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In their bid to escape, they shot dead Prison Officer Troy Williams, 19, and critically injured female Prison Officer, Roxanne Whinfield.
Williams, who was on duty at the main gate of the prison, refused to hand over the keys to the bandits. Instead, he threw the keys back into the prison compound. Incensed by his actions, the inmates fatally shot him.
Williams’ act of valour, Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine later acknowledged, averted a greater fiasco in the prison compound on that day.
Recounting the scenario as he gave a tribute in memory of the fallen officer at his funeral service in his hometown New Amsterdam, one week later, the Director of Prisons noted: “He died a hero! …Had he not done what he did, a lot more prisoners would have escaped, as I understand there were about 24 of them” [attempting to escape].
The Prison Chief said that Williams’ death has left a vacuum within the Prison Service, adding that the young officer’s death was not something that was supposed to happen.
Williams was accorded full military honours. His burial was preceded by two funeral services at his hometown Stanleytown - one outside his home, organised by the Stanleytown Peace Council of which he was a member, and another at the Grace Assembly of God Church, Main Street, New Amsterdam. All concurred that Troy died ‘a hero’.
Representative of the Stanleytown Peace Council, Mr. Robert Ferdinand recalled that Williams had served the Stanleytown Peace Council faithfully from its inception in August, 1999, until he left to become a member of the Prison Service.
The letter of recommendation he gave to young Williams as he was preparing to enter the Prison Service read in part: “Troy Williams is a fine young man of good moral character and upbringing. He comes from a family of respect and dignity. He is an honest person - always well respected by the community in which he lives. He shows the greatest desire to be perfect in whatever he set out to do.”
Dreams left unfulfilled
Troy was accepted into the Prison Service and, as attested to by the Prison Authorities, served with distinction. But that appointment rendered it impossible for him to go on with plans to become baptised as a member of the Grace Assembly of God Church. He never again got the opportunity to get baptised due to his busy work schedule.
A brilliant young man, with a promising career, he excelled in every area of endeavour. According to the Director of Prisons, within his first few months in the service, he was awarded `Best Recruit’ on the Basic Recruit Training Course. On such grounds, he was recommended for advanced training on a Standard Officers’ Course in the Guyana Defence Force so as to enable him to become a Prison Cadet. He never got the chance to pursue it.
Speaking with the Sunday Chronicle earlier last week, his bereaved parents Alexis and Elvis Williams recalled that Troy was serving at the Mazaruni Prisons when he asked to be transferred to Georgetown. The request was made because he wanted to attend the Critchlow Labour College to further qualify himself for acceptance to the Officers’ course.
Cherishing every memory of him, they described him as a ‘dutiful, caring and compassionate person. He was described as the “jewel”, of the family - a happy child; always willing and obedient to his parents; never frowning when given orders. He was kind to his siblings and took the role of “big brother”, while seriously protecting, caring and even ‘mothering’ those younger siblings.
The young man loved gospel music and cricket. While in New Amsterdam, he attended the Grace Temple Assembly of God Church, and had turned his life over to Christ.
His parents said they always wished him the best, and even though they wanted to see him comfortably placed in a decent job, in their mind’s eye, it was never in a security capacity. They would have preferred him to work in an office.
His mother recalled that within his first year of being in the service (February 2001) he was transferred from New Amsterdam to the Mazaruni Prisons, and she was always fearful. She now has memories of him saying “Mommy I am going to do that course at Critchlow so I can qualify myself to work in the office.”
Instead, his life was rudely snuffed out at the prison gates.
One year later, his parents and his siblings are still trying, with great difficulty, to come to terms with the loss.
They gratefully acknowledge the sum of $320,000 donated to the family. The money was raised by fellow officers during Prison Week 2002.
But the Williams’ are contending that since Troy died a hero in the line of duty, attempts should be made by the administration to speed up the payment of the $1 million promised them following his death. It is their view that the money may help to alleviate their material sufferings following the death of a breadwinner in the home.
