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Aug 8, 2007

Prison reform focuses on skills training

Story PictureThis week the folks who run and inhabit Belize’s only prison are taking time to mark their achievements. Yesterday News Five’s Janelle Chanona made the trip to Hattieville and found that in five years of private administration much has changed.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
On Tuesday, inmates of the Hattieville Correctional Facility put their talent on display. The outdoor exhibition is part of a week of official activities to commemorate the five year anniversary of the Kolbe Foundation’s management of the prison.

John Woods, Chair, Kolbe Foundation
“We not only have the potential in here for art, we have the potential in here for just phenomenal human beings coming out of here that can do so much good with their lives because they have been through so much.”

Under the system of private management, inmates have been able to access literacy programmes as well as learn skills like welding, construction, woodwork, jewellery, and art.

During a brief ceremony this week, inmate Fermin Sanchez received a certificate of appreciation from Prison Fellowship International for one of his drawings.

Fermin Sanchez, Inmate, Hattieville Prison
“I did not win a first place or second place out there in the international arena, but I did my best and that is one thing that I am thankful for, you know, and it’s quite—I’m excited you know—it’s a nice feeling.”

Sanchez dabbled in art as a child, but after being sentenced to spend five years in Hattieville for burglary, he’s been honing his skills behind the walls. Sanchez will be eligible for parole at the end of August and his dream is to become an illustrator.

Fermin Sanchez
“I have a lot of time see, so right now being that I got ample time I will not idle my life away, I will not just put—I was spending a five year sentence so I’m going to, I put a lot of work with the art. And so thanks to the rehabilitation programmes that are here too, thanks to the help of the Kolbe Foundation, I now find more, more, I da seh a meaning to my life, you know.”

In the same competition, fellow prisoner Lenton Polonio topped the sculpture entries for his zericote crucifix.

Lenton Polonio, Artist
“I thankful for it yuh know and I strive for it yuh know, and from the competition start, I been know I mi weh win. It’s just my artistic skills you know. … Well it’s a relief, a stress relief you know. It’s a relief for me.

Janelle Chanona
“And you—as you look at the wood, you know what you gonna make or it come to you?”

Lenton Polonio
“No, it just come to me, insight you know. When I di clean the wood then I see things within the wood and I just bring it outta the wood. … All who know me out deh know, you know, my skills, know what I good inna yuh know, just wish fu hurry get out this place that’s all.”

But other prisoners couldn’t wait to come back to prison. On Friday, Kelvin Zolozabal finished his three year sentence. On Tuesday, he showed up again, not as an inmate but as an employee.

Janelle Chanona
“So you noh feel funny that you wait so long fu get out and then you come right back yah?”

Kelvin Zolozabal, Employee
“Yeah, but you see I no di hang out with my friends and so, I left that right. I have to see for myself first. I like work and this is what I gonna to do to keep up, so not to come back in prison anymore.”

And for Chairman John Woods, that attitude has been Kolbe’s greatest accomplishment.

John Woods
“I guess the biggest thing in the five years is tremendous amount of hope now. People can see a different picture, they can see a different outlook, they can see a different outcome, they can see having a normal life with a family, a wife, and children that love them and that they can provide for. I think that’s the biggest thing, I think they were trapped in a rut before and now their eyes have been opened.”

The Kolbe Foundation has taken its share of hits over the last five years and several of the prison programmes have been received with scepticism. But Woods and his team remain firm believers in rehabilitation and reform.

John Woods
“Prison is not the problem you know. Prison is the result of the problem and we have a lot of problems out there in the community and if we can get these guys that have lived through that and overcome it and get them trained to work in the community, I think we can do a number on the problems that are out there that keep people from ever coming to prison.”

“We don’t want people in prison; our Kolbe’s goal is to have an empty prison. We want a better society to live in and to have people locked up and treated like animals, which is basically the way we found this place five years ago, I don’t think is the answer to anything.”

To encourage the sense of optimism for the future, the Kolbe Foundation hired Anthony Bradley to help market the inmates’ art and crafts on the local market. Business has been brisk and Bradley admits working with the prisoners has been a life changing experience.

Anthony Bradley, Sales Representative, Prison Art and Craft
“When I first came here, you know, the whole concept about the prison, I had a different attitude but as I got into my job and I started looking at what was being done here, my whole attitude has changed in regards to prison. People look at the prison and said, oh you know, that is just where prisoners are, there’s not much going on there and so on. But no, there’s a lot of talent behind these walls, there’s a lot of programmes going on behind these walls and so we are just part of that … And I want to extend an invitation to the Belizean public to please come on out and look around and you might see something that catches your eye and you might want to buy it.”

Proceeds from the sales are used to fund prison programmes. A percentage is kept for the inmate until his release. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

The outdoor exhibition will run through Friday in the prison’s parking lot but the public is reminded that there is also a gift shop on site that is open daily, year round. For more information about the items displayed, please contact Anthony Bradley at 604-2366 or 225-6190.


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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