Lets Talk About It

Do not make a prison term a life sentence

“After being in prison for 10 years, I wish that the Bahamian people would be more forgiving and give former inmates like myself a second chance.” These are the words of a former prison inmate who is searching for a job and cannot find one simply because as he says “the Bahamian people are not forgiving”.

It is imperative that we understand that a major aspect of rehabilitation is after one has served time for wrongs committed, society gives the person an opportunity to live a productive life. Most prisoners are remorseful for the pain they have caused to families, friends and the community, and truly want to have a second chance. Some of us who have never been incarcerated feel as though everyone who is in prison cannot be rehabilitated. I have personally seen the dramatic changes in prisoners over time as they wait for their day of release.

While lying down in their dark cells, hardly being “visited” by the warm Bahamian sunlight, they dream of ways they can make a difference in their families and communities. One inmate told me that he wants to own a business and become a leading farmer in The Bahamas. Another told me that she wants to be the best car mechanic on New Providence. Yet, still, another told me that he wants to become a lawyer and have a reputable law firm so he can help defend other prisoners, especially those who did not receive justice. One prisoner told me that his life has truly changed after going to prison. He can now read, use the computer, do carpentry, auto mechanics and do agriculture. He learned all these skills while serving time. He is anxious to use his newly acquired skills in the society. He is excited. You can see it in his eyes. Are you willing to give him a second chance?

I believe there should be a law preventing discrimination against former prison inmates who have paid their debt to society. Many former inmates today are being turned down after a very good interview when interviewers discover they have criminal records. Many times, these records do not even involve killing or robbery!

Many are not aware that great things are happening behind those walls we call the Department of Correction (formerly Her Majesty’s Prison). Prisoners can become members of Toastmasters, join the prison choir and become a trusted leader among peers. There is a training center for prisoners where they are exposed to a number of skills training classes; there is a computer lab, for example. Several years ago, the Department of Correction held a job fair. Yes, that is correct. It was a novel and great idea. Many Bahamian businesses were invited into the Department of Correction compound to display what they can offer to prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences.

Hundreds of prisoners were interviewed and even offered jobs. A few prisoners told me that they had more than three job offers. They were leaving prison and going right to work. You could see the joy and excitement on their faces. Congratulations to those business owners who are extending mercy and hope to these prisoners. We need more Bahamians who are just as forgiving and willing to make a difference in the lives of these men and women.

Remember, many of the ex-prisoners become frustrated over time because too many find out after leaving prison that society is so cold and unforgiving. As a result, they go back to what they know best – a life of crime. In other words, in trying to protect our own turf by not hiring ex-prisoners, we are actually recreating them as criminals. By our attitude, we are assisting them to move back into the cold, small, restricted dormitories for criminals. We want to feel safe and secure. We believe that these people are not good enough for our society. Then, we have the gall of complaining about the high rate of crime in our country. What a shame! What a disgrace!

The non-criminals are in fact helping to create the criminals by their cold and indifferent attitude. If we give them a second chance by treating them with respect, hiring them and listening to their plea, I believe we can make a difference in our society. There are many redeemable men and women in our correctional centers. Many of them I have found to be more respectful, creative and sensible than many we meet outside of prison walls who are supposed to be “normal”. Let’s give them a second chance.

• Barrington Brennen is a counseling psychologist and marriage and family therapist. Send your questions to question@soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org.

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