Prison inmates embrace scholarship as an opportunity for self-development

From left: Colin Murraine, Joel Kwame’ Seraphin, Governor General Sir Rodney Williams, Executive Director Lifelong Learning Unit Paula C M Lee, Kenisha Whyte, and Kaniel Martin.
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By Theresa Goodwin

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Four inmates have vowed to “to embrace with open arms” the opportunity to pursue professional development training in the area of Entrepreneurship within the Lifelong Learning Unit at the University of the West Indies Five Islands Campus.

Kaniel Martin, Joel Kwame’ Seraphin, Colin Murraine and Kenisha Whyte were awarded scholarships on Tuesday to pursue online studies with the tertiary institution.

“Grateful and thankful” were the words Seraphin used to describe how he felt about his award.

The 35-year-old said knowing that he has a criminal record, applying for a job on his release would be an uphill task and he may have no other option but to create employment for himself.

Murraine told Observer that the programme will be beneficial considering the current landscape and the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“It is a good initiative that can pave the way for other people in our situation and it is also a benefit to society,” she said.

Martin, on this other hand, sees the educational opportunity as a way to change how he is viewed by society.

There has been a firestorm of comments on social media about his selection for the scholarships based on his murder conviction.

“I am grateful for the opportunity [to study] Entrepreneurship: the power of an idea. I am really grateful and I will be making the best of it. In truth, I am tired of people looking down on me, it will be an opportunity for someone to look up at me for a change,” Martin said.

Whyte, the lone female recipient, intends to use the opportunity to increase her knowledge as a former small business owner.

“It’s great because I get to go back to the drawing board and revamp my business and look at new ideas and new ways to make it bigger and better,” she shared.

Executive Director of the UWI Five Islands’ Lifelong Learning Unit Paula C M Lee explained that the scholarships were provided by a benefactor who partnered with the unit.

She said that each quarter, scholarships for additional professional development courses will be made available to residents of the penal institution in an effort to support rehabilitation and reduce recidivism – the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend.

“Even individuals who are serving lengthy sentences or natural life sentences can benefit from learning and development. According to the Chinese proverb, learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

Prison Superintendent Jermaine Anthony spoke to the importance of the programme to the rehabilitation process calling for change in culture and the absolute need to transition from imprisonment and punishment to correction and rehabilitation.

He explained that this process is impossible without education, adding that prisoners should not be deprived of that right.

“This new initiative is a step in the right direction towards ensuring that the society of Antigua and Barbuda invests in its offenders of the law through education, rehabilitation and opportunities for change so they may be fit to return to society,” the superintendent said.

Adlai Smith, Director of Law Reform within the Ministry of Legal Affairs, also spoke during the ceremony.

He charged the new students to “disappoint the expectations of their naysayers, be successful in this course, strive to be at the top of it so that when you are successful you can tell them, ‘tek dat!’.”

Former Prison boss Albert Wade was quoted in a 2018 as saying there was a drop in the number of repeat offenders returning to Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP).

He credited the decrease in the number of repeat offenders to the prison rehabilitation programmes and the willingness of corporate Antigua and Barbuda to give newly released prisoners an opportunity to get a second chance.

Meanwhile, noted attorney Warren Cassell commended the unit and UWI officials for allowing the inmates to be a part of the professional development programme.

Cassell said he was shocked by the online commentators who are expressing outrage at Martin’s involvement in the programme.

He suggested that people should be celebrating the fact that convicts are desirous of leaving the institution in a better mind frame that when they entered.

The attorney said the negative comments are usually from people who do not have a relative in the penal institution, adding that the conversation changes when the situation is reversed.

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