SINT MAARTEN (POINT BLANCHE) – Inmates at the Point Blanche prison sounded an even louder alarm this weekend urging the powers-that-be to get serious about restructuring the prison system or risk facing a situation they will not be able to control. The inmate association, speaking through their representative Sjamira Roseburg, said Minister of Justice Anna Richardson constantly lies about the situation at the prison, thinking that inmates don’t have a voice to get the real story out.
First and foremost, they said, the covid-19 situation has caused serious concern at the prison among inmates who feel like they are already treated like sub-human. The morning after a report about prison staff being infected with the virus, they said, the Minister was on radio stating that staff doesn’t have contact with inmates. Inmates said this is simply not true.
According to Roseburg, the inmates explained that one of the infected staff workers is a social worker at the prison who five days a week is seeing inmates to deal with whatever issues they have. They described this room as a space in which a table and two chairs can barely fit. They said very soon after her last visit they heard that the social worker was positive for Coronavirus.
The inmates said it was expected that someone from the outside would import the virus, which is why from the first wave of the virus they told the Minister about the capacity issue at the prison and the problem this would pose if the virus were to spread there. At present, they said, the prison houses 77 inmates, just three short of its stipulated capacity. You cannot quarantine 2 inmates in a cell, they said, adding that nothing, no plan, was put in place at the prison against Coronavirus. They lamented that inmates will now have to pray they don’t get symptoms because there is no testing available to them and someone just might be asymptomatic. The inmates want to be tested, Roseburg said.
Roseburg said though some might think inmates don’t care about guards, the inmate association described the guards as “the most unhappy workers” they have ever seen and clearly not trained for the job. They said they understand that prison guards have their own battles to fight, but government cannot be serious if it allows two guards on duty for the entire prison at times. Guards, the inmates said, are filled with fear every day and new guards are petrified with the environment. They said this fear does not exclusively stem from inmates, but from a facility that is severely lacking in protection for guards. They said the prison can have the best trained guards, but the population, with the state of the prison, can never be controlled. They said there is plenty more about guards they can divulge but declined to do so.
Inmates said the prison system is not designed to rehab anyone. On the contrary it creates monsters. There is no guidance, no educational programs, the GED program has stopped with no signs of restarting. So, they explained through attorney Roseburg, they look at walls all day. This breaks some people, it doesn’t help them. So what do you think happens when they get out?
Many inmates they said would welcome the opportunity to work consistently in the prison and use educational programs if offered. Before leaving prison the inmates receive “nothing whatsoever” to prepare them or guide them. They feel as if they are thrown in a cage for committing a crime and transformed into dogs. For all of this to change at the prison, overcrowding must be addressed, proper dental care implemented, install public phones, medical and mental care must be improved, schedule weekly pest control, fix the inhuman living conditions and introduce educational and recreational activities. Additionally, the inmates asked about the ankle bracelet decree that is yet to be passed. The old decree of 2012 was retracted and nothing put in its place.
In the context of recreation, the inmates questioned what prison the Minister visited that she can publicly say that the gym at the prison is “state-of-the-art”. They gym they explained, is the official home of pigeons, doves and rusted machines that are just there to fill the room. “We are inmates but we are still human. What is happening here is inhuman and it is a time bomb ticking away to a major explosion.”