by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column published 8 September 2014
|Wilmot Perkins - from go-jamaica.com|
It was the late Wilmot “Motty” Perkins who made Agana Barrett a household name. In 1992, Barrett, a carpenter in his twenties, and two other cellmates suffocated in a cruelly overcrowded cell at the Constant Spring Police Station. Thanks to Perkins’ relentless hammering of the issue, along with the efforts of Jamaicans for Justice, the Jamaican public finally learned about the inhumane conditions of our lock-ups. Sadly, history has repeated itself with the gruesome beating of a young construction worker, Mario Deane on August 3 in a St James police lock-up – he died three days later.
Reports are that Deane was battered by two men because he had sat on a bed for which one of his attackers had declared ownership. We hear that one man being accused of the murder is schizophrenic and the other is a deaf-mute. Describing Mario Deane’s injuries, United States-based pathologist Dr Michael Baden noted that there was no chance of survival, given the head injuries that he had received. The photograph of Mario lying unconscious, his swollen face bandaged and tubed, haunts us, as it should. We in Jamaica have to stop talking about ‘love’ and ‘justice’ through two sides of our mouths.
|Items made by prisoners|
Only a few month ago we visited the Horizon Park Correctional Centre where we saw on display furniture, paintings and accessories done by inmates in various prisons throughout Jamaica – they were excellent, market-ready. Then Commissioner of Corrections Jevene Bent-Brooks told the audience that there had been increased emphasis on rehabilitation for prisoners and their eventual re-integration into society. Regrettably, Mrs Bent-Brooks resigned the post shortly after, noting that the budget allocation for the correctional system was woefully inadequate. The comparison made by Professor Trevor Munroe makes it abundantly clear: $110 million for the entire year vs $100 million for last year’s and $54 million for this year’s one-day Independence Gala.
And so we cringe with embarrassment when after visiting the Barnett Street jail cell where the fatal incident took place, Dr Baden stated: "We toured the cell in which Mario was injured. It is bad. It is unconscionably small, it does not permit five adult people to reside in this cramped-type cell, with five concrete beds, not beds, just hard concrete.”
|Evadne Hamilton (left), aunt of Mario Deane (right), weeps uncontrollably as her nephew’s body is whisked from the Cornwall Regional Hospital morgue by a hearse from Madden’s Funeral Home. (PHOTO: PHILLIP LEMONTE)|
Let us be clear that this horrible fate could have been visited on any one of us. We know innocent people who have been jailed in error. Mario Deane was arrested because he was in possession of a single spliff. It is a parent’s worst nightmare.
If we continue to make prisons a place of brutality, we will be turning first offenders into hardened criminals … if they manage to survive. Is it any wonder then that we are all imprisoning ourselves behind burglar bars? On a visit to Norway, we were told of the humanitarian conditions in their prisons, and noted that there were large neighbourhoods with just a couple of policemen on duty. Many folks left their doors wide open.
There are rich resources in our country that can turn our desperation into hope – what we need is the level of governance that will make every citizen feel respected and protected. There are leaders who still have the love of our people – now is the time for them to step up and prove themselves deserving. Let us never tire to speak of Mario Deane and the many others who suffer injustice. As Black power activist Angela Davis wrote, “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.”