EVERYONE knows my heart is in Remand Prison. Each prison has its own characteristics, its own vibe, and all are special to me for the distinct culture and distinct personalities of inmates that emerge from those prisons. But an inmate in Remand Prison must have the heart of a lion. He can only exist with a sense of pride in spite of society’s prejudices.
As my Remand Prison debaters said in the story of their covid19 jingles in yesterday’s newspaper, “Everyone says nothing good comes out of Remand.”
But my debaters thrive off of stifling stereotypes. In Remand Prison, the bad and the ugly grab the headlines, but the good ones inspire me. My remand debaters, Terrence Morris, Marlon Lee, David Khan, Kenyatta King, Jaylon Robinson, Kerry Swan rise above the despair and the distractions to be positive leaders.
Morris mentors younger inmates; Lee started a choir – although there is nowhere to sing but outside in the exercise yard. Khan works in the library and promotes reading; King teaches English and Robinson pursues every academic and cultural programme he can find.
When Swan was on the debate team, he had an emergency operation for a problem stemming from a bullet wound in his stomach. When they sewed him back up, he insisted on leaving the hospital to be at one of our debates.
My debaters have given back to society more than many people outside of prison have. These are the men I love and respect.
With nothing expected of them, I have seen my Remand debaters hold their own against Maximum Security Prison’s debate team and win the hearts of everyone in the audience.
Morris still remembers Remand’s first debate.
“We beat Women’s Prison,” he says, “and everyone knows that women can argue better than anyone else.”
He takes pride that in a prison with 900 inmates, he was one of the first of seven inmates chosen to debate. He stole the show at the prison all-star debate team’s showdown against prison officers when he was the closer who pointed out that every creed and race did have an equal place in Trinidad.
“Let me point you in the direction of Parliament,” he said with confidence, and then he named the ethnicity of the top government officials in this country.
The audience exploded in applause.
My Remand debate team remembers the support the team got from other inmates and the celebrations they had when they returned to the prison as victors. Remand’s Supt Noel Phillips waited at the gate for them to return. Everyone in Remand Prison felt proud.
“Before the debates, men only talked about the crimes they committed,” says Swan. “The debates put their minds to better use.”
“I didn’t know I had all of this in me,” says Morris. “I had a little common sense. That I could structure a debate with an opening, the body, the finishing and perform in City Hall? Where did all of that come from? Most of my family lives in the US and Canada. When they saw the debate on YouTube, my family was like that can’t be me.”
Swan said his 20-year-old son watched his first debate and said that for the first time in his life he felt proud of his dad.
Lee says outside of prison as a Spiritual Baptist minister he was a respected man in the community. To reach this position (in prison) makes you wonder, but I say, “Never allow the injuries of the enemy make you abort your mission. If you allow these injuries to stop you from your mission, then you let the enemy win. It is a tough world, but you have to find the strength.”
In their interviews for yesterday’s story on their covid19 jingles, the debaters expressed concern for all of us out here in this pandemic.
Lee said, “We think about the poor coconut vendor trying to sell coconuts and T&TEC still sending bills. We need to revisit and find feasible solutions to help poor people in this pandemic.
“Everybody says nothing good comes out of Remand, but I would say they are wrong. We have a government in here. We could run the country properly with people in here. We don’t see a reason to shut down the judiciary when people are working from home.”
My wish is to see my debaters and all inmates vaccinated expeditiously. Government cannot preach physical distancing, mask-wearing and washing hands to our citizens and delay vaccinations for inmates who can’t comply with government directives.