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Prison not bed of roses

A BRITON who spent three years imprisoned in Barbados has written a graphic and detailed account of his jail time at Glendairy and Harrison Point prisons, on a website associated with a support service for foreign prisoners.

Terrence George Donaldson, who was convicted on August 20, 2002, and sentenced to four years in prison for trafficking and attempting to export cocaine, was recently released from Harrison Point, St Lucy.

Now back in his homeland, Donaldson reveals all about what he witnessed during his term behind bars in Barbados.

In this, the third and final part of an edited version of his story, we conclude with Donaldson's recollection of the second day of the riot at Glendairy, the removal of the inmates to a short-term shelter in St Philip, and then onto the temporary prison at Harrison Point.

The website, which was established in 1995, is a volunteer prison advocacy service for families whose relatives are interned in a foreign country.

At the end of yesterday's instalment, fires were still being set around the prison compound, according to Donaldson, and shots were being fired.

DAY 2 OF THE RIOT: The day wore on. This was now the second day of the riot; March 30. Bit by bit the men formed themselves into loose clusters. Someone had the idea of salvaging some of the beds from B and C Corridors and several of us stretched out on these as best we could.

I saw a group of young Rastamen standing in a circle doing a ceremony of some kind. They were facing the front of the prison with their hands formed into what I later came to be told by one of them as "the Six Pointed Star" hand position.

They were reciting a mantra . . . "Bubba Bingi . . . Bubba Bingi . . ." over and over again. Behind them they had erected a picture of Haile Selassie in uniform.

They were consecrating the fall of the prison as a symbol of the end of Babylon. Just then an interesting thing happened. Inset into the very front of the face of the prison was a very old clock, whose hands had been frozen in place for many decades.

Its hands had been stuck at 8:20 since anyone could remember. Just then it came crashing down to the ground!

It was almost as if time had unfrozen itself!

The night came and the atmosphere inside the wrecked building became incredibly spooky. It became like a lunar landscape, a battlefield, or a film set somewhere. Surrealistic. Here and there people were dotted around in small groups, talking, standing, sitting, sleeping, if they could.

From time to time little glows of red fire would spring up in the midst of them where someone had lit up a spliff, or, worse, was smoking some of the massive amounts of crack/cocaine that were floating around openly.

People's reactions were starting to become strange. The entire spirit of the experience began to change.

People were becoming paranoid and fearful. It was beginning to dawn on them what they had done. That there would now be consequences to their actions. That they were going to have to pay for the damage done.

Faces would appear around corners and dart back again. The look of extreme suspicion began to appear on more and more faces as the drug usage continued. A mobile crane lifted its head above the perimeter of the prison wall and glared over the top like a dragon. Affixed to it was a spotlight.

On the platform were armed soldiers, who every now and again would point their rifles at something that was moving in the main prison and fire.

I preferred to sit by myself out in the open. Even I started to get afraid that certain people wanted me dead.

I kept away from everyone, especially the British inmates who I became convinced were part of a conspiracy.

We were eventually corralled together, strip-searched and taken, one by one, through a series of gates into the two large cages at the back of the prison, directly opposite the medical block.

These had only been constructed a few months before, originally with a view to giving the men from D and E and F and G Corridors the opportunity to exercise periods.

We were each given a meal, on a paper plate, and then led into one of the two large cages. I was one of the first to get into my cage. There was one chemical toilet, in the middle of the enclosure.

As the night wore on the guards brought some 200 or so into this space. As the sun came up you looked out at a beautiful dawn, over a sea of bodies. There was no protection from the sun either, so as it rose in the sky and its rays intensified, men started ripping off shirts, ripping pieces of cloth and hastily erecting improvised shelters.

Pieces of cloth were woven together and became tents and clusters of men gathered under these to escape the fierceness of the sun. Luckily I had on my denim cap, which I reinforced with a vest under the top.

Over the next few days while we were in the cages, every now and again a guard would grab a big pile of water bottles and pass them over to us. In particular, the efforts of prison officer Sobers was appreciated. Food became an issue, and some of the men were just plain greedy, going back again and again to collect a food parcel, three or more times.

That they might be depriving someone else of their food they just didn't seem to care. Inside this compound we spread ourselves out in rows upon the ground. For under my head, I managed to find a small space of cylinder which I shared with another five men.

Three of us on one side, three on the other, alternately, like sardines. That night, for the first time in years, I could look up and see the stars and moon over my head as they made their way from one side of the sky to the other.

It was one of the most magical nights of my life. All around me people walked around, as if they were out at some carnival or a market. While above two bright stars and then a gibbous moon sailed across the wide expanse of sky like a fleet of ships crossing the ocean.

The following morning it rained. Heavily.

Men were rushing around trying to find a piece or two of cardboard with which to shelter. It was faintly ridiculous – standing under a small square of cardboard with three other men trying to avoid the rain – but it worked.

The cardboard we let dry out and used again, when it continued to rain later and then the next day.

