If it is one advice that juvenile offender Damien Jackson* has for the country’s young men, to turn them away from a life of crime, it is for them to value themselves.
It is an important lesson that he, himself, had to learn the hard way. Damien strongly believes that not placing value in himself, coupled with negative thoughts and a lack of patience, are the reasons “I ended up doing what I did” referring to the robbery and wounding charge for which he is currently serving a two-year sentence at the St. Andrew Juvenile Remand Centre.
He is of the opinion that once troubled young men like himself believe in their worth “they can change whatever they’re doing.”
“A boy becomes a man when he not only realises what he does right, but also acknowledges the things he has done wrong, so he has to come into himself and know ‘what I am doing is wrong and I have to change’,” he says.
The 17-year old’s newfound wisdom did not come by chance but as a result of the intensive rehabilitation programme offered at the St. Andrew Remand Centre and the other three juvenile facilities across the island – Hill Top Juvenile Correctional Centre for senior boys, in Bamboo, St. Ann; Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre for junior boys in Spanish Town, St. Catherine; Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre for girls in Alexandria, St. Ann.
The programme, which entails counselling, education, recreation, behaviour modification, and vocational training, is designed to equip the young offenders with the skills that will result in their transformation so that on their release, they can positively contribute to society.
At the St. Andrew Juvenile Remand Centre, Damien takes part in 4-H Club activities; a radio project, which entails four months of training from various media personalities in radio techniques; academic activities; farm work; and nurturing a fish pond.
An intelligent, and seemingly quiet, unassuming teenager, Damien has so excelled that he has been assigned to kitchen duties, a task which is reserved for well-behaved offenders, as it allows time away from the confines of the dorms.
“(It’s) like a privilege. You stay out (of the dorms) for most of the day until 6:00, 7:00 o’clock and you come out from 6:00 in the morning, and whether you want to stay out or go in, you have that privilege to do it,” Damien explains.
The teen, whose sentence ends in May this year, says he is looking forward to re-uniting with his family despite some strained relations. “The reasons for me being locked up, that actually affected my family life…not everyone is on good terms with me, but sooner or later, they’ll come around,” he states confidently.
When he gets out, he wants to continue his studies and hopes to pursue a career in economics. He has already sat three Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) subjects at the institution – Principles of Business (POB), Principles of Accounts (POA) and Social Studies. “I passed all three and I got two credits and a pass,” he proudly states.
Commissioner of Corrections, June Spence Jarrett, (left) guides Chief Technical Director at the Ministry of National Security, Dianne McIntosh (centre) and consultant with the Department for International Development (DFID), Roger McGarver, through a tour of items manufactured by wards and inmates of juvenile and adult correctional facilities across the island at the Department of Correctional Services exhibit held in Kingston in October 29.
To ensure that he is not remanded again, he vows to “stay around positive people, listen to my friends and my family members and just think positively.”
Also 17, Ricardo Stephens*, who has likewise benefitted from the programmes offered at the St. Andrew Juvenile Remand Centre, says smoking and being in possession of marijuana landed him at the institution, where he is undergoing a one-year correctional order.
While serving time, he passed two CXC subjects – Social Studies and POB. “I hope to go back out there and finish up some studies and get a job,” he shares, stating that he wants to become an architect.
Ricardo admits that being at the centre “has done more good for me than bad in terms of education, rehabilitation, etcetera. So it is not really something negative. I would say that it changes you a lot.”
He says he is involved in vocational training and takes part in sporting activities within the institution such as football, basketball, volleyball, and track and field.
Ricardo also has valuable advice for youths: “I would say to upcoming young men to stay out of trouble and keep focussed. Stay away from prison, because it’s not a nice place…I would like to encourage young men to stay in school, get involved in sports (and so on) and become better men”.
Commissioner of Corrections, June Spence-Jarrett, tells JIS News that she is proud of the young men, who sat CXC subjects in the past year, and have done well. She points out that of the 13 who sat examinations, 11 got passes with distinction and credit.
Though the girls have always done well, Mrs. Spence-Jarrett admits that there were some challenges with the females, as they did not sit the external examinations last year, but that they are being prepared to sit the exams this year.
She notes that the residents of Armadale, who, following a fire at the institution, are now housed at the Diamond Crest Villa in Manchester, are recuperating and are “really putting the pieces back together.”
The Commissioner points out that much emphasis is placed on vocational training, though a holistic approach is employed in catering to the children, as all aspects of the wards’ physical, mental, and social well-being are taken into account.
Mrs. Spence-Jarrett informs that the Department is working to get accreditation for the vocational programmes offered within the institutions, which include wood work, metal craft, auto mechanics, clothing and textile, catering services, art and craft, done by the boys. The same is undertaken by the girls except auto mechanics and they also learn cosmetology.
“Basically, we are trying to get them certified by HEART Trust /NTA and the Department for International Development (DFID) is helping us with accreditation,” she says.
The youth are also exposed to leadership training, where they participate in debates, quizzes and a number of activities that can prepare them for leadership roles. “We have our disciplinary committee, we have our case conferences and a number of social and recreational activities. We had a discussion along with 4-H Clubs of Jamaica along with our Governor-General His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen and 4-H Clubs is going to be expanded in all juvenile institutions,” she adds.
The wards’ recreational activities include: football, basketball, cricket, and athletics. Some centres also operate a piggery and poultry farm and undertake agricultural projects, where yam, cabbage and other cash crops are produced.
Wards, in some institutions, also participate in cultural events such as the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) festival of art competition. Most of the facilities also have a house system that is used to organise competition in sports and other activities.
In October, the youngsters within the institutions, including Damien and Ricardo, were given the opportunity to participate in the Department of Correctional Service’s exhibition and trade fair, at the Devon House Heritage site in Kingston, where items manufactured by wards and inmates of juvenile and adult correctional facilities across the island, were showcased.
Damien informs that he helped to prepare some of the pastries that were on display at the event.
*Not real names.