…calm restored after families converge outside jail
BY: DEVINA SAMAROO
The barrage of bullets, hurling of teargas, and escaped prisoners making threats to
conflagrate the overcrowded penitentiary all marked day three of the historic riot that erupted at the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown, Guyana.
Normalcy was finally restored at the main penal complex early Friday morning and assurances given that it will remain that way, unless government fails to meet the demands made by the aggrieved prisoners.
In light of the major three-day uprising, which erupted after prohibited items were confiscated from the inmates, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and State Minister Joseph Harmon accompanied by other officials met with some of the prisoners where both parties negotiated and eventually arrived at an amicable solution to the problem.
Upon emerging from the meeting, both Ramjattan and Harmon assured the media that the prisoners have agreed to stand down.
“They have given us a commitment that when they get back into the prisons, they will speak to the other prisoners to ensure that there is no further escalation in what has taken place… so I think we have sort of a gentleman’s agreement on both sides and we are going to try to keep our end of the bargain and they are going to keep theirs,” Harmon announced.
Ramjattan also disclosed similar statements: “They promised that they are going to calm down now that they’ve seen us, senior members of government because that’s what they wanted”.
The Minister further divulged that the prisoners have grievances with prison officers, some of the magistrates, the length of time they are on remand, not having trials, the food, and the overall living conditions.
He noted too that inmates demanded longer periods for making contact with their family back home.
In response, Ramjattan said he guaranteed that government will take steps immediately to ensure their concerns are addressed.
“Those matters that can be dealt with administratively, we will deal with them… those that will be dealt with more technically will be done by the Board of Inquiry,” he told the media outside Camp Street Prison.
He explained that these administrative matters would include ensuring better food is served and the number of telephone calls allowed for prisoners are extended.
Moreover, Ramjattan posited that meeting with the prisoners does not make the government look weak.
“It is meeting them to meet their demand and I feel it’s a useful thing, hearing their versions too, at our level” he expressed.
Day three disasters
The mayhem quieted down on Thursday evening but the inmates started anew with more unrest early Friday morning.
Another fire was lit but quick response from the servicemen extinguished the flames before it could spread as the previous days.
Nonetheless, the prisoners fuelled with anger, continued to make loud noises and hurl objects including bricks, at prison wardens and police officers.
Then, pandemonium broke lose after prisoners ripped apart the walls and escaped their cells, running freely around the halls of the prison.
From all indications, the only barrier keeping them inside the compound was the heavily barbwired fence.
Joint Services ranks were called out to get the situation under control and so ignited a standoff between prisoners and servicemen.
Shots begun to be fired and teargas were thrown back and forth between prisoners and officers.
Reports indicated that the enraged prisoners then grabbed propane gas tanks and threatened to conflagrate the jailhouse if the police continued to attack them.
The entire commotion resulted in more injured inmates as well as prison wardens who were rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital.
In efforts to restore calm at the Camp Street facility, the government officials arrived to meet with a delegation of prisoners to listen to their concerns.
With the meeting in progress, the uproar ended but the atmosphere remained tense.
The unruly crowd
Scores of curious onlookers and concerned relatives lined the streets surrounding the prison, hoping to garner some bit of information about the commotion within the jailhouse.
At some sections, persons had set up vending stands while others walked around the streets selling beverages, capitalising on the huge crowd.
At one point, the crowd got unruly when one man with a broken “stag bottle” attempted to start a fight with another person however his attempts were quickly curtailed by other bystanders.
Angry family of prisoners were also present demanding answers regarding the wellbeing of their loved ones behind bars.
An Albouystown mother of four told this newspaper that she was extremely upset that her common-law husband was sentenced to 66 years on a murder charge. The woman vented anger at not receiving the change she voted for and called on the administration to ensure their supporters received justice. She insisted her paramour was innocent.
“These is things that the government and Mr Granger should look into. We vote for Granger, we vote for Granger and Granger ain’t helping we. It got nuff jail-man that in there who have family out here. The people family need them,” the woman expressed.
Relatives of one of the dead prisoners Kurt Clarke spoke to this newspaper saying they were peeved about the man’s death.
They complained that they are yet to receive word from prison officials about Clarke’s death.
“When these things happen, they got to tell people. Nobody ain tell we nothing and I want know is wuh going on. Nothing we ain hearing, they supposed to come and tell we so is “x”, “y” and “x”, “y”, ya understand,” the cousin remarked.
On Wednesday, day two of the rioting, a total of 17 inmates were killed.
Timeline of tragedies
Over the past decade, the 132–year-old Camp Street Prison experienced a number of unrests, including the tragic 2002 jailbreak.
In September 2015, there were two instances where prisoners deliberately started fires at the Camp Street prison to attract the authorities’ attentions to their concerns.
At that time, the prisoners in Capital ‘A’ Division were loudly shouting from their cells about the injustices and inhumane treatment meted out to them.
“We frustrated budday; we want go to court,” the prisoners pleaded.
According to one of them, persons have been in jail for over seven years on remand, but never have they heard a word regarding any court appearance.
Below is a list of the prisoners who were killed, the offences for which they are on remand and the date on which they were incarcerated at the Georgetown Prison.
Reyan Paddy – armed robbery – admitted on March 3, 2015
Andrew Phillander – murder – admitted on February 23, 2008
Jermain Otto – murder – admitted on August 26, 2014
Kirk Clarke – murder – admitted on July 31, 2015
Aaron Eastman – unlawful possession of ammunition – admitted on December 9, 2015
Anthony Premo – armed robbery – admitted on November 9, 2015
Ashraf Ally – murder – admitted on February 1, 2011
Amos Hilary – murder – admitted on February 6, 2011
Rohan Teekeram – murder – admitted on April 25, 2014
Richard Hubbard – rape/murder – admitted on January 31, 2014
Randolph Marques – murder – admitted on December 19, 2015
Clifton Joseph – murder – admitted on September 25, 2014
Shaka Mc Kenzie – eobbery with violence – admitted on July 12, 2015
Latchman Pertap – murder – admitted on May 7, 2015
Sherwin Trotman – murder – admitted on July 1, 2015
Delroy Williams – murder – admitted on October 24, 2014
Chitram Dharandat – murder – admitted on February 8, 2015
Hospitalised are Marcellus Verbate, Ignatious France and Andel Forde, while Anthony Joseph, Dwayne Lewis and Errol Williams were treated and released back into the custody of the Guyana Prison Service.
In March 2015, a fire was also started.
In April, 2013, officials at the Georgetown Prison had to take swift action after remanded prisoner Colin Jones had set his mattress on fire. He was in solitary confinement. The convict was facing a number of charges ranging from murder to arson to possession of guns and ammunition to escaping from lawful custody and cultivating cannabis.
In December 2010, there was an attempted breakout at the prison but authorities managed to quell the situation.
On February 23, 2002, there was the horrific jailbreak where five dangerous men: Dale Moore, Troy Dick, Shawn Brown, Andrew Douglas and Mark Fraser, escaped, killing a prison officer and seriously wounding another in the process.