But some of the men had received a right soaking. Colds started to break out, although it wasn't until we were shifted to the big warehouses at Six Roads that this became apparent.

For the few days that we were sitting in the sun and the rain in those cages, the regional security force was busy putting up barbed wire and reinforcing the defenses at a set of warehouses in Six Roads, St Peter.

A cavity search came next, in which we were each forced onto our knees – naked – and forced to use our hands to pull back the cheeks of our arses whilst an officer looked inside.

This was to make sure that there wasn't any hidden contraband as we were transferred, handcuffed, onto the buses which took us out of the ruined prison buildings of Glendairy.

With warning lights flashing and sirens wailing we were driven at high speed through the many roads of the island, to where these grim, improvised fortresses stood, awaiting our arrival. As we disembarked, we were again searched.

Since my release, I have only ever once seen something similar to the sight which I saw as I entered this place. It was like the Dome building used by the emergency services in New Orleans, United States, for the people who were victims of Hurricane Katrina.

There were beds laid out in rows, and to acquire a sleeping space was now the game of the day. You really had to know people, and have back-up, to be able to take a bed and hold onto it. Otherwise you had little chance.

I myself settled for a collection of pieces of cardboard which I put together – in the end like a jigsaw – onto the ground to sleep upon.

At night there was quite a breeze blowing. My sleeping spot was right near the inside toilets and showers. I got around this by getting hold of a big piece of plastic which was covering a new bed that came in and used this as a sleeping bag.

It was brilliant, keeping me as warm as toast throughout the entire two weeks we were to spend under these conditions.

The food situation was chronic at first, often being given out in a "couldn't care less" way by certain guards who seemed intent on provoking possible friction amongst prisoners. Eventually, though, things normalised and orderly queue lines were formed.

The prisoners even began forming their own hierarchy, as well, something that I personally found very encouraging. Brutal Bob, Tanty, and Jet-Lee were amongst others that brought order – and hope – to many of us still traumatised by what had happened.

But then "the purges" began.

By purges I mean "wash offs", that is, systematic beatings of large numbers of prisoners by the various gangs that were now roving around unhindered. There was now no constraint on their activities.

Soldiers with rifles

The guards were keeping us all penned up like huge herds of animals and not risking coming past the grills through which they could see us. Even the food and drink packets were handed out so as not to have to touch – or be touched – by any of us.

Up till this point the men had amused themselves with playing on improvised chess and draught sets, or playing a kind of five-a-side football made out of rolled-up paper. On a humorous note, there was even a wheelchair race from time to time, with different people sitting in them and others pushing.

Then, there had been a progression to bare-knuckle boxing matches. The main rule here was no punches to the face.

It was the night after the day when oranges and bananas had been given out that the real trouble began. After the fruit had been delivered, many people started to scrape the inside of the skins off their fruit.

This they then dried in the thin rays of the sun that actually streamed down from the ceiling onto the floor, throughout the day. They would have to get up and move their skins as the sun's ray moved across the floor, but by the end of the day they were ready to "roll", which is precisely what they did.

They rolled these skins up as a kind of herb, using the white paper from the food bags as a skin. From a "thunder box" which two guys smuggled in, they were able to produce a light.

Then, great heavy clouds of this obnoxious smoking mixture were filling the air. Even being around while it got smoked gave a slightly "weird" feel and look to everything.

Earlier in the day teams of men had been busy in the toilets sharpening up the scores of thin shards that one of their number had been successful in breaking off from one of the internal security gates.

There was a platform above which was screened off from which the soldiers could look down on the entire space, and there were, by now, some ten to 20 soldiers actually doing that.

Nervously fingering their rifles, they were very uneasy at what they were seeing.

Then the hunt was on and about a dozen men led a charge towards some men that they clearly knew. These men were trampled to the ground and beaten mercilessly. It went on night after night. You could hear men's ribs crack under the rain of hammer blows and kicks.

Some men tried to fight back, but this just resulted in an even heavier beating. The trick was, if you found yourself "selected", make a run for the inner cage area which led up to the entrance gateway.

It was a semi-circled area which unofficially became designated as a refuge-zone, or at least relatively so. I saw people getting knifed, eyes gouged, bones mash up, hardly able to stand let alone walk, in the end dragging themselves towards this area, where they were left in relative peace.

Sometimes, though, their tormentors returned to dish out further punishments, such as forcing two men to fight together, or both to get a heavier beating. Many had their heads pushed down the toilets or banged repeatedly on walls, or just beaten again and again.

For the first two or three nights these "wash-outs" continued unabated, with their victims still lying strewn in front of the exit gates.

No-one had as yet been taken to hospital. The guards had no orders, it seemed, for dealing with events such as these. All in all, I saw about 80 men being taken away to the hospital in a single shift, groaning, crying, many of them having to be dragged out by burly guards, before being handcuffed and trussed into the bus.

I remember Lt Col. John Nurse coming round one evening to give a pep talk to the men, which wasn't totally reassuring. Mia Mottley, the Attorney-General, also came round and made a speech, which was addressed to the men in the adjacent hall, but we, in ours, could hear her and the muffled applause she drew.

