Changing mindsets, finding new directions

Weekender

By THEO YASAUSE
DESPITE all the hype, problems and rumours of struggle at the Bomana Prison, the institution has had five years of peaceful co-existence and tranquillity.
Many changes have happened at the prison that did not get public attention.
But before we look at those happenings, it is noted however, that many people are sent to prison for a number of reasons. Some for deterrence that is for stopping serial offenders from committing crimes and living a crime-riddled lives. Others are there for retribution – you do the crime you do the time. Some for separation, because of the offenders’ inclination to commit crimes and are considered not fit to remain in society. The last reason and most preferred reason is for rehabilitation of offenders, to changing mindsets and finding new destiny and directions.
This is the focus for Papua New Guinea Corrective Institutions. The reason being that at the end of the day all prisoners will leave the prison, once their term is up to go back or be re-integrated into their respective communities. Many offenders, whether rightly or wrongly, are sent for the above main reasons. It should also be noted that some people are also in prison for the wrong reasons, even though they may not have committed any crimes, but because we live in a fallen world, humans are bound to make mistakes and send people to prison. And only God knows.
Also, one striking and noticeable thing is the sacrifice of the prison officers who labour to care for the offenders.
There is a famous saying in a prison setting: “We warders or correctional services (CS) officers are real prisoners because you prisoners come and go – we remain every day of our life in prison 24/7. We are life prisoners.”
Those who come into the prison leave but warders’ provide care and programmes that try to help those who come and go. This is where many fail to really understand the sacrifice these men and women pay. They should be given due recognition.
Many do not understand what goes on in a prison setting and utter misleading information to the contrary. Appointing the right people in prison management helps to facilitate prison rehabilitation programmes, which are critical for the future of prison systems and a very rewarding experience for those who are involved given their daily dealing with varying attitudes and behaviour of different categories of offenders or non-offenders.
In the years leading up to 2013, Bomana prison was notorious for gang fights and was a breeding ground for high profile people of the underworld. But some prison officers have changed that landscape by allowing rehabilitation programmes that have changed the prison for the better.

Upheaval in years leading up to 2013
The prison is not a place for anyone who wants to look for comfort. It is a place for misery, stress and isolation. Many who have been to prison will tell you, it is a place where you will have long nights and shorter days. Quality food is scare but nature’s abundance is there for those who are fit to survive in a cruel environment. It is said that prison is a place for the survival of the fittest.
Gate 24 is where anyone loses his or her virginity regardless of your social status and standing. It is the order of the day. It is the first place of encountering prison life, and a welcoming sign of the real life ahead. I will let you come and experienced it yourself and need no further explanation. Stay out of prison is all I can say.
Brick walls and high security fencing keep you isolated from the morning breaks and sunsets which are rare commodities. Visits are restricted to 20 minutes on weekends for anyone to see his or her loved ones. It’s painful if you do not get visits from relatives and friends.
It’s even worse if one comes from an outside centre and lives in a place where no one cared. Only the warder is a care-giver and is your family and your friend because you encounter him or her every day and they come to know you by name. You are known by your character and behaviour; you stand out easily in the warder’s eyes.
Looking back, it can be said that the men’s prison at Bomana has had its share of problems and raised eyebrows in the political and public arena. It should be understood that every organisation has its share of problems and issues. Bomana prison is no different.
In the years leading up to 2013, many people associated Bomana with continuous prison break-outs by inmates, and gang fights or for this and for that. It was a place where new offenders are discriminated bullied and given a man’s lesson – a place where urine and excretion is mixed for a welcome ceremony to the prison. It was a place where the gang leaders were worshipped and a web of network is built in order to survive.
All must find the right mix to be able to survive. It was a place where brotherhood was enforced to curb any anti-social behaviour and compensation was a norm. It is a men’s world where eating from the same copper and living in the same village builds brotherhood.
Many lives have been lost through ongoing gang fights of the 1980s and 1990s. And the period from 2000 to 2013 was no different. Bomana made many news headlines. The reasons for news headlines were varied.
Upheavals in prison are not as bad as some good things do come out of those encounters including appointment of right people as part of the corrective measures to address those situations.

