One of the most memorable scenes I have seen in a movie is Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon” in which he robbed a bank and couldn’t get out because the police had him surrounded. He came out of the bank with a hostage, stood in front of the door and shouted “Attica” umpteen times with uncontrollable decibels.
The huge crowds that gathered began to cheer him on. The shouts were in reference to the deadly prison riot at Attica Correctional Centre in New York that left several dozen inmates and wardens dead.
After 51 years of Independence, there were two deadly prison riots at the county’s major facility right in the heart of the city that had long outlived its usefulness. The first mayhem occurred two months before we achieved the golden jubilee; seventeen prisoners died.
In the second inferno, the rampaging prisoners torched the Camp Street jail into ashes. That was two months after we achieved 51 years of Independence.
It is outside the scope of this column to summarize the reasons for the horrors as adumbrated in the findings of a judicial commission. But some areas of expressions were – overcrowding, too many prisoners on remand, and the need to examine the sentencing structure of the courts.
In fact the report specifically pointed to the “failure of supporting agencies” and made reference to the magistracy and the judiciary. The report used the following words, “serious dysfunction in the administration of justice.”
The inquiry found that in February 2016 the Camp Street prison whose official capacity was to house 531 prisoners had a total of 979. The document makes for horrible reading and is not for the fainthearted. We are fifty-two years into Independence and a majority of the conditions that led to two unspeakable disasters in the prison system in Guyana are reappearing. What is my point?
That after 52 years of Independence we are still not producing leaders with vision and ideas. Guyana does not have leaders who can learn from mistakes and from the tragedies of the past. I would go so far to say that this country is not birthing even competent leaders.
As I type this article, I don’t know what the prison population is. But this I know; we are slowly getting back to morbid overcrowding. Last week a security guard was on remand because he could not post bail put at $60,000. Guess for what? He cuffed a colleague and was charged with assault.
You would think that someone with commonsense would have arranged a quick mediation process. No, that didn’t happen so there is yet another person on remand.
Since the arson, do we know how many more were put on remand? We have some magistrates who are doing complete and unadulterated nonsense on the bench. And I am going to use a favourite phrase of a good friend of mine; not one leader has the “testicular fortitude” to ask the Judicial Service Commission to investigate.
I predicted the prison riot in July 2017 a week before as Stan Gouveia’s guest on Boom FM radio. I am predicting someone will soon shout “Attica” in another sad repetition of July 2017.
From Attica, lets move to Ithaca, the quiet East Berbice village. The first time I saw it, I was part of a group of the WPA headed by Walter Rodney. That was in 1977. Ithaca had no street lights then. After 1977, the next time I went back to Ithaca was 2012. Ithaca still had no street lights. Fifty two years after Independence a small village with a tiny population has never seen a street light in the village. My sister Gwendolyn took me to Black Bush Polder when I was seven. It had no street lights.
The next visit to Black Bush Polder was when I was in my sixties on the campaign trail with the AFC in 2015. I spoke on the platform with Dr. Ramaya who is long gone from the AFC. There were no street lights in Black Bush Polder in 2015. We have achieved 52 years of Independence and there are still no street lights in Black Bush Polder.
On Thursday night, I was looking at a movie on Youtube named “Raise the Titanic.” Blackout came and I retired to bed. This is life in my country after 52 years of Independence.
My home overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. There are times late at night, when the moonlight is coruscating and incandescent, I would go on the balcony and talk with Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. I would ask him when he is coming to save Guyana. He always says; “never”.
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