Sunday, May 19, 2013
Now ex-con who was beaten, raped and HIV-infected suing Gov'tBY JANICE BUDD Associate editor — Sunday email@example.com
AN ex-convict is suing the Government after he was beaten, savagely buggered by other inmates and infected with the HIV/AIDS virus while serving time in prison.
The claimant, who was just released after serving an 18-month jail term for larceny of a motor car, has filed a claim against the Department of Correctional Services and the Attorney General seeking damages for negligence and/or assault and battery that occurred while he served time on a previous conviction.
The claim documents, which have been filed in the Supreme Court, have been obtained by the Jamaica Observer from legal firm Archer, Cummings & Company who are representing the former inmate and who have requested that their client's identity not be revealed for this story to protect him from persecution and stigma.
The claim document has charged that the Correctional Services "allowed, knowingly and/or negligently, other inmates to assault and beat the claimant by throwing a substance upon him, putting a knife to his throat, brutally buggering him and threatening to kill him".
"The claimant's claim is also aggravated by the fact that after complaining of the initial assault, he was also, without any reasonable or probable cause, unlawfully assaulted and beaten by correctional officers who used a baton to inflict blows all over his body and also kicked him with their feet," the legal document also reads.
The document added that the claimant, "who was a healthy man before his incarceration, has suffered personal injury by contracting the HIV virus and is now infected and has suffered loss and damage and his life expectancy has been severely diminished".
The aggrieved party is seeking damages and costs, plus lawyers' fees with interest.
The outspoken ex-convict's story was first highlighted in the July 17, 2011 Sunday Observer story headlined 'Left to die — HIV-positive inmates say they are neglected in prison'.
At that time, the man said he was inching closer to death's door because of medical and nutritional neglect by prison officials.
"We need urgent help, medication, food, fruits, being able to get a clean facility to do our time... Chink, roaches are also an issue, we have no proper bedding and we are exposed to disease and germs. Would you believe the HIV prisoners have to deal with that, while healthy, strong prisoner have mattress or sponge?" said the inmate at the time.
That story, which focused attention on his claims about maltreatment behind the bars of the maximum-security St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre in Spanish Town, resulted in improvements in how these inmates are housed and fed.
However, now that he has served his time and has returned to the world outside, the traumatised man said he is determined to get redress for the horror inflicted on him behind prison walls.
He admitted to the Sunday Observer that he had a history of run-ins with the law and had spent short stints in prison for larceny. But in 2000, he was convicted of manslaughter, which stemmed from a violent altercation with another man, who died as a result of injuries inflicted during the fight. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and was sent to the Tower Street Adult Correctional facility in downtown Kingston.
He said that upon entering the prison system he was housed on E-North, where he spent two weeks. But overcrowding led to other inmates and him being shuffled around from section to section inside the prison. First, to the George Davies Centre, where mentally-ill inmates are usually housed. That, too, was found to be unsuitable, but he spent three days there before being moved again, this time to an area called 'The Building'.
"Is because the place full up and dem (prison officials) a look space. But the inmates over there so said none of us couldn't stay there," he recalled.
The former prisoner said he overheard a discussion between warders about what to do with the prisoners, before he was finally put on a section known as 'Special'.
"Me never did know at the time seh over there is where persons who are homosexuals are kept," he told the Sunday Observer.
He had pleaded guilty to his crime and was prepared to buckle down and endure his incarceration, but what happened next ruined his life, he said.
"I was in a cell with a whole heap a man and I was sleeping on the floor. That is six persons, including myself, in one small 12 x 8 cell. It was very overcrowded, so you find that persons had to make hammock out of crocus bag and string it up and sleep in it. I was so tired I fell asleep on the ground, I was actually lying down on some cardboard. I woke up when I realised something was happening. My two hands was bound, my two foot was bound and I had a knife at my throat and that is where each person inside there took their different, different time to do what they were doing to me," the ex-convict said.
He was threatened with death if he complained about the rapes. He said one man told him that he was serving two life sentences so it would be no problem to kill him, too.
