Fox Hill Prison Bahamas…Again
August 06, 2004
Russian novelist and prisoner Fyodor Dostoevsky said, "the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” I agree with Dostoevsky and using our civilization yardstick, Fox Hill Prison, we must honestly conclude that we are a very, very uncivilized society. Yes, the conditions at Fox Hill Prison tell a truer story of our degree of civilization than the other cosmetic factors we use to try to convince ourselves otherwise.
Approximately one year ago, I wrote an article in this column on Fox Hill Prison and lamented about the inhumane, uncivilized and disgraceful conditions under which inmates are incarcerated and prison officers work. While there have been some commendable improvements under the ministerial administration of The Hon. Cynthia “Mother” Pratt, the adjectives I used back then to describe the conditions at Fox Hill Prison are still applicable: inhumane, uncivilized and disgraceful. Today I add another: shameful. Yes, the conditions at Fox Hill prison are shameful…shameful for the inmates housed there (regardless of their crime or charge), the officers who work there and the general public who visit there (especially family members).
On a recent occasion while visiting in the Maximum Security section of the prison, human waste was being taken out in large garbage bags (a daily routine), some of which leaked on the floor, a few feet away from where I was. The odor was so unbearable that a conscientious officer offered me a nose and mouth dust mask but I declined, since it was not being offered to others present. Instead, I elected to endure the stubborn stench that resisted generous applications of raw disinfectants poured on the floor. I reasoned that if inmates and officers could endure this daily punishment (some for more than 2 decades), I could endure it for one hour.
The tragedy about this is that far too many in our society, members of the government and opposition included, are indifferent about it. They see the conditions at Fox Hill Prison as normal and just punishment for inmates (even those not yet convicted of any crime). Sadly, in their aim to punish prison inmates, they also punish prison officers who have to work under such conditions. In my view, prison officers at Fox Hill Prison deserve “true hardship allowance pay” because of the indirect punishment they endure each day. This is especially true for those officers whose lot it is to work in the Maximum Security section.
Normally when the topic of prison reform is raised, the first excuse offered is “we don’t have the money.” But is this true? Is this the real reason for Fox Hill Prison being what former Member of Parliament Norman Solomon rightly called “our Black Calcutta”? The answer to both questions is a resounding no! First of all, many reforms needed at Fox Hill prison require no money to be spent so why are they not implemented? To my mind, the refusal to make reforms that do not require money is proof that the “we don’t have the money” excuse is exactly that…an excuse, and a poor one at that.
How much money does it take to adopt the attitude that the men and women at Fox Hill Prison (regardless of their crime or charge) are human beings created in God’s image and likeness, and to begin treating them as such?
In addition to reforms that require no money, there are those that require little money. For example, how much does it cost to fix or replace the motor on the main gate at Fox Hill Prison? If it were not so serious, it would be laughable to watch prison officers walk up to an automatic gate and manually open and close it every time a vehicle arrives and departs. I have personally observed officers braving the pouring rain and sweltering heat to pull that heavy “automatic” gate that shouts its own message about the lack of resolve to better the conditions at Fox Hill Prison. That message is: “Look at how we treat prison officers- so just imagine how we treat inmates!” Is it that we can’t do better or we refuse to do better?
The Greatest Tragedy
Perhaps the greatest tragedy about Fox Hill Prison is we have allowed its subnormal conditions to become normal for us. Having become medicated to its sub normality, lawyers and pastors visit there without alarm. Parliamentarians and politicians likewise generally show no concern. For them and us as a society, we see it as normal for 3 men to be crammed into a one-man cell that simultaneously serves as a bedroom (with some sleeping on cardboard), a bathroom (with one shared “slop bucket”), a dining room and living room. I’ve been told that it is not unusual for one person to be eating his meal when nature calls his cell mate to use the “slop bucket” that has been already been used repeatedly and will not be emptied until the next day.
Can’t we do better than having our brothers and sisters treated worse than some of us treat our animals? While I would agree that some of the individuals being so treated have done much worse to the victims of their crimes, it is no justification for their sub-human treatment at Fox Hill Prison. If as a society we feel that such ill treatment is justified then, in my view, we are criminals of another kind.
So while our government globetrots to international events and forums and splurge tax dollars to impress ourselves- and the rest of the world, Fox Hill Prison mocks us and reminds us of our true degree of civilization. And the longer we ignore it the more it mocks us.
Cedric Moss serves as Senior Pastor at Kingdom Life World Outreach Centre. Commentary and feedback may be directed to: email@example.com
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