Asked to comment, Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine has explained that the money would be made available to the family in disbursements. But Ms. Williams says she would prefer to be paid all the money at one time so it could be placed on a fixed deposit and she can draw the interest every three months or whenever it matures.
“It’s already one year since Troy has died, and if they had given us cash or a cheque as we expected, a lot of interest would have accrued, because I would have put it into the bank right away,” she reasoned.
She said that a million dollars in disbursements would pretty soon have disappeared, and they could be back at square one.
Troy died on the fifth birth anniversary of one of his sisters. Normally there would be celebrations. But according to his mother, Troy’s death on that date has changed all that.
Colleague severely incapacitated
Meanwhile, for Prison Officer Roxanne Whinfield, the other officer on duty at the gate when Williams was killed, and who was critically wounded and remained on life support for several weeks, life will never be the same again.
The escapees shot Whinfield, 36, in the face.
She underwent very delicate surgeries performed on her by local doctors as well as in Trinidad by Neurologist, Dr. Richard Spann. Dr. Spann determined that the bullet entered her right cheek, exiting through the left ear, causing extensive damage to the brain, necessitating a removal of a portion of the brain.
But doctors have been able to achieve much success, even though she is left severely incapacitated. The most recent report is that after being fed through the stomach for several months, she is now taking fluids orally. Her speech is affected and she best communicates using signs.
One year later, the mother of two remains bedridden. Roxanne,also a seamstress, can now only look at her cute six-year-old daughter in pretty little dresses that she did not sew, and with neatly braided hairstyles like she would have done for her in the past. No longer can she read stories to her.
But Roxanne’s family continues to be there for her, and the Prison Authorities continue to have her best interest at heart.
Some months ago, the family requested that since Roxanne was maimed on duty, and would only be able to move around in a wheelchair, consideration should be given by the authorities for a bungalow-type house be built for her.
However, asked for a comment on progress in this regard, Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine replied that he is not aware that any formal request had been communicated to the Prison authorities in that regard. However, he said, the Ministry of Home Home Affairs and the Prison Service have always been compassionate to Mrs. Whinfield’s cause, and can very well appreciate such a request.
Tribute to the late Assistant Prison Officer #1925 Troy Lindon Anthony Williams
Killed: 2002-02-23 at the Georgetown Prison
He came as a lamb
He departed as a lamb
He was not dumb
He made his efforts hum
He as not `murdered’ nor is he `dead’
He was sacrificed and would live in our heads
After weeks of toil as a recruit
HE graduated as a best, all-round recruit.
HE gained recognition through
His unassuming personality
His diligence, his aptitude
And above all, his humility.
He was never boastful nor disrespectful
He showed the intention to be further qualified
As a result from Mazuruni to Georgetown Prison, he was transferred
And a place at Critchlow Labour College he accepted.
At 07:00 hours on February 23
He reported for the 06:00 hours -15:00 hours shift
Out on the Young Offenders/Self-support pave he was placed
Yes, there he worked
And at about 11:00 hours there he was
Slaughtered, rather sacrificed
After the struggle against knives and
Guns he succumbed to the criminals
They totaled five or more
And through his body several wounds
Their terrible knives bore
They then escaped, five for sure
But not before, blasting (shooting) a
Female Officer in the jaw at the inner gate.
He lost the struggle
More than six wounds were seen
Two of which were seen
Two of which were deemed fatal
Yet he lived until he was
Pronounced dead minutes after
He arrived at Public Hospital Georgetown.
A future Cadet
A future Gazetted Officer
A future Director of Prisons
A future distinguished son of Guyana
None, yes none was ever allowed to be
The dream remains only a dream.
In classroom he conquered all’
But death he could not conquer at all
Death was the sting
Grave was his victory.
Buried with full military honours
Friday March 1, 2002 at
Stanleytown, East Bank Berbice
He lives, he lives
He lives in the minds of many
He lives in our memory
Out of this evil
Lord let good cometh
Lord let good cometh
May his soul rest in peace
But let him be given
A medal in heaven.
- Ulric Williams