Five years before he - and two others-broke out of the Port of Spain prison in a daring Friday afternoon jail break, using guns smuggled into the prison, on July 25th, 2015, Hassan Atwell spoke openly of the festering sore that is the prison system inTrinidad. his was Published on November 19th 2010. I have reproduced this article (1) for his children to know that his life was not in vain (2) to show that the consultations on prison reform are nothing but a charade.
"Deep down inside a man he wants what is good for himself and for the people at large. Nobody can deny that. That's the word coming from the bowels of the Remand Yard at the Port of Spain Prison where Hasan Attwell is incarcerated awaiting extradition on a charge of kidnapping US citizen, Videsh Mohan in South Trinidad in 2005.
While noting the efforts of the State to curb crime. including the three-strikes legislation which will jail repeat gun offenders for life, Atwell is lamenting the fact that no real attention is being paid to the prison system which is breeding criminals.
"Yes there has been an increase in crime but in most cases it's just that offenders are lashing back after being taken advantage of in prison; when they get the upper hand they do the sane to fellow citizens," he said in a letter to this journalist.
"The saddest part is that society is not even aware that this is the root of all crime. When you want to come out of a life of crime sometimes you have so many scars from the injustice of police, the treatment while in prison;sometimes knowing that you are innocent so you end up just lashing out.
"The people of society are willing to forgive, but are they willing to do what is necessary to change the mind of the person who was once a criminal?
We complain everyday that crime is the problem which is affecting the economy as well.
But if we identify that crime is the problem why are we pumping money into one area; taking care of the police is not the only thing.
"The prison is the best place to reform a man. If we reform the prisoners they will return to society in a better condition than they were sent in and subsequently the police work will become easier in that there will be less repeat offenders and we will most certainly see a decrease in crime at a rapid rate,
"The conditions in jail are already deplorable and so inhumane that it cannot hep to reform a person. "They think that we deserve to be treated like this.
"But in jail a man's freedom is taken away, it is already a great punishment not to to see our loved ones or hug our children. We are already paying the price of our freedom Why wont they try their best to reform prisoners not just for our sake but for their sake as well so that they can return to society and be of value.
" History has proven that people come out of prison and make a valuable contribution. It is like modern day slavery if they have no consideration for us we will have no consideration for them; the way you treat people is the way they will treat others.
" Look at how a man has to relieve himself when nature calls in front of people with no privacy which is also unsanitary.
"They have placed mats on the floor of the prison cells that have been there for years collecting dirt, bacteria and germs which are not washed or changed.
"How could people be reformed living under these conditions?
"We are granted airing for an hour a day and within this hour we have access to toilets, showers and to wash our clothes. What could you do in an hour?
"Some men line up to use the toilets instead of using the pails in their cells. Everything is a hustle. "Imagine a constipated prisoner gets a chance to go to the toilet with a long line of men waiting behind him; he makes his situation worse when he forces himself.
"Even though the system has bene successful in reforming some prisoners mentally their health will be no good because they do not get proper exercise and sunlight. The society destroys its people by paying no heed to their cry. In return the people hit back at society for being neglected.
"People in society who are stronger and more educated have to lend a helping hand; religion in prison is playing a very important part. Religion brings the mind to a high level of consciousness that a person's mind acts as a police for him.
"When the mind reaches such a conscious state we do not need to have a police officer looking down at him. His mind keeps him in check. Bt even that is not being used to keep the prisoners in check.
"There are many prison officers who understand the situation because most times what affects us affects them. Imagine in this day it is a man's job to come to work and open a gate for a man to go with a bucket of pee to throw away. Officers complain when they leave their clothes smell like the jail and that is just one of the ways in which they are affected.
"As I get older I am seeing things differently, if I could change the life of one person who knows he could have been heading to commit a crime that would kill my wife or children, if I reform this person, I save my wife or children. Many people do not volunteer to become criminals; some people are molested when they are young and there are other things that affect people at different stages in their lives that makes them go down the road to begin a criminal it is the resentment that is fostered which the people in power fail to recognize.
"If they take this seriously into consideration when dealing with crime, then they can help a whole lot of offenders," Atwell ended.