In several past columns, I outlined my angry point that the Guyanese power elites learned nothing, not a damn thing, about the 2002 Mash Day jail break. The then PPP Government wanted to believe and accepted its fictional construct that it was a planned, political job by the opposition. My journalistic investigations, which I have published in these columns, revealed that there were about ten men who planned the escape but as the game neared its climax, some chose not to escape for different reasons.
The violent break out in 2002 had its genesis in four situations – police brutality and victimization; mistreatment of prisoners; massive over-crowding; lawlessness and inhumanity in the judicial system.
It is naïve for any analyst to think that those factors were not present in yesterday’s tragedy. I spent three nights and days at the Brickdam lock-up with Mark Benschop. It was an uncivilized place to be, with no urinal facilities, no toilet facilities, no clean space. Tea was fed in a bucket that prisoners bathe with. In the mornings, the tea comes and is poured into a bucket that remand accused like me have to use to take a bath.
This was and is Guyana for you. Mark Benschop and I never took the tea. I never had a bath for those three days because there was no water. I slept in a cell that had no bed and the toilet was overbearingly stink. There is no need to discuss what every school boy in this country knows – Camp Street prison is overcrowded. The limitation has been exceeded by hundreds – it was built for 600 prisoners, it now has 984. Did the power elites know this? Yes they did. But people like Clement Rohee, Minister of Home Affairs until May 2015, told the nation that prisoners must understand prison conditions aren’t like what obtains at five-star hotels.
After he was released on bail from the High Court from a three-year jail sentence in December last year, over marijuana possession, Vibert “Durdy” Butts came to the offices of Kaieteur News to discuss his experience in the Camp Street prison. Butts likened it to hell. He said for those few days he was there awaiting the bail application, it was a dirty, nasty jail unfit for humans.
Prisoners are assigned different categories in life. There are those who enter people’s home and murder an entire family just for a few dollars. There are those who are caught with a marijuana joint. There are those who would have stolen from their employers. We must make a distinction between categories of prisoners. I was in the same cell with a convicted pirate who killed people on the high seas. I didn’t know that until Benschop told me why the guy was in the Brickdam cell with us. Surely, you had to make a distinction between me and Benschop on the one hand, who were arrested for a harmless traffic offence, and this pirate on the other. In the jail system, the authorities do not make such distinctions.
People die in those jails, because when they take ill with heart seizure or diabetes dizziness, there are no vehicles to take them to a hospital. Remand prisoners and convicts die in the jail system because of lack of medical attention.
We come now to the judicial system. Please forgive me for the words that you will now read but as an analyst I have to call it as I see it. Guyana got what it deserves, because Guyana has refused to stop the overcrowding of our prison system. And this is because of mediocre magistrates that are roaming all over this country. I warned my country through a plethora of columns about these magistrates who remand accused over minor criminal accusations, small amounts of possession of marijuana, small types of thefts, and impose horribly high bail that they are overcrowding the system
A magistrate jailed an 18-year-old girl for leaving Springlands illegally with a speedboat for Suriname. Her life is destroyed. What do you think she may do in jail? Our silly policemen are overzealous in pursuing marijuana smokers but not cocaine pushers.
We have a judicial system that jails people for long, long years only because they did not have a good lawyer to argue their strong points. A man is sentenced to forty five consecutive years for the insertion of his finger into the vagina of an underage girl. He was a wash-bay attendant who did not have a defence lawyer. His life is over. What do you think he will do in jail? So will we learn from the terrible tragedy yesterday? Honestly, I doubt it!
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