, It Wasn't Me, Church Heathen, Angel and Strength Of a Woman. Throughout his performance, the inmates hung on to his every word. When Sly and Robbie struck up their enduring Taxi beat, a Rastafarian prisoner led inmates into a dance-off while another waved an Ethiopian flag.
The flag-waving and dancing intensified when Shaggy did a rendition of Black Uhuru's hit song General Penitentiary.
After the concert, some inmates shouted words of advice for Jamaican youth.
"Tell the school youths to leave crime alone because although prison never build for dogs it wasn't build for humans also. Tell them to be progressive and stay far from negativity because prison a nuh bed a rose," one of them said.
Chairman of Art of Living, Dushyant Savadia, told Splash that since the organisation entered the Jamaican correctional facility just over four months ago, there has been a decrease in physical and verbal confrontation among inmates.
"The inmates have applied the breathing and other 'Sky' techniques to their everyday activities. They are more focused and disciplined," he said.
Savadia added that the programme has had similar impact at the Spanish Town Correctional and Fort Augusta facilities, both in St Catherine.
"Our aim is to bring peace and harmony to the institutions of Jamaica which will also include the universities and schools. We want to teach individuals how to handle stress and negative emotions," he said.