Needy prisoners left without soap, sanitary supplies

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prisoners at Remand Yard, Golden Grove Prison, Arouca
– File photo

Prison inmates who don’t have the support of family or friends to provide their most basic needs must ration the limited personal hygiene supplies provided by the State.

When bath soap, laundry detergent and sanitary pads run out, thousands of male and female prisoners are left lacking a sense of dignity, while becoming increasingly vulnerable to the spread of disease.

The Wishing for Wings Foundation – an NGO largely invested in prison reform – has once again appealed to the public to chip in where the State falls short.

Debbie Jacob, Newsday columnist and the organisation’s founder, led a similar campaign last year.

She told Newsday while the public’s response was generous, the supplies inevitably dried up.

“There are some guys in prison who never get visits from their family, so they don’t get the extra (necessities),” Jacob said.

“The prisons allocate a certain amount, which really isn’t much or isn’t always enough.”

Jacob worries that inmates are even more at risk of covid19, chickenpox and other viruses that sneak their way inside prison walls.

To make matters worse, having led a number of programmes to help with inmates’ rehabilitation and personal development, she said almost all the programmes ceased during the pandemic, causing what she believes is an increase in offenders re-entering prisons.

“We still have what (I’d consider) the fall-out from covid,” said Jacob. “I have heard from officers that there are more destitute men since the outbreak, which kind of makes sense.

“It put a big strain on people, economically, socially and psychologically.”

Even before the pandemic, thousands of prisoners survived without an adequate supply of simple hygiene products.

The fall-out from covid, she said, meant fewer families were able to visit consistently with supplies.

The items are available for purchase at prisons, but she says they are almost always far too expensive to buy them regularly.

Last year, through the foundation, students of the International School of Port of Spain, where Jacob was the librarian, donated 45 personalised hampers to the most destitute inmates, a gesture she hopes will be repeated by others.

Supplies can be donated directly to the prisons, but Jacob said donating through the foundation is more efficient, as it ensures quicker delivery to those who need them most, particularly inmates without visitors.

Jacob noted that while women account for a small fraction of the prison population, they face additional challenges.

“There are women who cannot afford sanitary pads. (They) use rags or whatever, but that is now 19th-century stuff.”

Jacob said it will be difficult to access a consistent donation of pads, and asked the public to donate things like specially made reusable absorbent underwear or similar items, some of which are made locally.

“I don’t think anyone should go through the indignity of not having sanitary support during their period,” she said.

On her programmes designed for rehabilitation and personal development, Jacob plans to reintroduce and improve them, including the successful inter-prison debates and essay competitions.

She asked for the public to make financial contributions toward the prizes.

“The guys said (the essay competition) helped them a lot. It helps them think about things,” said Jacob. “We all know how important it is to write down your feelings. And they’re discovering that.”

She said the programme aims to pair inmates who can write with those who cannot.

Jacob also asked for financial donation to buy picture books to allow inmates to read with their children.

Additionally, she said one of the projects dearest to her is the introduction of a barbershop and accompanying programme at Remand Yard, Golden Grove, where inmates can have their hair cut and learn the trade.

“Remember those are guys sitting there ten, 11, 12 years, waiting for their trial, and they have no place to cut their hair. They cut it outside in the yard where they play basketball.

“Poor people deserve to be able to go to court with a decent haircut, looking good.”

Jacob previously introduced a certified barbering programme, but it was interrupted by the pandemic.

She’s asking the public to donate anything used in barbershops, from shears to chairs.

For banking details and a list of items most needed by inmates, please e-mail the Wishing for Wings Foundation at [email protected]