American stand-up comedian, Jeff Ross is known as the “Roastmaster General” for his withering witticisms and cutting one-liners, delivered during high-profile celebrity appearances on Comedy Central. At an unusual roast special for tickled inmates of a Texas jail, a great noise suddenly interrupted the comic proceedings prompting Ross to immediately deadpan: “Wait, are you guys laughing extra loud because someone’s trying to build a tunnel right now?”
A comedy roast is a traditional American event in which a particular guest or “roastee” is joked about, roundly insulted and made fun of, normally in front of an appreciative audience. It is considered a great honour especially when famous commentators are on the bill. For instance, Ross quipped to his laughing lawbreakers: “The good thing about a jail show is, nobody gets up and walks out.”
There were no amused faces or missing military men in the front-page photograph of the Guyana Government’s high-level national security briefing on the latest early-morning escape by several prisoners, who went walking in the dark night time and slipped through a broad burrow at Lusignan. Even the Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan appeared strained and anxious, although apparently not over the declining state of citizens free from increasing threats as at least ten dangerous men remained on the run and armed gang attacks on terrorised residents continued almost daily.
Monday’s break-out after the July 9 arson that razed the Camp Street complex may have left him “very embarrassed” but the Minister is unfazed by the roasting and criticism of his adroit handling of the ongoing crisis which saw several hundred inmates being transferred to the animal pasture. He is staying put, while refusing to single out who or what are to really blame for the getaways, even generously accepting “ultimate responsibility.” “I am still here and I wanna believe that I will be still standing when all is over,” he declared defiantly, shooting from the hip and lip.
As Ramjattan steadfastly refuses to stand down given his legal and leadership record of long standing and the fact that he seems to have more critical coalition support than just two legs to stand on, the country stands by worried and wondering who is standing with whom and whether anyone will ever stand up, to be held morally and legally accountable and made to take the ultimate court stand. Meanwhile, the security forces pray there is no bloody stand-off with the hard-core missing lot should the criminals chose to mount a desperate last stand, and the amnesiac Opposition stands out for its failure to also admit any culpability or accept decades of blame for encouraging extravagant taste, favouring massive mansions and the Marriott over the monstrous mumblings of murderers in crumbling houses of correction.
The restive felons feeling shafted, naturally stood nearby their open air galvanized toilet of choice rather than the offered portable potties – spoons, spades and knives in hand – in need of privacy from prying public eyes, carefully contemplating the weather and whether to charge their phones with solar or lunar power, roast fresh beef or mutton, scope out a soft area for another subterranean passage, or update their Facebook page and upload the most recent photographs of Half Naked but Unafraid, Lusignan the Last Frontier or Ultimate Survival Guyana. Jailbreak, Lockup and Sixty Days In have not deterred the masterminds from their bad backland paths to unauthorised freedom or pushed them to much less consider surrender even as Operation Clean Sweep mounted by the Joint Services to respond to information and rebuild public confidence has accelerated and the Police quickly recaptured seven of the 13 newly missing convicts.
“I am here because I indeed wanted to help in the security sector. It is unfortunate that this thing has happened under my stewardship and indeed it is a bad thing, if I may say so, but resignation is not a word that I am normally associated with,” the Minister bluntly stated during a press conference held at his Brickdam office, Stabroek News reported.
We can only guess how loudly the convicts chuckled knowingly in the heavy downpour as they dug a tunnel in the swamp of wet mud five feet wide and as deep, presumably with cutlery and bare hands, looking neither for light at the end nor from the manned watch towers but for thickets of tall grass and big bush just outside the perimeter fence. In so doing they lent a whole new dimension to the term bathroom break.
Forget about a snitch in time saves nine. Acting Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels rapidly ruled it out as “impossible” in a general conversation to get useful information, arguing that anybody likely to be so identified would be dealt with accordingly by the prison population and “nobody is going to go down that road.” Maybe stool pigeons fear being roasted on a spit like the unfortunate cow and sheep that were killed by the jailbirds.
Shortly after “Roastmaster General” Ross’ appearance, two convicted murderers broke out of the maximum security 150-year-old Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York by cutting through steel walls with tools from a helpful officer, climbing five stories down to an unpatrolled catwalk underground and slicing into a 24-inch steam pipe. With the heat turned off, the men crawled through the cylinder until several hundred feet outside the 30-foot high walls in June 2015. Two of the watchtowers were unguarded from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m, during which the breakout occurred, the New York Times reported. Dubbed “Little Siberia” by locals, the detention centre houses nearly 3,000 inmates, watched by about 1,400 correction officers.
The pair of escapees made the mistake of leaving a taunting stick-it note that featured a smirking face, “Have A Nice Day! Three weeks later Richard W. Matt was shot dead and partner David Sweat was hauled back to jail to continue serving his life sentence for murder without the possibility of parole, plus an additional seven to 14 years for his short-lived get-away and promoting prison contraband. Last year he was also ordered to pay almost US$80,000 in restitution for the damage to the penitentiary although repairs cost some US$300,000. Sweat expressed regret for distressing area residents during the duo’s time on the run during which the establishment spent over US$1M a day on the manhunt and investigation.
Ross explained in one interview that his uncle taught him how to “dish it out and take it.” The writer and actor explained, “He was giving me thick skin. That’s what you need to survive in this world.” Minister Ramjattan would certainly agree with that view even if Guyanese are unlikely to be impressed by hard leather.
The Minister could have sought sound advice from the seasoned players of the private infirmary construction and management simulation video game, “Prison Architect” which has sold over 2M units and generated far more than US$25M for the British firm, Introversion Software started by four university mates.
First available as a crowdfunded paid pre-order in 2012, the game has growing multitudes of fans who consider serious questions in chatrooms and discussion groups, ranging from how to deal with menacing escapees digging and using tunnels, to quelling revolts, fostering good behaviour, and launching reform programs to reduce the repeat-offender rate.
Each player takes control of finance, building and running a lockup, and is responsible for handling various aspects of their facility including assembling cells, planning and connecting utilities, and hiring and assigning staff to unlock further aspects of the game.
In a typical exchange, participants acknowledged “prisoners will always start their tunnels from the toilet” and “will only dig at night” in the goal to escape and cause much trouble, so they recommended sealing off access during sleeping hours, using metal detectors to frequently search for banned items and weapons, increasing regular patrols and stationing fierce guard dogs to permanently watch sturdy and expensive perimeter walls.
Taking life a little too literally, a convict believed to be Brazilian attempted a jail escape that surely still stinks. The viral video released on “LiveLeak” in January 2016 captured the wriggling man on camera disappearing headfirst into a filthy communal latrine thought to be in the Sao Paulo area. Unlike the hero’s crawl through a sewer in the “Shawshank Redemption” he ended up stuck in the clogged system and was angrily grabbed by the ankles and hauled out.
Maybe, at the roasting following the next jailbreak the bespectacled, standing Minister and humiliated prison authorities would have corrected their tunnel vision, wiped their faces and fans, and resigned themselves to really learning how to play the game.
ID repeats the joke, “Why is Facebook like jail? You have a profile picture, you sit around all day writing on walls, you get poked by people you really don’t know and when a prisoner takes a mug shot on his smartphone it is called a cellfie.”