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Inmates recording behind bars ... again

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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Inmates recording music using single-room facilities built for in-house radio stations inside Jamaica's two main correctional centres — Tower Street Adult Correctional and St Catherine Adult Correction — is booming again.

However, there is no indication that artistes who have already made a name in Jamaica's reggae/dancehall market, like Vybz Kartel and Ninjaman, will join the programme anytime soon.

But, the man who conceptualised the programme and has returned to supervise its rebirth, Police Superintendent Gladstone Wright, believes that having slackened the rules to accommodate more inmates, there is a possibility that artistes of their calibre will soon join the programme to sing about “those prison walls” the way Jah Cure lamented in the biggest hit to emerge from the project since its inception in 2004.

“The rules seem to be changing, but that decision is between the commissioner and them. If they agree, it is all well and good with me,” Wright said.

For the time being, Wright, who continues to oversee the experiment, is being supported by the Department of Correctional Servcices (DCS) Director of Corporate Communication and Public Relation, Dexter Thompson, as they continue the search for a new 'Cure'.

Jah Cure, a promising reggae artiste in the late 90s, was sentenced in April 1999 on two counts of rape, robbery with aggravation and illegal possession of a firearm, at the age of 19.

He was prosecuted before the Gun Court, found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was later transferred from the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, Spanish Town, to the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston, which had a digital recording studio that inmates could use.

Wright, a former senior superintendent of police in charge of the St Andrew Central Police Division, used to boast that he was the commanding officer for an area that “covered from King's House (home of the governor general) to almshouse (depraved areas of the city)”.

He said that made him really interested in a programme which could engage the very young in his domain, and route them away from crime through music.

“We were policing from the almshouse to King's House, a wide cross section of the city, and I wanted to reach out to those (almshouse) communities in a more fulsome way: Not just to arrest people, but to give them hope,” he said.

But, according to him, he failed to get the support of the political community, which he found was more interested in older people who actually voted.

It was a police inspector in the force's community relations division, Cheryl Brown, who brought up the idea of taking the initiative into the prisons, and suggested that Commissioner Richard Reece allow Jah Cure, who was already in imprisoned, to participate.

Despite his original resistance, Reese eventually agreed to allow the experiment. Wright created a team, including Duane Stephenson, former lead singer for a popular reggae group, To-Isis, who had gone solo in 2005 with a debut album entitled “From August Town”, which was eventually released by New York-based VP Records in 2008.

Reece's successor Ina Turner also supported the project, so Wright recruited Stephenson and legendary DownSound Records boss, Joe Bogdanovich, a Portmore restauranteur “Electric” Walker and, eventually, veteran head of Grafton Music and one of Jamaica's most sought after record producers, Mikey Bennett, to work with Jah Cure.

The result was his huge single, “Prison Walls”, followed by his release from jail on parole in July 2007, after serving eight years of his sentence. Three days later, his fourth album, “True Reflections...A New Beginning” was also released.

However, the relationship between Wright and Bogdanovich petered out and after the split in 2007, the programme dwindled despite the opening of a radio station with a studio at Tower Street.

Currently, both the Tower Street and St Catherine centres have radio stations with recording studios which are used in the renewed programme. Wright believes that this time the trendsetter will be a young promising inmate, Serrano Walker, who performs as Serrano.

The programme also has the support of a former inmate, Jah Wiz, who has been an inspiration for the team since completing his sentence, and whose enthusiasm for the success of the project seemed boundless as they went through the recording process.

Wright thinks he has compiled a great team headed by Mikey Bennett and including musicians Mikey Fletcher and Aeion Hoilett, bass; Dean Fraser, saxophone; Wayne Armond, guitar; Bowie McLaughlin, keyboards; Kirk Bennett, drums; Monty Savoury, leader guitar; and newcomer, percussionist Bongo Herman, who will be working on the project to produce two new albums by year-end, one with Serrano and one with some former and current inmates.

Wright also acknowledged the support given to the project by both former Minister of State with responsibility for the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), SenatorPearnel Charles Jnr and his successor Member of Parliament Rudyard Spencer.


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