Twenty-two prisoners take their turn in familiar roof-top protest

By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
August 18, 2001

Twenty-two prisoners flocked to the roof of the Georgetown prison yesterday afternoon to air grievances in the latest in a series of embarrassing performances that jail authorities seem unable to prevent.

Grievances centred mainly on the lack of medical treatment for prisoners and delay in trials.

One of the roof-top prisoners, Yohan Hunte known as `Man in the Roof' because of his height, amazingly secured his release yesterday after spending just over an hour atop the jail and was greeted with loud cheers as he joined the crowd which built up along D'Urban Street outside the prison.

This was the largest batch of inmates to use the prison roof as a platform to ventilate their concerns to the public.

Only recently, on July 12, sixteen of them flooded onto the roof to make their cases heard. Hunte was also among that set.

Yohan Hunte called `Man in the Roof' (left) protesting atop the Georgetown Prison yesterday shortly before he was released. (Ken Moore photo)

The prisoners complained of being given one loaf of bread per week, one roll of toilet paper every four months and a daily diet of black-eyed peas and rice. Further, the food was cooked without oil.

The prisoners yesterday who protested were Troy Greene, Gary Moses, Felix Da Silva, Seepaul Ramlochan, Ram Sundyal, Delon Accrah, Somal Dial, Premprakash Thakur, Sherwin Wills, Bowan, Troy Felix, Troy Heyligar, Lennox Baird, Dharmendra, Troy Anderson, Omesh Beharry, Paul Richards, Sherwin Saul, Oliver Franklyn, Paul Dinsey, Ravindra Dookwah and Hunte.

The men began their action at about 13:45 hours and called it off at around 19:00 hours, setting another record for the length of time on the roof.

Superintendent of Prisons Andre Howard could only say there was no abuse of prisoners by prison officers when questioned yesterday outside the prison. He asserted that the Georgetown Prisons was a dynamic institution which did not tolerate abuse of prisoners. He declined to comment further.

Da Silva, 20, said he was in prison for three years on a charge of murder but was still awaiting trial. He stated he had to intention of staging an escape but the situation was getting overbearing because he had a baby who he has never seen.

Dookwah said he was imprisoned in 1997 and was transferred from the Mazaruni Prisons to Georgetown because he was accused of wanting to escape for which he claimed he was beaten.

Dial is serving 12 years for robbery under arms and has completed four years. He said he was beaten by the police and has complained to the authorities about the need for medical treatment but his pleas have been ignored.

Accrah, 21, is on a murder charge and has already spent two years in prison. According to him, he was still awaiting trial.

Ramlochan claimed he was beaten by a prison officer and was forced to swallow a sewing needle. He said he underwent three operations since but is still suffering from pains and no medical treatment was being rendered to him.

Baird has spent three years in jail so far for murder but his trial is not finished.

Franklyn, 27, complained of intestinal pains after allegedly being beaten by the police.

Wilson was incarcerated since he was 17 years in 1998 for murder and has not been tried.

Among the other complainants were Saul, 24, murder; Dinzey, 28, simple larceny; Richards, 20, break and enter; and Heyligar, 25, robbery under arms.

Thakur, 38, who is serving two seven-year sentences running concurrently, said he spent four months in the prison infirmary without receiving medical treatment though he was admitted there by the medical officer. He explained he was shot through his waist and the bullet had passed through his liver. He also has goitre and suffers from nerve problems. Thakur, who lived at Skeldon Line Path, Corentyne, before being jailed, stated he was seriously considering suicide because of his condition and the lack of attention by the prison authorities.

The prisoners demanded an audience with Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, to let him know first-hand of their situation.

Two placard-bearing women highlighted the prisoners' plight briefly outside the prison at around 18:00 hrs before rejoining the crowd.

A United Kingdom Prison Reform Team had found that Guyana's prisons continued to be overcrowded and hampered by a system which failed to offer adequate alternatives to incarceration.

The team found there were poor conditions for staff and prisoners, perceived infringement of basic human rights, and minimal scope for constructive work with prisoners to help them resettle upon release.