Emotional reunion for inmates on Family Day
Hugs, shared laughter and some tears marked the highly anticipated Christmas Family Day for Spouses and Children of Inmates at Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston on Thursday.
The event, which was being staged for the first time since being put on pause in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, began about 8:00 am with hundreds of families and children sitting in covered waiting areas listening keenly for their numbers to be called to get registered.
Following registration, they went back to the seated areas, and the children were encouraged to make Christmas greeting cards at a crafts corner for their incarcerated family members. A bounce house and entertainment from different talents kept the waiting families occupied as the day flowed.
Sometime near noon the first batch of inmates filed out of a secure tunnel connected to the prison and into an open area known as ‘Brick Yard’. The inmates, who were dressed in white T-shirts, took seats on metal chairs clutching the gifts of snacks and other craft items they had made and awaiting the opening of the outer gate.
As the gate was opened, broad smiles came across the inmates’ faces.
“Mi see mi babymother,” or “Mi see mi daughter and wife” some declared as their loved ones approached.
One girl sprinted across the yard, slowing down only when she got close to her ageing grandfather to hug him and shower him with kisses.
An inmate, who said he has been incarcerated for the past 14 years, was especially excited to meet his second granddaughter for the first time. He said when he last saw his daughter in 2018 she had put his hand on her stomach and told him that he was going to be a grandfather for the second time.
“Mi excited fi meet her,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “Mi can’t wait fi see all of them.”
The joy on his face when he spotted his family from the crowd and the pride when his granddaughters and daughter hugged him were noticeable.
His daughter, who identified herself as Sanika, said that it has been a difficult time since her father was convicted more than a decade ago. They did not disclose what the man, who is in his late 50s, was convicted for.
“Boy, it’s kinda rough, because we miss him very bad. I wish him coulda come back home but we just have to keep strong and have faith in God that him can come home soon,” Sanika said, tears running down her cheeks.
Sanika disclosed that she, along with her girls, woke up about 3:30 am and travelled from from Montego Bay, St James, to get to Tower Street by 8:00 am.
The family caught up on all that has been happening while the grandfather played with his grandchildren and took photos together, in an effort to pack in as many memories as possible in the 15 minutes allotted for each meeting.
“The 15 minutes that we have to talk is bad, very bad. They should have given us at least half-hour or 45 minutes, but I understand. A lot of people out there who want to see their families, so we just have to do what we have to do. At least we see him this year because for the past three years we never got to see him because of COVID, so me just happy fi see him,” the emotional daughter added, looking at her father.
The grandfather told the Observer that he has another eight years left in his sentence and that he is looking forward to being free and selling his craft items made out of matchsticks, in order to make a living.
“Me have eight years left; me call it say a two World Cups. I jus’ a keep my sheet clean and make my craft because I want be a millionaire,” he said.
Other inmates could be heard enquiring about their children’s schooling and offering advice to them to remain in school.
The other inmates, some of whom have never had family come to visit, were also cheered on the day. They were given packages courtesy of the Justices of the Peace of Jamaica Kingston Association, with Custos Steadman Fuller offering words of encouragement that the men were not forgotten.
A mix of emotions settled over the area as family members grabbed one last hug or a kiss on the cheek and a last goodbye before leaving loved ones to return to their cells to count the days until they can see their families again.