It would be an international issue to deal with a foreign national prisoner in a way not in keeping with the regulations

Dear Editor,

Even though there are individuals employed with the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) who have the statutory authority to make sure that all rules of Chapter 11.01, are complied with by all prison staff, I’m writing to urgently request your help in putting an end to the unhealthy, dehumanizing and degrading conditions of confinement that belong in the Dark Ages. Moreover, I don’t see any evidence to suggest that there are many among the prison staff, who are examples of consistency with regard to truth, honesty, integrity and moral decency.

These very old, insect and vermin infested warehouses continue to be run like those lawless prison colony shows that we all see on TV. There are no rules, and any prison officer or top-ranking prisoner can make, break or change the rules and apply his/her own version of punishment to the weaker prisoners.

I am a 55-year-old Jamaican national who is presently being warehoused at Lusignan. I was convicted on or about August 16, 2016, and ordered to serve a three-year sentence as a result of a narcotics charge.

Amongst everything else, I’m suffering from a prostate disorder, which includes urinary problems, some bleeding and pain.

As a result of my many attempts to complain to home affairs (letters of complaint dated April 8 and 13, 2017) and my complaints to the Jamaican Consulate regarding the denial of access to medical care for the above-mentioned prostate disorders, and my many complaints concerning the unhealthy and degrading conditions of my confinement, on April 25, 2017, I was placed in solitary confinement on one meal a day. This is in violation of the prison service rules.

On April 27, 2017, I was, without any provocation on my part, assaulted, sprayed with tear gas, and beaten by officers.  After the beating, all my clothing was literally ripped off my body. I was then placed back in the isolation cell in handcuffs, without a bed or bedding, clothing or access to wash the tear gas off my face and body. In addition my left arm was broken in two places, I was forced to sleep naked on the cold concrete floor with my arms in handcuffs and the cuffs attached to a belt that was fastened around my waist, for seven days.

This was in spite of my complaints regarding the pain, etc, and my request to see a doctor regarding my broken arm and cuts. I was denied access to medical care for 24 days.

To date, all my requests to bring the matter concerning the incident of April 25 to the attention of the Jamaican Consulate and my family back in Jamaica, are being denied. I am being denied access to phone calls and writing paper.

On May 19, 2017, I verbally ‒ it was followed by a letter dated June 1, 2017 ‒ notified the authorities that I wished to see the police to give a statement against the warders who beat me and broke my arm. However, to date, the promise to call the police has not been fulfilled.

In addition to the above my mental health continues to hang unsteadily in the balance due to depression.

Today there are about 51 of us in this very small dormitory, and the noise level is always high. In addition to this, we have access to only one toilet, one shower, and not enough bed space or mattresses. As a result, some mattresses have two inmates on them.

As a result of the overcrowding, there is always an argument or a fight over the toilet, the shower, or bed space. When these fights occur the warders come in and either beat the fighters or collectively punish everybody, both the good, the bad and the ugly. One of the worst parts about this constant overcrowding is that we’re confined to the dormitory 24 hours a day, with maybe an hour of sunlight a month.

This dormitory is infested with rats, mice, lice, bed bugs, ants, cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes and wasps, just to name a few. And because we all sleep on the floor, it’s hard to avoid these vermin. Please note also, only the prison wall separates the open air kitchen from the Lusignan dump. So the infestation problem, along with dogs and cats, is there as well.

If these prison officials influence us, the inmates, through their actions, example and leadership, and if we, the inmates apply their example in our lives, would anyone want any of us to come and live in their neighbourhood when we get out of prison?

Most guys in here say, “Jamyard, this is Guyana, where nobody cares.” And maybe that’s the Guyanese world view. However, I believe that whenever the punishment gets to look worse than the crime, the punishment becomes a crime! That is unless I’m supposed to believe that in Guyana, my civil, human and constitutional rights don’t exist, at all.

Before I was sentenced, I was taken to the Diamond police station to stay over the weekend and for two days I received nothing to eat because they apparently don’t feed their prisoners, and because I didn’t have any family to bring me food, I was forced to go without. That experience and what’s going on now caused me to wonder if prison officials are under orders to save money by cutting back on everything including programmes, cleanliness, and access to medical care.

