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Hot bread behind bars

Published:Saturday | October 11, 2014 | 9:35 PMChristopher Serju
Christopher Serju Photo This woman puts the finishing touches on one of the pieces made in the Clothing and Textile department.
Christopher Serju Photo Fort Augusta Two inmates take the freshly baked bread from the oven.
Christopher Serju Photo Jellery created by inmates on display at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre.
Christopher Serju Photo Students respond to a question from Correctional Officer/teacher Ethel Morgan during an English Language class at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre in St. Catherine.

I was already impressed with the range of skills-training activities available to inmates at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre in St Catherine, which houses only female prisoners.

Having stopped in on an English language class, after visiting the sewing department, passing by the home economics department, looking in on a hairdressing class beside the salon offering pedicures, facials and manicures, I headed to the bakery. That's where the visit became personal.

After explaining the role of inmates in prepping the dough, allowing adequate time for it to set before baking, the correctional officer in charge asked a trick question: "You want to taste one of the peg bread?"

Without giving me time to digest the full import of what I heard, she upped the ante: "Big or small one?"

I was caught in a dilemma but not for long. "Big one," I promptly answered.

Pleasant surprise

I am not sure who was more surprised - the inmates or me but they sprang into action and before long had sourced a slice of cheese and a sandwich was presented to me, with apologies for the fact that it was wrapped in 'prison foil', that is, brown paper.

I was not prepared for how hot the bread was but used the 'prison foil' to squeeze the cheese and proceeded to enjoy one of my favourite snacks, not enjoyed since high school days when we would pool our money to buy the bread fresh from the oven at 'TG' bakery in Highgate, St Mary.

It was just about lunchtime and as most of the inmates headed to the canteen, it made me feel better that I was not the only one enjoying lunch on the move, as we headed to the computer lab.

There, I was impressed by the testimony of the women, most of whom admitted that while they knew absolutely nothing about computers before being sent to Fort Augusta they are now feeling a sense of achievement in learning how to type.

I couldn't help but be moved by one woman who spoke about her anticipation of enjoying a much better rapport with her children on the topic of information technology, when she completes her prison sentence.

All the time, munching on my first meal at the Fort Augusta and marvelling at how well the compound's thick walls and relatively remote location hid so much of the excellent work being done to prepare these women for their re-entry into the society.

jewellery course

The work of the women was on display during the closing ceremony for an exhibition of craft created by inmates who had completed the beaded jewellery and accessories course designed and certified by the HEART Trust/NTA and sponsored by Stand Up Jamaica.

Following the visit, making my way back to the gate in the company of a correctional officer, I recalled the words of one inmate as she stood by the door of a classroom I had exited to allow the camera crew from another media house to complete shooting.

She did not turn to face to me, but on reflection I think that was by design and her words were definitely intended for my ears.

"Unnu is the first people that come in here and treat we like we a somebody. Nuff a di people that come here gwaan like them nuh rate we, like we a no smaddy but unnu different."

Still savouring my first meal at Fort Augusta, I found her words to be food for thought.