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Dec 23, 2004

Youngest convicts get a day of freedom

Story PictureIt was built as a facility catering to the needs of cruise ship tourists–a way for them to sample the best of Belize’s history and environment all under one roof. But today the attraction called Old Belize was turned over to a bunch of guys better known for jacking tourists instead of being tourists. As News 5′s Patrick Jones discovered, it’s all part of the process called rehabilitation.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
They look like your typical boys having a good time at the beach…but beyond the smiles, among this group of playful youths are found murderers, robbers and rapists. Sixty inmates of the Wagner Youth Section of Hattieville Prison today spent a few hours at the Old Belize Museum and Historical Centre. Director of Education and Rehabilitation David Thompson supervised the visit.

David Thompson, Dir., Education and Rehabilitation
?Today?s activity is a part of the Christmas programme at the Wagner?s Youth Facility at the Central Prison. It?s a part of the rehabilitation programme to try to reintroduce our youths back into society, teach them how to behave in outings like this. Eventually when they get back into society they will fit in.?

And while that?s the future, today all that was on the young men?s minds was having fun and enjoying a break from the prison setting.

Martin Vasquez Jr, Inmate
?Being locked down at the prison whole day, everyday of your life is something that stresses you out bad. But thanks to the Kolbe foundation, Mr. John Woods the chairman, and his son Mr. Cisco. Well then this is something very important for us because apart from being here, it is something educational and it helps us quite a lot not to stress out and think quite much on our time that we are doing at the prison. And it enables us to have a little bit more fun, to feel like jail isn?t like being in jail and to let someone feel good.?

Antonio Zetina, Inmate
?Well first of all we feel very fortunate to have a trip like this outside the facility. I think it?s a very educational trip. It helps us a lot with rehabilitation. To me it feels like we still have a future in society and that is what this guy is showing us, that we still have a chance in society.?

The young people ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-one, toured the historical displays and went for a short boat ride along side the cruise ships anchored in the Belize City harbour. Unit Supervisor Mervin Reyes says breaking the monotony of prison life has meant a lot to the boys.

Mervin Reyes, Supervisor, Wagner?s Youth Facility
?It?s wonderful, its free, its exciting it?s beautiful and it shows the potential of the good that these children have. Usually we look at them as negative, usually we say they are the outcasts of society, and by and large it?s not their fault. They fell into circumstances of varying degrees and we as the adults and senior people of this society should take the responsibility of trying to put them back on their feet. And showing them love and kindness and showing them that we trust them.?

David Thompson
?Basically society looks at these youths as trouble makers and that they should be locked up and kept locked up. We try to think about it in a different way. We believe that they are human beings, that they did not have a fair chance in life. We are trying to give them some of the privileges that they might not have received growing up in dysfunctional families and societies. We are hoping to teach them that they can be a part of society. We?re trying to teach them proper behaviour in a setting like this. And trying to get them to realize that there are people who care, that they have value, they are human beings and they deserve right like everybody else. Even though they might be incarcerated right now, there are still some rights and privileges that they are entitled to.?

Taking them on this trip is one way of putting that trust in action. Reyes says although the youths are usually locked down, they all understand that trying to escape on an outing like this would not be a good idea. While at Old Belize, the young inmates got a small Christmas gift from BTL in the form of five dollar telephone cards, which they will now use to call their families over the Christmas holidays. Patrick Jones, for News 5.

In the same holiday spirit, on Sunday the prison will host its annual family day, in which several thousand relatives of inmates will get to enter the compound and socialize with loved ones.

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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