An evening or two after the "wash-outs" started we heard the sound of three rifle shots and later discovered that Packman had been shot dead and Bullets was wounded in the neck.

The word was that these two had been ordered to stop stabbing the other prisoners. Although it wasn't verbally expressed, there was an undercurrent that it was high time these intimidators were shot.

This shooting seemed to cool off the perpetrators and the "wash-offs" slackened off, then finally died out.

Going to Harrison Point

We were about two to three weeks in Six Roads. Then the word was out that we were off to some former United States Naval base. It sounded from the descriptions like a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp.

When we got there, this is exactly what we did find it to be like. Right on the side of the sea, with rings of razor wire running around it, John Nurse had placed around it a series of bright lamps, lighting up the entire complex, all night long.

I arrived at D building and was placed upstairs on Level 2 in Cell 13, right at the end, on the left.

There seemed to be very few prison officers around. Mind you, Glendairy always seemed to suffer from that problem. Even on exercise days you were lucky to see even one or two guards. Sometimes it actually got lonely without them.

I found myself inside what looked like that infamous picture of a slave ship.

You know, the one where you're looking down on all the people that have been stacked in like sardines. The cell was about 20 feet long and 12 feet wide, but inside were crammed another 25 men. This number, over my final four months of my sentence, varied up and down slightly.

In the corner were three buckets, which were emptied out twice a day.

If the guard was late in opening up in the morning it meant problems as the buckets tended to get full after a certain point. Some of the men would get desperate when this point was reached.

Most of the so-called disciplinary problems at Harrison Point that I saw stemmed directly from some staffers deliberately being pro-active when it came to bucket times, whilst maintaining a thin veneer of "reasonableness".

Men were denied access to medical facilities, despite having huge rashes – gaping sores sometimes – and screaming out in extreme pain. Sometimes an aspirin or two might be given out, depending on whether the prisoner begged hard enough. The section I was in became designated at the chicken pox area, as this infection decided to break itself out in my cell.

As men became infected, as they did throughout the entire complex of several buildings, they were brought into this little sealed-off area.

Some of the men became nearly unconscious with it. The pain, the irritation, must have been incredible, given the huge sores that were opening all over their bodies, particularly their private parts, under their arms, under their feet, even under their tongues.

They were given the scantiest attention, even from someone who came round once, wearing a mask and barely even looking at the men's faces. It was a sick mockery.

At night I could hear some of the men, particularly from neighbouring cells crying out like babies from their agony of what they had. I saw some of these sores and to me it looked like shingles, only really bad versions.

In this position they were forced to stay for days, often without food or water for the duration of their stay.

The heat inside these containers was supposed to be fierce by day, freezing by night. Prisoners were usually given a beating as they were brought in, and then sprayed with CS gas.

When I was released I saw a whole row of these containers lined up, one after the other, like trains waiting at a railway station, with little doors cut into their sides. It was reminiscent of something out of Hitler's Germany – the trains they used to transport the Jews.

  • South American Prisons Information
  • Press barred from prison inquiry
    THE PRELIMINARY INQUIRY into charges arising out of the burning of Glendairy Prisons continued yesterday minus the Press.

    On Monday the special court presided over by Magistrate Deborah Holder got under way in a section of the prison at Station Hill, St Michael.

    That session was opened to the Press, but yesterday when a news team turned up, warders at the gate said they had no instructions about allowing the Press in.

    It was exactly one year ago, March 29, that fire broke out at the lone jail as prisoners began protests that ran for days. They were eventually shifted to different areas of the island before they were moved to the temporary location at Harrison Point, St Lucy.

    Monday's sitting heard from prisoners in relation to accusations against Leroy Dennis Snagg who, along with Milton Esajas, are charged separately with destroying Her Majesty's Prisons, along with others, by fire. (AC)

    Prison court open to Press

    THE PRESS is free to sit in on the special court hearing criminal charges stemming from the burning of Glendairy Prisons in March last year.

    Magistrate Deborah Holder made it clear yesterday that the court was similar to the other Magistrates' Courts and therefore the Press had access.

    On Tuesday when a news team turned up at the former prison in Sation Hill, St Michael, a section of which has been converted to a courtroom, it was turned away by warders at the gate.

    No problem

    But yesterday, the one-year anniversary of the fire, Magistrate Holder said there was no problem with the Press sitting in on the hearings.

    The court dealt with the charges of prisoner Irone Cyril Bascombe, 39; Leroy Daniel Snagg, 39; Victor McDonald Chandler, 32, and Anderson Dennis Goodman, 31.

    Bascombe is charged with destroying Her Majesty's Prison by fire on March 29, again on March 30 and damaging a computer belonging to the Crown on March 29.

    Snagg faces two arson charges – one from March 29 and the other on March 30. Chandler's charge is arson and so is Goodman's.

    After hearing from seven witnesses the court concluded just after 3 p.m. (AC)

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