By Emmanuel Boateng Agyemfra
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Few days ago, 3news.com published two interesting stories about two ex-convicts who all had different perspectives about how the country’s prison system looks like.
The first was Rev. Nana Akwasi Agyeman a.k.a Geeman, formerly an Afro pop singer who made waves in the 80s and 90s but had his career coming to an end with a murder case. German is quoted by the website that, people don’t get reformed in prison because there is something wrong with the system.
3news.com again published another prison-related story about the former CEO of Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency(GYEEDA), Mr. Abuga Pele who was convicted in 2018 for Causing financial loss to the state. Mr. Pele thanked the President for pardoning him and also mentioned that, back at the Nsawam Medium Security Prison, he was a lecturer at the University of Cape Coast’s designated learning center for Diploma and Degree education. Coupled with being a lecturer, he was also a football coach for one of the teams inside the security installation.
Both Rev. Geeman and Mr. Pele were discharged from prison by presidential pardon. Before one qualifies for a presidential pardon, he or she would have been monitored by officers and his or her character sanctioned as reformed and deem fit for the pardon.
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Paralegal and Officers support
Rev. Geeman forgot to tell us he met Christ while in prison and which subsequently led him to be an ordained pastor. He also didn’t tell us how he got qualified to be part of the presidential pardon list even though he was convicted for murder.
Some of us admire him and thank God he had his divine touch and repentance in the prison with the support of prison officers and the chaplaincy.
The Ghana Prisons Service has a Paralegal Unit with specially trained officers who liaise with lawyers to provide legal advice and assistance to inmates; both convicts and remand prisoners. This unit also assists inmates and their families to appeal for lesser sentences or seek a fresh hearing of their cases.
We have prisoners who have been neglected by their families and friends and have now become a burden on officers who have to support them in any small way they can to make life in the prison more comforting.
According to Rev. Geeman, people come out of prison bitter; but do we blame the Ghana Prisons Service, who is doing everything possible with its meager budget and the benevolence of donors or we should rather blame the family and friends who stigmatize against their own because they found themselves in the walls of the prison?
We had ex-convicts who appeared on national televisions and told the general public how some escorting officers made them bring into the facility contrabands on the blind side of Gate Security.
An officer is to carry not more than 4 inmates for outside labor (work outside the facility) and he or she does this without sophisticated arms. We do this Do-Or-Die operation as daily routine with no arms!
Geeman: Ghanaian pop star who was jailed for killing a taxi driver in 1995 speaks, calls for prison reforms
The officer will have to bring all 4 inmates safely to the facility; anything contrary that leads to an escape of one or more will see the officer being penalized by a reduction in rank or reduction in salary for a period.
Officers do all that they can within their means to send and bring the four inmates back without any issues. Some of the inmates knowing very well the ordeal officers will go through when he escapes try to blackmail the hardworking officer to make him kowtow to their illegal demands.
When their demands are turned down, then we get to hear the ‘black painting’ pictures from them on radio and TV.
The prison, they say is an extension of society so can never do without the great support from the outside world; ranging from logistics, edibles, cash, capacity building of inmates among others.
I always say if there are a group of people that need to be given Order of Volta awards then it certainly needs to be security men and women and most especially, those at the Ghana Prisons Service.
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An inmate is to be fed withyGhc 1.80p three times daily! Yes, Gh1.80p, and you and I know this cannot be feasible if Station Commanders look on. Donations of edibles from the CSOs and individuals come to supplement the budget from the government so to keep the facility going.
In my 5years in the service, I have never heard an inmate dying out of hunger or starvation, all thanks to the good leadership of the Service who put the welfare of inmates first.
Donations that come in are always received by the Station Commanders, his or her lieutenants, and most times the leadership of the prisoners are made aware, so authorities make sure to prepare meals with some of these edibles to garnish their Ghc1.80p “chop money” meals.
Reformation and Rehabilitation
The unit I work with allows me to interact with inmates and their families every blessed day, so I get to explain things to family members who call in and also talk to inmates to turn a new leaf.
I once had a call from an ex-convict who could not stop showing gratitude to me for helping him be the person he is now. Another one who used to work as an apprentice in our tailoring shop met me in town and showed me his shop with two other apprentices.
Rev. Geeman became a preacher man in prison and carried it out till today. Hon. Abuga Pele entered the prison and he discovered his teaching and football coaching skills which were of benefit to the Service and the country as a whole.
Thanks to the Directorate of the Ghana Prisons Service, the various stations Chaplaincies and Commanders, and who make sure reformation programs are not skipped for anything. Christians build their faith and also the same as Muslims. I have witnessed inmates who were Christians and got converted to Islam and vice versa.
Regional and Station Commanders do their best to get interested inmates to join any of the rehab programs, ranging from Formal Education, Informal and Adult Education.
Others are Pottery, bead-making, kente weaving, tailoring, ICT, electronics, masonry, and Agric. Others include shoemaking, carpentry, painting, welding, Auto mechanics; musical instruments not forgetting an open library where inmates are welcome each day to come read, among others.
It is always the personal decision of an inmate to join or not to any of the above-listed rehab or reformation programs. So for an inmate to come out bitter, is always based on how he or she was treated by family whiles in there and not how loving the officers were to him.
Rehabilitation training programs vary from a prison facility to prison facility. The bigger the facilities, the more space for rehab centers but efforts are being made to see to more rehab and reformation programs.
Not all that rosy but certainly not hell
Being sentenced to prison alone is itself a punishment not to talk of when one is confined and his or her freedom curtailed.
This article is not to say the prison system in Ghana is a safe haven and without logistical and accommodation issues for prisoners but it is not the worst. We will always have ex-convicts who will twist the stories to win public sympathy and others who will appreciate the goodness of gallant officers in seeing to their reformation, welfare and rehabilitation.
This article was written by a Lance Corporal with the Manhyia Local Prison and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org/0249542342
[DISCLAIMER: This publication expresses the views of the writer (Emmanuel Boateng Agyemfra) and not YEN.com.gh as a media organization]