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30 YEARS OF ABUSE

By SEAN DOUGLAS Tuesday, July 22 2014

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RAMPANT abuse, including of a sexual nature, at the St Michael’s Home for Boys in Diego Martin is not a recent phenomena and has been going on, at the very least, for the past 30 years, a former inmate told Newsday yesterday.

The ex-inmate, now a happily married, gainfully employed father in his mid-40s, who owns his own home and car, spoke on the basis of strict anonymity with Newsday yesterday. He said the so-called “startling” revelations coming to light about wanton abuse at the Home, are nothing new.

The ex-inmate said that when he was incarcerated at the Home in the early 1980s, an attractive woman who was among the staff at that time, would habitually choose specific inmates with whom she would have sexual relations — sometimes at the institution and sometimes elsewhere.

“Back when I was at that facility, everyone knew what was going on,” the man recalled. The woman would sometimes intimately touch and fondle her “boyfriends” while they were showering, he related.

He claimed there was rampant homosexual activity between some inmates and some male members of staff. He recalled at times, boys would be taken out of the Home by staff to have sex with an adult male member of the administration.

The man said he never saw any boy being held down for forcible sex, but rather were indoctrinated into sexual liaisons with staff members — both male and female — being told this was “an act of love.”

Some boys were given special favours in return for the sexual encounters, the man related, with one or two even being allowed to continue living at the Home after attaining the age of 18, when according to law, they must be discharged. He recalled back in the 1980s, when he was an inmate, seeing staff members hanging around with other inmates smoking marijuana on the playing field.

The ex-inmate said he was still shocked at recent reports of abuse at the home in terms of the severity of corporal punishment meted out to inmates. “In my days at this Home, you would get beaten with a rod taped at one end with masking tape. If you were really behaving badly, they would lock you in a room.

“But it was not at the level of violence I am hearing now where you have inmates being kicked, slapped, punched and beaten,” the man said. He opined that staff back then, were generally more capable in dealing with the inmates but lamented the fact that to get a job at the Home, one only needed three CXC passes. He said training in counselling must be a prerequisite to work at any rehabilitation/corrections Home. On the issue of staff stealing items donated to the Home, for the inmates’ use, the ex-inmate said this was the norm back in his time. He recalled that even yesteryear staff used to steal items such as soap and toothpaste from the Home.

Inmates, he said, would routinely be taken out of the institution by staff members to clean their (the staff members) homes, scrub the yard, trim the lawn and shrubs and wash their cars...usually without pay. He confessed though, that the inmates never complained as they were glad for the opportunity to leave the Home.

The ex-inmate said in the 1980s, most of the inmates were not sent to the Home by the courts for criminal acts such as unruly behaviour, but were simply abandoned by their parents. Despite all the abuse that took place at St Michael’s, even when he was an inmate, the man said he was grateful for his stay at the institution. He said his stay at St Michael’s played a part in the man he is today as the other alternative at that time was jail or the streets.

The ex-inmate said just like yesteryear, inmates got no or inadequate counselling in order to prepare to life after they left the Home on their 18th birthday, and most inmates after leaving, turned to a life of crime.

Last week Tuesday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan announced he was forwarding copies of a report into the death of inmate Brandon Hargreaves, 14, to Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard for criminal investigations. The Hargreaves Probe Report, apart from making specific findings into the circumstances surrounding the teen’s death in April 2013, also highlighted instances of abuse, including sexual abuse, taking place at the institution. In one case, according to the report, a female worker took an inmate to her home. She later became pregnant and gave birth, leaving some to wonder if the inmate is the father of the woman’s child.

The Home is jointly administered by the Anglican Church and the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development. Head of the Anglican Church in TT, Bishop Clyde Berkely last week said he has convened a meeting of the Board of the Home to discuss the allegations contained in the Hargreaves Report.

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