I have seen so many human rights abuses and violations since I’ve been here, that I continue to wonder where we’d all be or what life would be like if goodness was a requirement for gaining positon in this world. In any event, I’ll complete one third of my sentence, and be eligible for parole on August 16, 2017. I’d really like to go home and take care of my medical problems, because absolutely nothing is being done medically to assist me. For example, each time I go to the hospital regarding my prostate disorder, they end up doing nothing other than rescheduling me for another three months. As for my broken arm, a splint was placed on it on May 19, after an X-ray. However, 14 days later the splint was removed by another doctor. On June 16, I saw yet another doctor who viewed the latest X-ray and saw that the bones were not aligned or together. However, they continue to fail to fix the bone and put a cast on my arm. As a result, the pain is constant.

Yours faithfully,

Easton Stapleton

G654 – 16

 

Editor’s note

We sent a copy of this letter to Director of Prisons (ag) Gladwin Samuels for any comment he might have wished to make, and received the following response from him:

“Thank you for giving the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) the opportunity to offer a comment on the letter of complaint to Stabroek News by Inmate Easton Stapleton, prior to its publication.  Because Inmate Stapleton has provided so many details about his personal medical circumstances, the GPS feels obliged to respond in some detail so that the total context may be appreciated.

 

“General

“The records of the GPS show that Convicted Prisoner G 654/16 Easton Stapleton was admitted to the Georgetown Prison on August 15, 2016 for the offence of “Trafficking in Cocaine” (526 grams). Following prescribed procedures, the next day he was interviewed by a Prisoners’ Welfare Officer and then by the Medical Officer at the Georgetown Prison Infirmary.

 

“Medical treatment re prostate

“The records show that it was during this medical examination that he complained of having an enlarged prostate. The MO found sufficient evidence of same and referred him to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation where he was seen by a Urologist at the Urology Clinic on August 18, 2016. The inmate was given an appointment to attend the Urology clinic once every three months. The medication prescribed was not then available at the GPHC, hence the GPS purchased it immediately.

“Inmate Easton Stapleton was transferred from the Georgetown Prison on August 19, 2016 to the Timehri Prison. As required, he was seen by the Medical Staff on duty and his medical record was reviewed. He was re-transferred to the Georgetown Prison on August 31, 2016, and from time to time he visited the infirmary where he was treated for a common cold, cough and rash.

Inmate Easton Stapleton was subsequently transferred to the Lusignan Prison on October 11, 2016, and all procedures concerning his medical condition were faithfully followed.  He last attended clinic on September 6, 2017 where he had an ultrasound done.   He is due to visit the GPHC again on September 28, 2017.  There has been no neglect of his medical condition.  On every single occasion, the medication prescribed was either provided by the GPHC or purchased by the GPS.

 

“Prison rules and phone calls

“Editor, the Guyana Prison Service is governed by the Prison Act Chapter 11:01 of the Laws of Guyana as well as the Standing Orders that are developed to put additional systems in place for the proper management of the Service.  It is through Standing Orders that prisoners are allowed phone calls.  That matter is not included in the Prison Act.  Rules are also made from policy decisions.  Persons who break the rules are liable to be sanctioned. Therefore, Officers are not allowed to make rules just as they would like, and prisoners are certainly not allowed to do so.   Inmate Stapleton’s assertion that there are no rules is, at best, misconceived.

“As regards his complaint about his being denied phone calls, GPS records reflect that during his stay at the Lusignan Prison he received and made several phone calls.  For example, his wife called on eight (8) separate occasions (October 12; November 9 and December 7, 2016; February 8, March 23, April 20 and 25 and June 6, 2017) and he was allowed to communicate with her. These are exclusive of phone calls he made to the Jamaica High Commission.

“On April 25, 2017 Inmate Easton Stapleton was granted a telephone call by the Welfare Officer. During that call the inmate began to make a series of false statements and was cautioned to desist. He refused and continued to give false reports about his incarceration. The Welfare Officer was then forced to terminate the call. The inmate then started to make derogatory remarks to and about the Welfare Officer. He was immediately paraded before the Officer-in-Charge where he displayed very aggressive behaviour. He was cautioned, but he continued to make threatening remarks towards and physically attacked the Officers. As a result, he had to be physically restrained.

