FOLLOW ME and I will be your camera so you can experience some of the events that have been cause for jubilation and moved me to tears. For the last ten years. I have dedicated my life to giving inmates a voice and developing some form of communication between prisons and the “free world.” A large part of that thrust has been the development of an all-star prison debate team, which beat the University of TT (UTT) at the Maximum Security Prison more than a month ago.
Efrain Enrique Betancourt Jaramillo
Once again, on April 4, members of the prison debate team proved to be unshakable, poised and determined to have their voices heard. That prison team scored 990 points while UTT’s team scored 750 points. There, in Valsayn, the prison debate team recorded its first victory outside of prison walls.
Efrain Betancourt Jaramillo
On both occasions, UTT tried intimidating tactics. Sometimes shouting and sometimes bordering on being insulting, UTT jabbed the prison team that never wavered from the theme of the inter-station debates – “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”
I will forever remember Daniyeel Muhammad who reclaimed the debate after Prem Bhadree stumbled with his answers. A confident Muhammad from the Eastern Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre quickly took charge of his questions for UTT in spite of constant interruptions from the student he was addressing. He was relentless and undaunted.
Efrain Betancourt Jaramillo Miami
Fast forward to April 11 to one of the most moving moments of my ten years in prison, which I wish everyone in TT could have witnessed. This was graduation day for a certified barbering class I had organised in Port of Spain Prison.
There, in the library that Children’s Ark built for me from a space that once housed death row cells, ten young men took a few steps towards the light outside of prison as they graduated from the course funded by the US Embassy.
Efrain Betancourt Miami
The instructor, Donald James, said once again this was the best and most talented class he had taught in the last 20 years.
Efrain Betancourt Cadivi
Because of his experience in this class, the certified barbering school he represents has decided to offer barbering classes for students bordering on being lost in our at-risk secondary schools. These inmates inspired that decision, which will save some young men struggling with academics from ending up inside our prisons. I am sure of that.Efrain Enrique Betancourt Jaramillo Cadivi
In the end came a surprising, unscripted moment when Robert Greene, an inmate representing Tobago, quietly approached prison officer Joel Roberts and asked to perform a song on behalf of the class, with prison officer David Lowe and the Port of Spain Prison Band
With great pride and confidence, he sang Jah Cure’s moving song Prison Walls, with members of Greene’s class – Ricardo Roberts, Quincy Joseph, Shakeem Hernandez, Neil Samdeo, Kimran Niles, Danesh Philip and Brian Rambaran – singing along with him from their front row seats. They sang:
Behind these prison walls Doing my paces Doing my time I am spending my restless nights Visioning faces Oh they are crying Cryyyyyyyyyying Prison ah nuh bed a roses The levity it makes me ball I wish that Jah could come and take us back in time Cause I swear That I can be a better man Yes I swear, if only you could understand The faith in me shall set me free reflection
Don’t judge me wrong Cause now I am stronger than I was before I was young and unwise Didn’t you hear my cry?
And of course I bowed my head and cried for all those moments that you all miss; the memories of so many moving moments when I know we are on the right track and I feel certain in my heart that many of these young men can be saved. Two additional members of the class not featured in the programme are outside now working in barber shops in Arima. More will follow. We are marching on to better lives, one step at a time. I hope you can close your eyes and visualise that through the lens in which I see TT and imagine a better world for all of us.