Tag Archives: Prison

Books for 1735: This is a Picture Post

But first, the back story. Ayanna Shadrach, a teacher at Clare Hall Secondary, last November collected a couple boxes of books from me as part of her drive to donate books to the Antigua and Barbuda prison (the titular 1735 named above, otherwise known as the place behind the big red gate). In all, with the help of her students, she collected over 500 used books but if you’ve been following the travails of the prison, you know about the contagions (chicken pox etc.) that mitigated against access for a time. Seems the clouds have parted and Ms. Shadrach and her students were finally able to deliver the books to the prison. I thought it would be cool to share them here as an example of young people doing positive things. See below. No, first, read about Ms. Shadrach and her project here, then see below.

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Behind the big red gate at 1735*

Me, standing right, alongside the programme's tireless volunteer facilitator Brenda Lee Browne, standing left, during my visit.

Me, standing right, alongside the programme’s tireless volunteer facilitator Brenda Lee Browne, standing left, during my visit.

This past week I had the mixed pleasure of participating in and covering the last session of the creative writing group at Her Majesty’s Prison. I say mixed because it’s always a little sad when someone’s life takes them along the path that leads to prison but it was also inspiring seeing the courage and talent on display as these men and women find their voice, and, hopefully, a new path.

I’ve just finished reading the collection that was produced by facilitator Brenda Lee Browne, the workshop participants (15 incarcerated men and women), and the organizer, the Directorate of Gender Affairs. I want to tip my hat to all of them. The collection isn’t available for sale and while I can’t re-produce the entire collection here, I will share some things that stood out.

First to endorse the strong words in support of the collection by the tireless advocate Craig Rijkaard of Gender Affairs though I was not like him present for any of the sessions before the final one:

Craig presenting copies of the three collections from the programme to National Security Minister Dr. Errol Cort.

Craig presenting copies of the three collections from the programme to National Security Minister Dr. Errol Cort.

“We are pleased to be associated with the production of this booklet of writings Idea No. 1, and the overall development of this project. As we continue to promote gender equality, equity and women empowerment this project demonstrates our commitment to such…I have personally sat in the sessions and have watched inmates developing Idea No. 1 with words such as curious, hot, hungry, pure, more work, and good to where they listed areas in which there is struggle: spirituality, independent, faithfulness, situation, music, corruption, neutral, favouritism, circumstance and bad mind. Well done guys and gals your hard work over the past five weeks have paid off. Keep up the good work!!!”

Now some of my favourite lines from among the poems and stories found in its pages…

“Many times I just wanna close my door
Shut the world away for I have no fight left in my wounded heart” (KS)

“We’re falling can’t catch ourselves” (LF)

“I feel like a wind- blown refugee” (KS)

“Not to be perceived weak we do dreadful things
This is pretence
We’re dying can’t help ourselves” (LF)

 

“Life is full of illusion
There are no more patriots” (group assignment)

“Shed tears like rain
Body laden in pain” (MH)

In the stories, especially, you get a hint of the philosophyand hard luck story that could lead someone down the path that leads to prison….

“The real McCoy – no joke that was him, you see Roy was in this thing, this life to win and by all means necessary…” (DO)

 “I grew up very hard and I have three sisters and one half-sister on my father’s side. They used to beat me as I am the smallest child for my mother and father…School was also hard for me as I used to fight a lot and dropped out … I ended up at the boys’ training school …I was mixing with the wrong crowd and they were into bad things like drugs and guns and this is how I ended up in jail.” (DO)

“…”they woke up with gang talking around them and went to sleep with gang talking outside their window.” (JMC)

Lines like “All in all I have come to jail four times for the same thing and despite my troubles God is good all the time” reveal a sense of acceptance of circumstances balanced by hopefulness steeped in faith. In fact, the only thing that rivals religious references and tales of hard luck circumstances for prominence in the book is the analogous link between the prison of prison and the prison of the plantation. Then, not surprisingly, there is the idealization of freedom:

“The day that I am free will be the day when the party never stops” (KJ)

Very real crimes landed these people in prison and society fears and condemns them for it – and who can blame us – but in programmes like this, there is a path to redemption. So, without romanticising the experience…

“He is a poor man trying to find a way to better himself.”  (JE)

I can’t help but wish them better, better choices, better paths in future.

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Oh, and note to the powers that be, give this currently volunteer programme the funding  it needs and frankly deserves.

*1735 is the short hand, i.e. colloquial name, of Antigua and Barbuda’s prison, which has a big red gate as its main entrance.

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The Fantastic Five

As I write this, I’m working on a story about rehabilitative programmes in our local prison, colloquially referred to as 1735. I decided to pause and do this update because I’ve been sitting on this for too long and the women on lock down who participated in the six week writing/communications programme facilitated by Brenda Lee Browne deserve their props for using their time positively. I hope this programme is able to access the funding it needs to continue.

The first one, LIFE, is by Raquel Harris. Something about this line tugs at me, “You fall into pain and sometimes shame.”

And this one is so sensual and yet so much more than physical: MY BLACK MAN – WHO’S MY BLACK MAN? by Jay Marie Chin. We read more about him in SUMMER.

How’s this for addictive imagery “He’s as if there is dope all over him” from LOVE by Monette Walker. Also check out her internal landscape in ME.

MY STORY is the kind of non-fiction piece young people on the precipice should read for a reality check.

And how do you write so vividly of the sea and of love and peace when all three are so far away? Doreen Crawford does so quite stirringly in PEACE BY SEA.

MOTHER FOR SALE by Queisha Geger, meanwhile, made me think (a bit) of that old gospel staple, No Charge by Shirley Caesar. Raquel Harris also had to something to say about a mother’s love as well in TO MY MOTHER.

Kudos to Brenda Lee for this programme and for the quality of the work she was able to guide them into producing. It’s good stuff, though my favourite is probably Peace by Sea.

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Support Literary Arts at HMP

Props to Wadadli Pen judge Brenda Lee Browne on her volunteer work at Antigua and Barbuda women’s prison, giving the inmates a creative outlet and a sense of their  own power and potential with a pen in their hand.

The programme is getting rave reviews and will hopefully receive the funding it needs to keep going. Here’s an article on the programme. And given her generousity with her time with respect to this programme, it wouldn’t be out of order to mention Browne’s for-hire services as writer and writing coach. While others – *clears throat* I – continue to drag their feet on putting together the long planned follow up to my previous writing workshops, Browne has waded into the deep end with Just Write. Props to her for that as well.

Meantime, I hope to have more on the prison programme, including some of the work produced by the Fantastic Five, for posting on this site. But wanted to give them a mention asap as the women have had their programme graduation and the facilitators are now seeking paint and other supplies for creation of a library in the women’s section of the prison to encourage the ladies to continue reading and writing.

Unrelated but not unconnected is the work of Optimist Club of St. John’s also at 1735, the colloquial name for Her Majesty’s Prison of Antigua and Barbuda. Their latest effort involved creating a library in the prison proper.

Here’s hoping both programmes get the funding to underwrite all the planned initiatives and maybe pay a stipend to the likes of Brenda Lee and the volunteer teachers being recruited by the Optimists to cover various subjects (Math, English, IT, Spanish, Integrated Science, and Social Studies) in the prison.

Contact Gender Affairs (gender@antigua.gov.ag)  if you wish to support either programme. And I hope you do.

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