Enter Haraha Kiddy Keko
I served in the prison under three commanding officers. Michael Mondia, Joe Jarko and Harraha Kiddy Keko.
Michael Mondia, who I would say was a no-nonsense guy, was very strict on discipline and wanted order from prison officers and detainees. Punishment, rewards and sanctions were the norm in prison for those who did not abide by the rules and regulations. Raids in the prison quarters were frequent due to prisoners bringing in contrabands and accessories not required in a prison environment such as knives, metal rods and implements that can be used to harm others including aiding prison escapes.
Because of his performance he was moved to serve in a senior post at the CS headquarters. This followed the appointment of the late Joe Jarko. He briefly served as commander. He was moved to headquarters after the escape of the notorious late William Kapris and two others who escaped by scaling the main prison gate – the famous Gate 24.
He was also accused of assisting me to seek medical treatment for my eyes and that made headline news. It was really an administrative issue for him then but for whatever reasons he was relieved regardless of his good intentions.
The above plus the news headlines received by Bomana saw the appointment of Haraha Kiddy Keko as commanding officer. Keko was not new to Bomana as he was the security operations manager before being promoted and knew the culture of the prison.
He came in and was supported by a number of people who were very able and knew the systems and processes, including the late Frank Ito, manager welfare, manager security Cletus Yaki, Inspector Peter Oguafo, Major William Glemus, and Superintendant Ouifa, to name a few.
Initially we in the prison received them with mixed feelings and did not know what directions the prison was heading for good or for worse.

Hosting of peace ceremony, July 26, 2013
The prison was marred by continuous fights between inmates for varying reasons. So anyone who entered the prison was cultured to join this group or that group depending on where one originates, and gang and family connections. There was always animosity in the prison since the 1970s and 1980s.
Following the murder that took place within the prison in February of 2013 as a result of fights between two gangs led by William Kapris the prison environment was tense.
A senior inmate Ruddy Haiveta, approached the late Frank Ito, manager welfare and suggested that peace should be brokered in the prison. Ito took the idea to the management and sought their endorsement and to find ways to facilitate that proposal.
Keko tasked Inspector Peter Oiufa and Major William Glemus to find ways to bring all the warring factions together. Both inmates and the management required a neutral person to facilitate the peace ceremony. After consultations between CS Officers and inmates, everyone settled that I should be approached.
The operations team comprising of Peter Okuafo and William Glemus approached me to chair the peace committee comprising of all the CS functional managers and senior inmates from all four regions.
To this day I don’t know why I was asked to be the chairman, but I think, I was associated with my Goilala community from Tete Settlement where I had a block of land. Too, I knew several inmates from Gerehu, Waigani, Morata, Tokara and Hohola where I lived.
Further I had many inmate friends from Hela, Enga, Chimbu and Southern Highlands whom I had association with before entering the prison. I probably was well-connected to everyone in one way or another.
I accepted the task and with the support of colleague Ruddy Haiveta and other senior inmate Bill Gapi, Joe Ivangai, Noah Karo, Peto Kippy, several meetings were called and we mapped out a roadmap for peace.
As chairman I posted several objectives to the peace plan.
First we must end gang violence and culture in the prison. Second everyone takes ownership of the peace plan and is reminded to uphold peace at all times. Third, the future environment of the prison depends on everyone becoming responsible. Fourthly, everyone who has connections outside must send word to contribute towards the peace including making contact with peoples of the underworld. Fifth, priority must be given to programmes that enhance and change inmates to be better individuals.
And last but not the least, Christian activities and welfare programmes must take center stage. Everyone acknowledged that with God, we find real peace to live in harmony with each other.
Within four weeks of negotiations and going to and fro we settled on the above objectives and conducted the ceremony on July 26, 2013. The ceremony was a combination of culture from all four regions to bring unity. Pigs and cows were slaughtered, families and friends, youths from Gerehu, Morata, Erima, Hohola, Tokarara, Sabama, Kaugere, Koki, Town and other areas all chipped in food and other necessities to the ceremony.
Thesee were exchanged between Southern region inmates with other regions, cross -exchanges and finally signing of the agreement between leaders of various regions, and the welfare manager on behalf of the commanding officer.
The final act and a reminder of peace was the planting of the tanget in the main prison parade area. Today, it still stands as the reminder of peace into the future.
Every new intake of prisoners are informed and advised of the peace that existed so no one should violate what has been done. There is now peace and tranquillity at the Bomana prison. This was really an act of God almighty.

  • To be continued next week. The author is an inmate at the Bomana Prison’s low security unit. His series of articles provide news and information to the public under the Human Development Institute’s (HDI) rehabilitation training programme.

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