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Behind the walls, an uplifting sense of freedom

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It's 3pm and inmates are beginning to trickle back into the Prison Farm after a day out on work release programmes.

The facility's headcount is 49 today — just over half its capacity — and 19 inmates have been out in the community.

As the prisoners return to the St George's minimum security prison one inmate is leaving. He's carrying a plastic bag of belongings and going through the official checkout process because he has just been granted parole.

“Today we've got three guys up at the Royal Artillery Club painting the building,” says chief officer, Reginald Gomes.

“Two guys have been up at Young Life on Serpentine Road in Hamilton helping out and three more have been at BFA field clearing the area up.

“They are then heading to Port Royal Primary School to help set up for the school's sports day tomorrow.”

Inmates from The Farm now participate in a wide range of community and charitable initiatives across the Island as part of the work release programme. While within the walls the facility has gone back to its roots focusing on producing vegetables and rearing goats, chickens and rabbits.

The main broccoli and cauliflower field is extensive and well kept, and one inmate trudges its length pushing a rotavator to turn over the soil.

The 39-year-old, who has been at The Farm for seven years, says: “It was a big difference moving down here from Westgate, that was like freedom itself, and I still consider it that way.

“There's more sanity here for me. Even though there are still walls at least you can see freedom and it feels like you are a part of it.”

A small group of inmates are responsible for the upkeep of the vegetable fields as well as looking after the animals, under the supervision of a gardening office.

“It means the world to me,” says the prisoner.

“The results speak for themselves. Doing a hard day's work is like you are not even doing time.

“Just recently two of our goats gave birth to children so I had to help out with the delivery. One of the goats had three children, the other had two. But we lost four of the babies.

“You get attached to these animals so it was emotional that four died. We have called the one that lived “survivor”, and we're taking special care of him.”

The Farm now produces around 150lbs of broccoli and 60lbs of cauliflower, which is used to help feed the prison population and cut costs.

“Since 2003, when I came down here we have certainly put more emphasis on the agriculture and the animals,” says Chief Officer Gomes.

“It's had a big effect on the mindset of some prisoners, and the animals have a profound impact on them too.

“They provide a real focus and are a source of pride.”

Back up the hill inmates continue to filter back from their day's work; some have been helping at STARS near John Smith's Bay that cares for AIDS patients, while others have been lending a hand at senior's homes.

“Coming down to The Farm from Westgate made me appreciate my senses again,” says a 51-year-old inmate returning from a care home. The man has been in jail for the last 14 years and was allowed to move down to The Farm six months ago. He is eligible for parole next year.

“Up there I just saw walls, here the onus of responsibility is put on me.

“Between October and January I was escorted while outside the facility, but since January I make my own way on the buses and have to be back here by a certain time.

“Getting on ‘unescorted' shows that the people here have put some trust in me.

“It can also be pretty daunting too. You meet people and see people who know you. It certainly turned some heads to begin with, but no one has confronted me in a negative way.

“A lot of people think imprisonment is negative, but it can have positive effects too. I am not living in a hotel; prison is hard with lots of loneliness and isolation.

“Coming to The Farm made me compliant. I have a good work ethic and I have tried to use that here.

“By the time I get out of here I will be 53, but I still hope I can find a job.”

By 4pm The Farm's 49 inmates have been accounted for and prison officers are preparing the work release programmes for the next day.

The inmate, who had been tilling the soil earlier, is now tending to the goats.

“The inmates cook their own food here under the supervision of a kitchen guard,” says Chief Officer Gomes.

“We have a woodwork workshop, a spray painting workshop and a hobby shop to teach the inmates new skills for when they are released.

“All of these men will return into the community at some point in the future and we have to help prepare them for that reintegration.”

The Prison Farm. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
The Prison Farm. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
The Prison Farm. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
The Prison Farm. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
The Prison Farm. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
The Prison Farm. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 09, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated March 09, 2015 at 1:44 am)

Behind the walls, an uplifting sense of freedom

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