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Old Man's Prison

New Broughton Adult Correctional a haven for elderly convicts

BY JANICE BUDD Associate Editor — Sunday buddj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 23, 2011    

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ROBERT Brown stands on the ridge of a vibrantly green hillside in Woodlands, Cross Keys, and calls the herd of goats he tends daily to their pen, a ritual as old as time for many farmers in the hills of Manchester. However, Brown is no ordinary farmer. He is a 61-year-old convict serving time in the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre for carnal abuse.

The facility is commonly referred to as the Old Man's Prison and is home to some of the Jamaican prison system's elderly male inmates.

There are no bars on the doors or the windows, no padlocked doors, no manacles or chains. Even the freshly whitewashed wall bracketing the gateless entrance to the property is low, only waist-high.

"As you can see, we have no walls here, so the persons you see coming here should not pose a challenge to us. They should not be a challenge to themselves, nor to others, including staff, nor to society. So you find that those who are sent here are old and those whose risk level is low," said Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Gile Campbell, who accompanied the Sunday Observer during a rare behind-the-scenes visit to the unique penal facility two weeks ago.

The inmates reside in open dorms similar to army barracks, with some 30 Department of Correctional Services personnel supervising them.

Residents of New Broughton have to be 60 years and over to be considered for transfer out of the regular prison population. Sixty-three such persons in the formal prison system are currently eligible based on age alone, but it is not simply age that guarantees a prisoner a coveted spot at Old Man's Prison.

For example, Campbell explained, you would not find as an inmate there the botanist Dr George Proctor, convicted last year of conspiracy to murder. Though close to 90-years old, he is considered high-risk.

New Broughton is the final step in transitioning out of the penal system and is part of the rehabilitation process designed by the Ministry of National Security to prepare the incarcerated elderly for living 'on the outside' once they have served their sentences, or are paroled.

Some get to leave while they are still living, but some leave in a box, when they are dead. About 30 per cent of the inmates have family who come to visit them, but often they are forgotten, even after death.

"If their relatives don't want them, then we bury them and do last rites," explained Acting Assistant Superintendent H L Thomas, who runs the facility.

Currently there are just 13 inmates, although the centre can accommodate 50. Many of them are convicted murderers, including some from death row.

Deputy Commissioner Campbell said he wants to transition more elderly prisoners out of the penal system, especially from the medium-security facility at Tamarind Farm, to New Broughton, to fill out the remaining beds in the three dorms and provide more hands for the property's working farm.

"I want to double the inmate population over the next three months. I want to take a comprehensive look at all the inmates 55 and over to see if they can be transitioned here," he said, noting that the prison population at regular penal facilities needed to be thinned out.

"It's a committee that looks at the individuals who are to be classified and determines where they are to go.... This is made up of persons from the probation service, from the Ministry of National Security. They have a certain 'risk tool' that helps determine the risk level of the inmate," he noted.

The deputy commissioner also explained that some of New Broughton's residents "...are basically persons who cannot benefit from the customary release programme like parole, because they have no support system in their community".

Most are ailing, said staff officer in charge of medical services Devon Hall. They work at their own pace, but in general, are highly motivated by the idea of making themselves useful.

The renovated New Broughton, like a number of structures in the south Manchester region, was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. It was renovated in 2005 and returned to its status as a self-sufficient facility.

"We can feed ourselves, and most of our produce is sold to other bigger penal institutions... we grow yam, potato, cabbage, we raise poultry and pigs...," Thomas said, as he ran down the list of market produce.

"What we produce goes to our farm project which then gives us back, so all of what we earn comes back from the head office and is spent back on the facility."

In fact, he explained that the residents, though incarcerated, are fully involved in maintaining what is really a working farm. They not only benefit from the fresh Manchester air, but from a good diet and regular exercise, something Thomas and Hall speak proudly of.

"Some of them, when they come here they look weak and frail. Give them two weeks up here and we have them running up and down...," said Thomas.

The inmates also work at maintaining municipal properties such as the nearby police station.

As the Sunday Observer spoke with the administrators, the sound of dominoes clacking on a game table nearby floated into the office. A game had started up between an inmate and a member of staff. This was typical of days at the facility, said Thomas.

"At 6:30 in the morning, they have their devotion. They generally bathe after and prepare themselves for breakfast around seven. By eight o'clock dem ready to go to the farm to do dem chores. Everybody got dem chores to do.

By 11:30 they come back in, check off. By 12:30 they have their lunch and by 3:30 they have muster and we call them and check them off," Thomas said.

That is the last check for the day, later they will have supper, more devotions and then they watch TV, or play dominoes until they are ready to go to bed.

Hall noted that things were so comfortable for the inmates that one -- 69-year-old George Spence -- recently returned to the facility because he couldn't adjust to life on the outside.

"I like how they run it," Spence said, explaining in a subdued grandfatherly voice why his first attempt to live on the outside failed.

He claimed his little savings were stolen on his release from prison, and he fell out with whatever family he had left. Sick, and wearing a colostomy bag, he had nowhere else left to go. So he found his way back to New Broughton.

It's the kind of life any incarcerated person would want, even with the strict rules. Inmates aren't really shadowed closely, but they know if they dare set foot outside the invisible gate at the front of the premises, they will be sent back into the misery of the dreaded 'gen pop' (general population), where they have to contend with bloody fights and even murder.

"When yu is here you don't need fret like when yu down at the big prison.... Sometimes they kill one another there and whole heap a blood run. Mi never like it," said Spence.

When asked how he landed behind prison walls, he admitted that he had killed a man.

"Him tek stone and knock out three a mi teet and attack mi wid cutlass, and mi chop him up, and him dead," he said, the chilling tale spilling haltingly from his lips.

Robert Brown is a slim and sprightly man from St Elizabeth. He was incarcerated late in life, June 2008, and sent to the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre for carnal abuse of a minor.

He is now a born-again Christian who leads daily devotions at New Broughton, where he was transferred last year based on age and good behaviour.

Brown said with a chuckle that he is now fitter than so many of the younger inmates he used to contend with at Spanish Town.

His parole eligibility date has passed, but he said he didn't bother to apply because he was content to live out the remaining two years of his sentence at the minimum security facility. His decision was motivated by the fact that he gets free health care. However, while he knows how lucky he is, he warned youngsters not to choose his path, even while declaring that his alleged victim lied.

"The first couple a months was kinda down for me, but I still had people come visit and encourage me. Then I heard about other people who nuh get no visit, so I realise I better off than dem...is a cowboy lunchtime I get," he said with a smile.

Former death row inmate Dudley Smith has been behind bars 27 years, the last two at New Broughton. He was convicted for killing his father.

"Mi Father dis mi mother and mi defend it," was his terse explanation.

He admitted he was terrified of being hanged.

"Mi pray and read mi Bible. A di truth, 'cause mi see many man a go over gallows and nuh come back alive, a just blood you see a run outta di box a go a dead yard," he declared, adding that some of his fellow inmates hanged themselves in their cells or went mad waiting on the executioner.

His sentence was eventually reduced to manslaughter and he ended up at Tamarind Farm before coming to the vastly different New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation facility, where he patiently prays for parole.

"The treatment mi get a Broughton, mi nuh get anywhere else," he declared.

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