 

“Suicide threat/meals/irrational behaviour

“The inmate also mentioned that he would commit suicide.

“In the GPS, steps are taken to prevent prisoners from taking their own life. While they are exposed to counselling, they are placed in a strip cell to restrict them from having access to items to harm themselves. It was reported that the procedure was followed for Inmate Stapleton for a period of three days.  He was then placed in the Security Block for security reasons.  There he was provided with three (3) meals per day, but he ate only the lunch during those three days.

Inmate Stapleton took faeces and wrote on the cell walls.  The other inmates in the Security Block complained of the smell and the Officers were forced to remove him from that cell. He threw urine on the ranks and was aggressive towards them and had to be subdued.

 

“Broken hand

“It was during the above mentioned altercation that the inmate’s arm was fractured. Medical attention was given both at the prison and at the GPHC. A further report is to be obtained from the GPHC.

“On May 12, 2017, I visited the Lusignan Prison and Inmate Stapleton, at his request, was given the opportunity to speak to me. He raised a number of issues – mainly medical ‒ affecting him. He also indicated that he sustained injuries at the hands of staff.  I then endorsed his record that the Officer-in-Charge is to ensure that the inmate be seen by the Prison Doctor again, and I instructed that all his medication be purchased by the Prison if not available at the Government Pharmacy. At his request, I promised him to have a copy of the Prison Act Chapter 11:01 made available at the Lusignan Prison Library. Same was executed by the Officer-in-Charge the next day.

 

“Sanitation/sunlight/teargas

“Daily sanitation is done by prisoners themselves, supervised by officers to ensure that the environment is reasonably clean. The general sanitation of the prison is checked by a Sanitation Officer, the Medical Officer, Supervisors, the Officer-in-Charge and the Visiting Committee. Moreover, many prisoners, in the interest of their own health pay a lot of attention to sanitation. It is not true that the dormitory at the Lusignan Prison is infected with rats, mice, lice, bed bugs, ants, cockroaches, mosquitoes and wasps as Inmate Stapleton asserts.  Conscious of some of the spin-off effects of overcrowding, the Officer-in-Charge and staff at the Lusignan Prison pay special attention to sanitation.

“Sunlight must be provided inmates, but with adequate security in place.  Inmate Stapleton’s claim of one hour of sunlight per month is far from true. Prior to July 9, 2017 prisoners had regular sunlight and outdoor recreation.

“The Lusignan dump site is just outside the prison fence, hence major steps are taken to ensure the prison remains safe. To achieve that, regular fumigation is done, along with the sunning of beds. Prisoners also insist that others keep their bed space clean.

“There are no dogs at the Lusignan Prison.  There are ducks, pigs, sheep, chickens and cows on the farms, but away from the prison.

“The GPS has no tear gas.  Tear gas is not used in prisons except it is deployed by the police during a riot.

“Inmate Stapleton is housed in the Lewis Block which is further divided into five (5) cells. He is in a cell with a total of five (5) prisoners. While they use night pails, they have access to three toilets and four showers.

 

“Conclusion

“From my interview with Inmate Easton Stapleton at the Lusignan Prison on May 12, 2017, I gained the impression that among his main complaints were that he was not housed at the Georgetown Prison on the day of the fires there, and therefore should not be inconvenienced by any overcrowding at the Lusignan Prison, but should be sent to Jamaica to complete his sentence.  There, he seemed to feel, he would have enough space, better medical attention, easier access to his family, and more meals that he was accustomed to, supplied by his family under the self-support system.  Unfortunately, there are no such arrangements in place between Guyana and Jamaica. It must be further noted that while the GPS does not discriminate against any prisoners, it would be an international issue to deal with a Foreign National Prisoner in a way that is not in keeping with rules and regulations.

“While there is some overcrowding, which has been worsened after prisoners at the Georgetown Prison set fire to the facilities there, thus forcing the GPS to relocate the 1,018 inmates housed there, action by the Judiciary and by the Government has helped considerably, and the Government is striving strenuously to improve the situation.”

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