Opinion: Harassment

POSTED: 10/20/11 1:56 PM

When the court sentences a defendant to spend time in jail, said defendant becomes the responsibility of the state. He is entitled to human treatment, decent food, all the perks the prison system has to offer and, most of all, security and safety.

But not all prisoners are safe behind bars. Stanley Gumbs-killer Devon Otto shot two fellow inmates in the prison in Willemstad, to mention just one example of failed supervision. St. Maarten has its own troubles with keeping the residents at the Pointe Blanche prison safe.

Take for example Calniff Williams who is currently serving 15 years for murdering Basilio Bruno, also known as hairdresser Eddy, in December 2008. Williams maintains his innocence, and he will appeal the verdict on November 2.

Williams does not feel safe in Pointe Blanche. He feels so unsafe that he has asked to be put in isolation. At least the prison honored this request and Williams has been in a lone isolation cell since March. This means that he spends 23 hours a day in his cell. He does not work like other prisoners, and he does not take part in social programs. To add insult to injury, he has not seen any visitors from his native St. Vincent and the Grenadines since his incarceration.

Why does Williams not feel safe in Pointe Blanche? Because other inmates harass him about his sexual preferences.

“Everybody knows hairdresser Eddy was gay,” his attorney explained in court yesterday.

There you have it in one simple, yet devastating sentence. In the kingdom called Pointe Blanche homosexuality is not only frowned upon, it is one of the prime reasons for harassment by so-called “straight” inmates, who would, by the way, not be in prison at all if they were really straight.

Williams finally had enough of the constant harassment, so one day he threw a cup of hot tea at his tormentor Florentin Jerome. That earned him a 3-month prison sentence yesterday.

The question that remains is of course: who is the real guilty party here? Williams said, not without reason, that the prison guards could have prevented the whole incident by taking action against Jerome. But the prison guards did not do that. Instead, they let Jerome into the section where Williams thought he was safe. And then, one day, he snapped.

Of course – and Williams realizes this as well – there is no excuse for injuring someone with a cup of hot tea. He was not in court to make excuses for himself. He just wants to be left alone, and if it were up to him, he would have been transferred to the prison in Bonaire a long time ago.

It remains however disturbing that the prison system proved to be unable, or maybe even unwilling, to protect Williams against the constant harassment. That is a serious issue, and a prime example of failed supervision.

It is disheartening that the incident was not made public by the prison management. It only came to the public eye because Williams was prosecuted. We heard that the prison also punished him for his outburst of anger and frustration: his water cooker was taken away from him.

But what did the prison management do about the source of all this trouble – Florentin Jerome? And what did the prison management do about the guards who let the situation get out of control? We have heard nothing about this and yet, the prison population and other citizens (who could at some time in the future become inmates themselves) have a right to know how the prison management deals with these situations.

That Williams gets punished for throwing hot tea at someone is understood by even the man himself. But that those who contributed to this situation, including the victim, seemingly get a free pass is simply not right.

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