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Mar 28, 2018

Taking City Youth Behind Prison Walls

Unless you have family or friends there or had the unfortunate experience to be a guest, the Belize Central Prison at Hattieville is not likely to cross your mind regularly, never mind having a chance to visit. But with the crime issue a hot button in Belize, the police department is seizing the opportunity to introduce a whole new world to young people it hopes to avoid having to arrest and charge as future offenders. A few weeks ago, it was twenty youth from the capital Belmopan, and today it was the turn of twenty-two more from the St. Martin’s and surrounding neighborhoods of Lake Independence in Belize City. We spoke to the man behind both visits – now officer commanding Eastern Division (South), Senior Superintendent Howell Gillett – and others today and News Five’s Aaron Humes has this report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Recognize these guys? Clinton Harris, dreadlocked in the makeshift gray basketball jersey, and Kareem Smith, whose name has become infamous in the south side for many reasons. These days they can be found at the Belize Central Prison in Hattieville doing time. And part of their time today was to mentor twenty-two youths, a crash course in how not to end up in jail.

 

Clinton Harris

Clinton Harris, Inmate, Belize Central Prison

“One life you wah live, you nuh; you nuh wah live two or three or four life, so you have to do it right now, this da di time. Watch pah crew ova yah so, dehn da fram Boot Camp. I da di prefect – me and Mr. Smith – da di prefect fi dehn one da W.Y.F. now. When I mi deh eena di yaad ova deh, I mi stuck pah stupid. You know weh da stuck pa stupid? I mi “dibby”, I mi silly – I get eena wah lot a fight. I chase people down; I beat up people front a di officers dehn, I go eena di hole, I do all kind a ting, but heah weh I get fi realize; I can’t win yah – dat no mek no sense.”

 

Kareem Smith

Kareem Smith, Inmate, Belize Central Prison

“How I mi di live my life, dah neva the right way. Cause I hundred percent sure all a unu watch me when I deh out deh and all a unu mi si how I mi di live my life and I live the wrong way, neva di right way. And ih staat from small – noh wah go da school, because how unu mi di heng out and watch me, so I mi di heng out and watch next people.”

 

Will the lesson take? Director of the Wagner’s Youth Facility William Dawson says both Smith and Harris have made a conscious effort to turn around and they are being given that chance to make sure others do not follow in their footsteps.

 

William Dawson

William Dawson, Director, Wagner’s Youth Facility

“We have a very high standard when it comes to prefects; these guys had to show very exemplary behavior over a period of time in the facility, and they had to sit with a panel including the C.E.O. and the Chief of Security, to make sure they have passed the test to come to Wagner’s as mentors or prefects.  As you heard Clinton Harris speaking earlier on, he was explaining to them how he wanted to be a part of the negative group because they were popular, and he thought that the prison officers at the time were against him. But now that he is doing well and he is at a different place in his rehabilitation, he is now seeing that the prison officers and the C.E.O. and the Chief of Security are working with him to make him a better person, and it feels very good for him to do good and to give back to these young men.”

 

Aaron Humes

“Likewise for Mr. Smith, I presume?”

 

William Dawson

“Definitely; they are both on the same page. And it gives me great pleasure knowing that I can depend on these guys, because sometimes when these young men hear things from authority figures, they don’t digest it as well [as if] they hear it from their own kind, for lack of a better term. And so because these guys are inmates like them, they tend to listen more to when they mentor them and give them good advice.”

 

Officer Commanding Eastern Division (South), Senior Superintendent Howell Gillett, says young people often don’t go to the prison until they become first-time offenders. Today’s visitors’ introduction to prison life serves as both warning and experience.

 

Howell Gillett

Sr. Supt. Howell Gillett, O.C. Eastern Division South

“It is so pleasing to hear some of the experiences from the inmates. I am sure with today’s initiative, that these young people, the twenty-two of them that we brought – they are predominantly from the St Martin’s area in Belize City which is a part of Southside – and we believe that if we expose them at an early age – these kids, by the way, are between  eight and fifteen years old – if we expose them to this environment, not as an inmate, but as a visitor to the prison, something will be left with them following this encounter. And it is [hoped] that this set of kids will go back into their communities and share their experiences with others in their communities, so that others can learn from it.”

 

And the O.C. can count on fifteen year old Alex Vargas to help do so.

 

Alex Vargas

Alex Vargas, Attended Central Prison

“I wah change my behavior, sir; I noh see my life da prison.”

 

Aaron Humes

“And when you go back home you’ll tell your family that you wah be better, right?”

 

Alex Vargas

“I wah start listen to my ma and tell ah I noh wah see my life da prison; I noh wah kill nobody… (Pauses) I know some a dem back yah, because some a deh deh back ya fi murder, some get bust with gun, all kind a ting. But I noh wah si my life back yah like dehn.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

The O.C. expressed his thanks to the Prison’s C.E.O., Virgilio Murrillo. He indicates that demand is high for similar visits organized for different crime-affected neighborhoods around the Old Capital.

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1 Response for “Taking City Youth Behind Prison Walls”

  1. UNCLE BENJI says:

    Lawd Gawd, help mi pipil.

    Kids taking advice from people in prison? What next? Looking up to convicts as role models? We can do much better than this.

    Belize is a goddam mess.

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