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Aug 12, 2008

Life behind bars at Belize Central Prison

Story PictureThe process of rehabilitation of inmates is an ongoing task for the Kolbe Foundation which took over the reins of the Central Prison in Hattieville in 2002. Today the institution is home to one thousand three hundred and seventy one prisoners. News Five Jose Sanchez found out that one way of engaging the prisoners in productive activities, is through art.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
Kolbe Week, which is celebrated once a year, has come again. During this week, the prison opens its doors to give everyone a peek into the experience of convicts. Acting C.E.O. Meliton Auil Jr. says each day is slated with productive activities for inmates.

Meliton Auil Jr., Acting C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation
“We’ve just opened up our art show where we are displaying products that our inmates have created. Today, also we have an inter-denominational service and that is taking place at this same time inside right now and after that we’ll do a media tour. Everyday we have a different activity celebrating Kolbe. Tomorrow we’ll be having inspirational and motivational speeches by various members of the community who will be coming in here. On Wednesday we have a social studies quiz, a spelling bee quiz. On Thursday we’ll be having our sports day and on Friday we have our talent show.”

Lifelong educator Michelle Perdomo cut the ribbon to open the art display which included woodwork, drawings and handicraft. Luis Valladares said learning about painting has enabled him to think more about himself and his ability to help others.

Luis Valladares, Painter
“This experience has made me think about my talent. Being here in prison for two years make me develop more of my talent, like I have the time, I keep my time like all the time doing art works.”

Jose Sanchez
“Do you think it has been helpful to make you, when you come out, to want to do something better with your life?”

Luis Vallardes
“Yeah, I am thinking that right now here in the prison I am helping the prison. I am a teacher, teaching the other inmates about arts.”

Lenton Polonio, Sculptor
“Well basically, I’m self-taught you know, I learned this by myself. I started off in Maskall wid mi cousin Ferricho and mi cousin Chico and basically I come dah di facility and further on. It’s self-taught.”

Jose Sanchez
“What has this experience been like, being a part of the show, seeing that people have come out to see your art work?”

Lenton Palacio
“It’s a good feeling. I won an international competition.”

The first stop of the tour took us to the Wagner’s Youth Facility which houses the youngest from twelve to nineteen years old. These Sixty-five Youth inmates are separated from the general population to live a boot camp style of life. According to twelve year veteran employee of Kolbe, Colive Casimiro, the youths lacked a disciplined life and they are charged to give them that structure.

Colive Casimiro, Wagner’s Youth Facility
“These guys are kept under tight supervision twenty-four hours a day. So we have officers in and out. They usually start at four-thirty in the morning. They have physical drills like what you have seen earlier. We have classes; we have academics and vocational all the way through and then in the afternoons we have personal development sessions which help with the development of the guys them. They go to bed at nine o’clock. So basically whole day they are engaged.”

Jose Sanchez
“What do you expect to come out of doing these drills?”

Colive Casimiro
“Well, drills in the BDF you know is a part of discipline, help instill discipline in the individuals and having these guys doing it over here if you noticed, it’s a lot of work to get to where the guys are in this point in time. So discipline is the primary focus in that part of it.”

Other than keeping convicts locked up, a main function of Kolbe is rehabilitation. How do keep inmates from repeat offences? Kolbe finds pride in the work at the Ashcroft Rehabilitation Center. It is a school. It is therapy. For many it is a positive area which prepares them for eventual re-integration into the community. The director of the section is a former resident of the prison, now employee, who also completed the twelve step programme that they adopted from a prison in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Jesus Juan Vega, Director, A.R.C.
“They sent three inmates and three civilians. Fortunately, I was one that was sent there. Upon our return we Belizeanise the programme and the whole programme is a God based programme. The twelve step of alcoholicos anonymous is biblically quoted. Then we teach them conventive behaviour where we give them the intake and orientation. Criminal and addictive thinking, which we teach them that we were not born criminals but we became criminals and the same way we became we can transform our thoughts or review our thought and replace those thoughts to be more productive and respectful to ourselves and to others.”

Rafael Aguet, Inmate
“When I came to Belize is when I nearly lost everything. I got a scar hear to prove that I’ve been through the mills, that I’ve been there and I did it all. But coming here to ARC I was taught something about myself; who I really was and who I am and they really let me try get my life back together with the help of Kolbe Foundation. This programme is a motivating step for anybody out there that want to help themselves. For me, personally, I’m speaking for myself; I thank God, my higher power. That’s who helped me get myself together.”

Jose Sanchez
“So this program should be continued?”

Luis Valladares
“Yes, to me it should be continued. It help me a lot and I see that it help a lot of other people about for mek they change in their life, in their talents.”

Meliton Auil
“Our motto is basically security and we also want to insure that we have proper security, good security, treat inmates humanely and proper rehabilitation so that they are prepared when they leave these gates that they can cope for themselves, find employment or work for themselves. We do not want that inmate to come back here. We judge success on how good the inmates are rehabilitated.”

And their success is also structured around classes at the Cindy Creig School where inmates are learning basic English, Math, music and computer studies. Kolbe week wraps up with a family day on Sunday. Over four thousand friends and families of inmates are expected to attend. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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