Source: Sharlene Hendricks (Staff Reporter, The Jamaica Observer) | Date: Sunday, December 15, 2019

Children React to Seeing Their Daddies in Prison

BY Sharlene Hendricks
Staff reporter

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Audrey Phillips was standing in a long line of women and children waiting to see loved ones incarcerated at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre on Thursday, where the Lay Magistrates of Jamaica, Kingston Chapter, had organised a Family Day for inmates for the festive season.

“I try to bring them up every time they have a Family Day,” said Phillips, who had travelled from Montego Bay with her 10-year-old granddaughter who had not seen her father since August of last year.

Holding a small wooden dresser that her father had just given her, the little girl complained that she did not get enough time to spend with him.  “Mi did feel like fi cry when them say 15 minutes alone,” she said.

Her father, Joseph Mitchell, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2015 for a crime Phillips insists her son did not commit.

“They sentenced him just two days before his 25th birthday for a shooting he didn't do,” Phillips stated.  “He is my second of two boys and no matter where I go, or who I write, I get no help.  The last person I asked for help tell me 'him get sentence already and nuttn cyah do'.  So my son is to spend 35 years behind bars and come out at 60 years old to see his child for something he didn't do,” she woman opined.

“She cries day and night.  I had to move her from her school because she could not function. She went to school and tell di teacher that she not doing any work until she see her father.  She was there the day he was sentenced, and she cried,” said Phillips.

The woman explained that she still trying to find a way to her get her son's sentence reduced.

“I wish I had an avenue or someone to tell me where to go to either free my son or reduce his sentence because we have to travel all the way from MoBay to Kingston to see him and his daughter needs her father in her life,” said Phillips.

When the inmates arrived, their children and other relatives greeted them with hugs and kisses, presenting food and Christmas cards in an emotional moment.

“He's my brother and I haven't seen him for a year.  I am his daughter's caregiver and the baby is three years old and he doesn't know his daddy.  I have to be saying 'see daddy deh',” said one woman.

“Mi a cry fi all a dem, not him alone.  When mi see them come and run go hug up them loved one, mi just feel bad fi them,” she said.

One inmate, whose spouse and five children, including a pair of two-year-old twin girls, could hardly hold back tears and he embraced his children.

“Second time mi a see mi daughter them, words can't explain,” said the inmate.  “I'm in here for life with 24 years before parole but I am appealing the case.  It's a very emotional moment and it gives me hope,” he explained.

His spouse told the Sunday Observer that the oldest of the five children, two teenage boys, need their father now more than ever.

“They are taking it very hard because they are only 16 and 14 years old.  They are in high school; one attends Wolmer's Boys' and the other one goes to Jamaica College, and they need their father around,” the mother said.

“I try to encourage them by telling them that the greatest thing is that their father is still alive and they are able to come visit him,” she added.

The couple's oldest son could hardly hold back his tears as the brief 15 minutes with his father came to an end.

“I'm barely holding on but I'm strong,” the young man said.  “My father means everything to me.  I have been with my dad since birth.  Everything it's my dad, so it's hard to lose him,” he added.

The Christmas reunion was the brainchild of the Steadman Fuller, custos of Kingston, who told the Sunday Observer that the aim of the arrangement is to promote rehabilitation through connection.

Presently, inmates are allowed two visits per month, which Fuller argued could be increased to better facilitate the rehabilitation of inmates.

“The more often an inmate can have positive contact with loved ones the better; you give a person hope to want to come out.  We believe that it is important for us to continue to create all avenues for persons to make connection because even if some of them are going to be in a long time, the human spirit still needs contact, and we want to maintain the inmates' humanity,” said Fuller.

At total of 350 inmates received visits, with approximately 500 family members showing up for the Family Day, which is in its ninth year.

“The aim of it is really to promote family, connection, and rehabilitation.  The families and children of inmates need these kinds of avenues to connect with their loved which in the end will help them rehabilitate,” said Fuller.

After their visit had ended, another mother, who broke down in tears, told the Sunday Observer that her son who is only three years old was attached to his father who is also serving a life sentence.

“Him spend six years in a court and a when him a 27 them give him life and him have him son and is me alone.  This is my first and only child and him don't have nuh father.  Mi haffi tell him say him gone a work or mi tell him say daddy deh pon di road,” said the woman.