He said despite this, and fearing a repeat of the previous night, he complained to a warder as soon as he was let out the next day. However, he said he was soundly rebuffed, the warder waving him off.
"The officer run mi and seh him nuh need mi fi come to him with dat deh kind a argument and how mi just come and a complain already," the man related.
"Nobody nuh pay mi nuh attention, so mi go back a di cell and mi tek up a sheet and mi go up a di church (prison chapel) and mi seh to dem seh, 'if you nuh do nutten bout dis, den mi nuh know... but mi not going back inside there (the prison cell)," he said.
His predicament became even worse. Inmates saw him stringing up the sheet to use as a hammock and reported it to warders, who descended on him, he said, with their batons, heavy boots and fists.
"Instead of dem come in and try sort out di thing, dem come in and start kick-kick me up and step inna mi chest and lick mi inna mi belly with the baton stick. Two soldiers pass and si di commotion and come to mi rescue. A dem save mi and tek mi to the supa (superintendent) office."
The superintendent arranged to have him moved to a different section of the prison. But he said the hostility he earned by complaining about the rape to the prison authorities remained, leading to another attack where he was almost burnt to death in his cell. Someone, he said, dumped oil-laced faeces on him as he lay inside, then threw in a lit match.
He told the Sunday Observer that his screams for help were ignored by prison authorities as he rolled around inside the locked cell trying to smother the flames. But other inmates threw buckets of water in, eventually dousing the blaze.
Battered and depressed by that experience, he said he tried to hang himself inside his cell, but was saved by other inmates who raised an alarm. Officials gave him a very strong sedative and eventually returned him to a cell.
He said there were more clashes with the warders and inmates over the next few hellish years, both at Tower Street and later, when he was transferred to the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre in 2004.
It was there, he said, during a 2005 prison screening drive, that he found out that he was infected with the virus that causes AIDS. He was adamant that he did not have it prior to his incarceration and insists that he was infected during the rape in 2000.
"Mi never have anything of such come up during any previous doctor visit," he said emphatically. "They check us for everything when we come there, it would have shown on my medical."
He was equally adamant that he is not gay.
"I am not, and have never been and never will be a homosexual. I am totally against that," he declared when the question was asked of him directly.
He is now engaged in a tug-of-war with the correctional service to release his complete medical records covering all the periods he served behind bars. That, he believes, will help prove his claims that it was the warders' negligence and cruelty that led to his being infected and brutalised.
"The officers and the institution failed to take steps to address the rape case that I reported to them. Furthermore, that beating that the officers put on pon mi. I am determined to get justice," he told the Sunday Observer.
"Based upon the trauma, I decide that I am not going to give up on it one bit. I am not the only HIV person in the correctional institution facing abuse," he declared.
"There are several of those homosexual persons inside there who are HIV-infected and targeting the mentally-ill man inside there. They are infecting the mentally-ill man dem, you understand."
His attorney, Debra Reid-Archer, says her client's case shows that the current state of Jamaican prisons offers little hope for rehabilitation and recovery.
"Overcrowded correctional facilities are recklessly dangerous to the inmates and the workers at these facilities," she argued. "To have large numbers of persons housed in cramped conditions and with limited or no outlet for frustration, or resources for rehabilitation create a very unsafe and unhealthy prison system.
"Our Parliament throws a lot of funding towards arrest and conviction and has ignored imprisonment and its grossly inhumane conditions. So no doubt many persons will end up just like our client. They enter the system HIV-free and were never at risk in the general population, but upon incarceration, they serve their time, pay their dues, but are now discharged with a death sentence of HIV/AIDS. It is my hope that we as a society shall be appalled and outraged by the injustice of this situation and not wait until it happens to our loved ones or family member," said Reid-Archer.
As he tries to reassimilate himself in society post-incarceration, the ex-convict says his remaining years of life will be devoted to his cause.
"You see what happen to mi? Me wouldn't like fi dead and leave it up like dat, and mi think God save mi and mek mi live to come back out here and fi mek di public know what is going on to people inside there," was his impassioned statement.
The case is up for mediation.
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