“I am sorry... sorry for not acting earlier.”
This was Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s response yesterday to a call for an apology from Pastor Glen Awong whose Transformed Life Ministries rehabilitation centre in Arouca was raided by police on Wednesday. About 69 people, some in cages referred by Awong to as “seclusion rooms,” were removed from the facility.
Griffith had described the scenario as modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The claims were denied by Awong in an interview with Newsday on Thursday.
The commissioner said the investigation into the matter continues, and includes a probe into five deaths at the facility. He told Newsday the deaths were reported as suicides or natural, but relatives are now coming forward asking for investigations to be done.
Insisting that his team uncovered a situation where people were “kidnapped, treated inhumanely, caged like wild animals,” and had their money taken away from them, he knocked the media for giving Awong a platform from which he could demand an apology from the commissioner.
“I would ask the people in authority, if this happened to their parents or them on instructions from their family members, and they were treated like animals and beaten, abused and caged, would they be so quick to put on the front page that Gary should apologise?”
One person, who claimed he was held at the facility, spoke to a regional radio station, saying he was taken away by people who he believed were police and held against his will for seven months.
“I was going to my vehicle and some guys came alongside me. They looked like police officers, but I cannot confirm that for sure. They didn’t tell me where I was going, what it was for.” The man alleged that he was stripped naked, put in a cage and given a pail to use as a toilet.
“I was given a metal frame bed with wooden planks to sleep on. I spent the first night inside the cage. If we asked to leave or asked to contact a lawyer, we would just be put back in the cages.”
Of the 69 people, two were said to be back with their families, one taken to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex for a non-psychological condition, and the rest were taken to the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital.
Awong said no orders were given to shut down the rehabilitation centre and, as such, he will continue to do “God’s work.”
“I will continue to live for the lord. The lord is dealing with it. I know things work out best for the people who love God.”
Awong said he works with parents and families of people who are violent and out of control. He added he was given guidelines by ministries on how to improve his operations and these were being implemented at the time of the raid.
He fears that if his rehabilitation centre was ordered closed, several people, including the clients, would be in danger. He said health centres would have “a lot of work to do” trying to control the patients he has been working with, and medical staff would be at risk when taking care of those patients.
“I am the only person that is doing this. Mental illness is nothing to play with.”