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Monday 9 December 2019
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Diamonds in the rough

Debbie Jacob
Debbie Jacob

HERE I AM doing my best impression of dancehall dancing in celebration of Buju’s I Am Legend concert in Trinidad. I bear no grudge against Buju, who used to be very rude to me on the phone whenever he called the Trinidad Express for Nazma Muller, and I couldn’t understand a mumbled word he said.

I am an optimist who puts much stock into symbolic gestures so I am taking the fact that we all accepted Buju with open arms as a sign that we are willing to give other people who spent time in prison a chance when they re-enter the “free world,” as inmates designate the world we live in.

Didn’t Buju’s concert suggest that we are a loving, accepting and forgiving people? I applaud the support for Buju and his reintegration back into society after serving time in prison. Just in case you think I am being facetious, let me go on record saying I am not. I really do feel that our acceptance of Buju proves that we can give other former inmates a chance – at least we should give them a chance.

You have moved the line by going to Buju’s concert. You have put yourself out there by making a silent statement of support for people who have done their time. Now, if you don’t give former inmates a chance in society and a job, you are sending a message that it is only all right to be accepting if they are high-profile cases.

Every time I go into prison I am struck by all the men I come in contact with who want to get their lives together when they come out of prison. They are eager to take courses and enroll in skill-based programmes like barbering, tiling and PVC furniture-making. What is even more striking is how many of them desperately want a chance to give back to society.

They don’t have high-profile lives and a legacy of music to fall back on, but they certainly have hope and hidden talents. They are human. They make mistakes and they make poor decisions – just like Buju Banton made – and they have the same basic human needs we all have, which means they want acceptance.

I have known men in prison who have voices as sweet as Buju Banton’s. (When he’s not croaking like a frog, Buju really does have a beautiful voice). These singers re-enter society, and I don’t hear their voices. No one gives them an audition let alone a stage.

I know a drummer from the Beetham who learned to play drums in Port of Spain Prison under the guidance of Prison Officer David Lowe. Everyone who ever heard this young man thought he was the best drummer they ever heard. He makes drums interpret a song like a sax or a piano does, but this young man is not in a band.

I know a guy in Golden Grove Remand who crafts exquisite roses out of soap. I bet he could come up with ideas for tourist products that could make some big bucks for the Government. I know a guy in Port of Spain Prison who should be working for the police to educate them about gangs. He should be used to diffuse gang warfare and if the need arises, he would be an excellent hostage negotiator. I know a guy in Carrera who should be in the police cybercrime unit.

There’s a guy on my prison debate team from Maximum Security Prison who has 18 CXC and CAPE passes. He’s a remarkable researcher. That would come in handy for the police or many businesses. There’s another guy I know in the Eastern Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre. He’s on my debate team, and he should be used to instruct police on how to interrogate people. He’s better than the best lawyer I have seen.

Our prisons are like untapped diamond mines. There are diamonds in the rough buried deep inside those prisons and they are just waiting to be discovered and polished. All it would take is a phone call from some business, a stroke of National Security Minister Stuart Young’s pen or a handshake from Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to strengthen our society in unimaginable ways.

Go ahead. Take a chance. I guarantee I can offer you more talent and more resources to turn around this country than you ever dreamed was possible.

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