By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
The familiar scent of human filth permeating the air is what Charles Rolle remembers as a constant during his 15-year stay at the Bahamas Department of Corrections (BDC).
Rolle was incarcerated after being found guilty of transporting large amounts of marijuana and cocaine from Jamaica, through The Bahamas and on to the United States. He spent many years on remand waiting to be tried in court, then was eventually convicted and the Maximum Security centre of the corrections facility became his home.
After a letter appeared in The Tribune earlier this month by a former prisoner detailing allegations of horrific treatment meted out to inmates at BDC, Insight sat with Rolle to see for ourselves the full picture of what a week in his life was like at the facility.
“I don’t even know where to start off, but I can tell you that the first thing I remember waking up to each morning is the smell of ---- in my nostrils,” he said graphically remembering his imprisonment.
“It was three of us in a cell so that alone should tell you. We conditioned our minds to deal with the state of what we had to deal with.
“Most of us are niggaz who had guns held to our heads before or got shot or was stabbed, based on the life that led us to being in prison, so we were kind of hard in our minds and that’s the only way we dealt with the situation in Fox Hill Prison. Imagine having to push out ---- in a slop bucket while two other niggaz standing there watching you. And, that’s every day... all day.”
Rolle said he was released from prison two months ago, and is now in search of a job, but he has not been successful so far because no one wants to hire a convict. He had been a peddler and dealer of drugs from the age of 13. He asked not to be photographed because he plans to restart his bid on employment, this time leaving out the fact that he was incarcerated. He said it’s his only hope for employment.
He recounts the “joys” he experienced while locked up and what he refers to as “hate crimes” against convicts served up by prison officers. These sentiments were the same as those of the letter writer to The Tribune.
“This is like real hate against us,” Rolle said. “You might think I am joking, but I am dead serious. This is real hate! They performed hate crimes against us. The men would piss us off… like do things to provoke us and then beat us and perform all kind of degrading acts on us. There is only one prison officer that I can think of that treated us like human beings. He knows we did bad things to be there, but he did his job in trying to make us better and he treated us fair.
“I’m gonna be honest with you, we had our moments of joy, too. We had to do something to make it, so many nights or afternoons we would light up our smokes, go off to another place consciously and ease the tension from living like animals.
“That place is the pits! I know you want to ask me so I might as well tell you… plenty prison officers, the young ones, were on our payrolls. Couple of them got caught but hey, we got weed and coke (cocaine) on a regular from them and our friends took care of them on the outside. They got us straight with everything … drugs, phones, gals! That’s how we survived!”
What Rolle described was like the movie, “Groundhog Day” where the same thing was repeated, over and over. He said life at BDC was like a bad ritual where nothing changed except a rape or beating.
“They talk about rehabilitation, but it’s obvious they want us to fail,” Rolle said. “They try to break us down further and we come in there as broken men already. We do the same foolishness over and over and over with no results. We live like pigs! The place where they cook in these massive pots, using a stick to stir the pots is just feet away from where human mess is on the ground. But hey... if you don’t eat you will starve to death.
“There were many weeks when organisations or companies came there and donated things and the inmates never saw what they donated. We believe the staff took the goods home because we never got them. I came out of Maximum Security to a less secure place, but it still was terrible. That place needs to be rebuilt with other people running it because we are just caged like animals, beaten. The food has maggots sometimes from being left out to flies. It is slop and terrible!
“It’s doing the same thing over and over and no one is talking to you seriously about your health or wellbeing. Then you have to worry about who sleeping next to you because at any point you could wind up someone’s girlfriend or have to do what a woman does. You could end up getting hold down and raped. When we complain about someone raping us they laugh at us and don’t do anything. All kind of men got AIDS from getting raped in there.”
The Tribune tried to contact BDC Chaplain Apostle Leon Wallace and BDC Commissioner Charles Murphy to comment to no avail. Apostle Leon Wallace said he could not speak to prison issues without the written consent of BDC’s Commissioner and when The Tribune called BDC, the operator informed that the Commissioner’s office closed at 4pm and he could not be reached after that.
Rolle has challenged the media to press the Commissioner for a tour of the facility to prove his story. He wants the media to speak to inmates to verify his claims of the beatings and rapes.
“I don’t believe the Minister of National Security knows how that place is being run and how bad it really is,” he continued.
“The Minister needs to come there along with the press and interview the prisoners. I don’t even like to hear the word convict or ex-convict because of how badly I was beaten before by an officer and he made me say over and over that I was a convict.
“He beat me so bad that I passed out and then he dragged me back to my cell, bloody. He made me say all kind of things about myself and when I told him, ‘big man I ain’t saying that,’ he stomped me. These things happen on a regular in there. One time I thought I could get out of it by faking that I was crazy. I thought they would take me to Sandilands, but they made me stay in the cell screaming and carrying on until I realised that was not working. They didn’t care! Plenty people in there are really crazy, but they get no help.”
Asked if he feels he was rehabilitated and if there were any educational tools afforded him there to better himself, Rolle said no. He insisted there needs to be an investigation into BDC to reveal what really goes on there.
Commissioner Murphy received his appointment on January 29, 2019, and the facility went from Her Majesty’s Prison, aka Fox Hill Prison, to Bahamas Department of Corrections.
“These people are not serious about any rehabilitation,” Rolle continued. “We are animals to them! I remember one time they had a man who came there and they said he was in charge of training and educating the inmates. This man spoke more about himself and what college degrees he had than any training. All day he talked about how educated he was and he had this and that degrees and who he was.
“This went on for a little while. He also made it obvious he thought he was better than us. He used to talk down to us a lot when he wasn’t bragging about himself and what all he had in life. We showed up in the room one day where he used to run on with us and we noticed he didn’t show up. After that we were told he was moved. We never saw him again.
“They had some other programme that the inmates were in and had a graduation and they brought the press there to the prison and the next thing families were upset cause everyone’s face was on camera. So everyone in the country saw who was in jail from TV and the newspapers. People like you exposed them.
“You ask me what a week was like in my life at the prison. Well I can answer that in one sentence. A week in my life in prison was ------- hell!”
Ironically, BDC’s mission statement reads, “The Bahamas Department of Corrections, in accordance with universally accepted standards, contributes to the protection of society by optimising staff development, while maintaining inmates in a controlled, safe, secure and humane environment that encourages rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society.”
After many reports similar to those of Rolle’s allegations, Amnesty International visited the prison and filed a report to include the following:
• Unacceptably overcrowded accommodation was evidenced in all prison units, seriously affecting the living conditions for inmates and the working conditions for staff. Cells were dark and fetid, and many prisoners slept on cardboard.
• Many prisoners are still subject to the degrading practice of slopping out while the prison still has inadequate plumbing and drainage system.
• With at least one death reportedly resulting from inadequate medical care, and several reported suicides at the prison, access to physical and mental health care in prison remains chronically lacking. There are high rates of infectious diseases including TB. Prisoners suffering from AIDS, HIV or TB do not receive adequate medical care or drugs. The risk of cross-contamination for infectious diseases such as TB to other prisoners and prison workers is dangerously high.
• At the time of the visit there was only one full-time doctor for a population of over 1,000, and no psychiatrist. Psychiatric care is virtually non-existent.
• There have been repeated, unconfirmed, serious allegations of sexual abuse and rape which do not appear to have been adequately investigated by the authorities.
Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation with its headquarters in the United Kingdom focused on human rights. The organization says it has more than seven million members and supporters around the world.
Although this report was done in November 2003, based on what Rolle said and the letter to The Tribune’s editor, it appears that nothing much has changed.