Joy in prison

Emotions rife as families visit inmates

Observer staff reporter

Friday, December 14, 2018

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The sea of children gathered at Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre yesterday broke away from their relatives the minute they were given the go-ahead to greet their incarcerated fathers and uncles.

Leading the pack was a five-year-old boy who rushed into the arms of his dad. The man, who was among a batch of inmates sitting on metal chairs under a tarpaulin, hugged the little boy who showered him with kisses.

It was obvious that they missed each other as they hugged for several minutes.

Some of the children were seeing their fathers or uncles for the first time in years, thanks to the Christmas Family Day for spouses and children hosted by the Lay Magistrates' Association of Jamaica (Kingston Chapter).

Prior to the relatives getting the green light, the prisoners — who appeared from behind a brick wall in a queue — were heard saying, “A wonder who a come look fi mi” as they made their way past an area planted with corn.

During the approximately 15 minutes that were allotted for the visit, each prisoner was allowed to take a picture with their family.

Whatever crimes they were sentenced for seemed forgotten.

“It is a marvellous day for me. We only get this opportunity once or twice per year. It is like Christmas now, this is inmates' Christmas, and it is my Christmas now,” one inmate told the Jamaica Observer while clutching his six-year-old daughter, whom he had not seen in 14 months.

The man, who was sentenced to seven years for breaches of the Law Reform Act, told his daughter: “Mi glad yu know your father.”

Another inmate was overheard warning his son to stay away from bad company.

The mother of a five-month-old girl said she was heartbroken by the fact that she would have to walk out of the penal facility without her daughter's father, who is serving 10 years for illegal possession of firearm and assault.

The father, who has already served eight months, said he was happy to see his family.

The joy, though, was not shared by some inmates who, in their more than 20 years behind bars, have never received a visit.

They, however, were not left out of the family day as members of the Lay Magistrates' Association provided them with care packages.

“It is always very sad, and our effort is to say to them that they are not forgotten, they are not lost,” Custos of Kingston Steadman Fuller told the Observer after meeting with close to 50 inmates.

Fuller, while noting that they had prepared packages for 70 inmates, said some of them did not turn up.

“A lot of them have been here for so many years they don't look forward to anything. Some can't bother. Some maybe just feel like they don't want to look at anybody today because they have been by themselves for so long,” the custos said.

However, he said after reassuring the men that there is hope, they returned to their prison cells feeling better.

The programme has been running for eight years.

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