Locked away: Life of prisoners on Christmas Day

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By Vahnu Manikchand

The Christmas holiday is usually when persons spend time and make memories with their families and loved-ones. However, there are some because of their actions unfortunately do not have that option – like prisoners.

While some, if not most, of them are incarcerated as a result of their own wrong doings, it does not take away from the fact that they would miss their families during the holiday season, especially those with children.

As a result, the Guyana Prisons Service has planned a series of activities so that inmates of the various penitentiaries throughout the country can celebrate the joy and hope of Christmas amongst themselves.

The lit tree inside the compound of the Georgetown Prison
The lit tree inside the compound of the Georgetown Prison

According to Officer in Charge (OC) of the Georgetown Prison, Kevin Pilgrim, while security remains tight as per protocol, inmates are treated to a little more freedom during the Christmas season with lots of festivities planned to spread cheer within the usually daunting environment.

Two of the highlights leading up to the season are the Christmas tree light-up and the ‘Family Bonding’ programme.

There were Christmas tree light-ups followed by a mini-concert during which several inmates at the various prisons were rewarded for their “good” behaviour. The awardees were given vouchers to the Prisons’ Tuc-shops.

Additionally, some of the penitentiaries, including New Amsterdam, Bartica and Timehri, distributed monetary donations to children in nearby communities.

Meanwhile, the ‘family bonding’ initiative saw inmates being allowed time with their families, including children, to sit and share a meal. Pilgrim explained that convicted prisoners are usually entitled to one visit per month and a family visit once quarterly.

“So what the family bonding does is to have the families of these inmates come and spend some time. The children get to see their fathers, and mothers in the case of the female prisoners at New Amsterdam, and spend time with them and catch up.”

However, Pilgrim explained that while the initiative is ideally for fathers who are incarcerated and their children, there are some inmates who do not have children but have their parents and/or persons whom they are close with hence they are also allowed the same privilege.

New Amsterdam Prison had a grand Christmas tree light-up ceremony with the general community participating as well
New Amsterdam Prison had a grand Christmas tree light-up ceremony with the general community participating as well

The programme is highly successful at all the prison facilities and is well appreciative by the inmates. Only those prisoners on good behaviour are allowed to participate in this initiative.

At Georgetown, the ‘family bonding’ was held over a period of one week. It commenced on December 12 and ran up until December 20.

Pilgrim explained that during these visits, the inmates were allowed from one hour 30 minutes to two hours to bond with their families during which they share a home-cooked meal brought by the visitors.

However, it was explained that time of some of the prisoners were unfortunately cut short because there were too many persons to be accommodated in the small area.

Today, December 25 (Christmas Day), the inmates woke up to a bit of freedom as those who smoke are given some extra time outside in the compound. At breakfast, which usually is the traditional Guyanese cuisine pepper-pot and bread, the OC at the various prisons would sit and interact with the inmates.

The Director of Prisons is also invited and turn up to those locations to socialise with the inmates, and delivering motivational speeches. Additionally, members from the Prison Ministries are also invited and would interact with the inmates, encouraging them, giving them hope and also teaching them forgiveness.

A prisoner working on a Christmas tree in Timehri
A prisoner working on a Christmas tree in Timehri

During the course of the day, the prison authorities try to create a festive atmosphere with most of the facilities playing Christmas carols.

In Georgetown, however, the Prisons’ Steelpan and choir would pay a visit to State House, where the inmates perform for the President after which they would head over to the Prime Minister’s residence and then to the Public Security Minister’s home.

Christmas Day continues with a grand luncheon at which prisoners would be treated to scrumptious meals along with traditional Guyanese black and sponge cakes. The rest of the day is spent engaging in indoor games until dinner, when another festive meal is served.

In Georgetown, the day after Christmas is much anticipated when the Republican Boxing Gym hosts its annual Boxing Day exhibition match on the tarmac inside of the Georgetown Prisons compound. (Guyana Times)

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