NOVEMBER 15, 2014


A very good evening to you all.

It is good to look around this hall and see so many well-known faces, which makes me very pleased that I was able to accept Mr. Gordon’s invitation to be here with you tonight.

Many of you- if not all- would know that I used to be a Pastor and so I am well acquainted with the invaluable ministry of Prison Fellowship Jamaica. Therefore, I readily agreed to be Patron for this fundraising banquet and to be your Guest Speaker. I promise that I shall resist the Pastoral urge and shall therefore be very brief in addressing tonight’s theme: “Rehabilitation: The Way Forward”.

The special type of energy in a gathering such as this is generated by the common cords of conviction in the rightness of our objectives. We are here tonight not just because the fellowship of people of like mind is sweet, or because we enjoy the cuisine for which the Terra Nova is famous, though I confess that is an added attraction. Tonight’s banquet strums those harmonious cords of forgiveness, restoration and love as we remember the words of The Master that whatever we do for the least of His brethren- and therefore ours- we do it unto Him.

It is against this background that we are involved in Prison Ministries, and I say we because I am also involved in this ministries through my Office.

So we gather to support a cause- a ministry- which not only gives the incarcerated the opportunity for positive change, but also brings forcefully to our minds the reality that there, but for the grace of God, go you and I. In our own lives we have experienced the healing miracle of second chances.  We know that though we may fall, God gives the grace and the courage to rise and the strength to endure till, with His guidance, failure is transformed into success. Because we have been there, we can proclaim the grace, mercy and miracle of a second chance.

The overview which Mrs. Spence Jarrett presented painted a moving picture of Christian ministry in correctional facilities across Jamaica. We got a glimpse of Christian volunteers practising the James gospel, providing for the spiritual, the health and welfare needs of the inmates and wards of the State. We sensed the challenges they face and sometimes, the frustration of dealing with apparently hardened, unresponsive criminals.  We shared the joy of their transformational work with inmates and their families and are still touched by the endorsements which we have heard.

I know I can safely say that in this room tonight, there are heroes: persons whose committed service has put others on the right path and has motivated them to take that courageous step with the determination never to look back. You taught them to believe that, as the celebrated Nelson Mandela once said: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”.  Through your services, the children and other family members of the incarcerated, regain their sense of self-worth. So to the team of Prison Fellowship Jamaica, I extend heartiest commendations and ask that you, Ladies and Gentlemen, join me in a round of applause in tribute to them.

Perhaps I should warn you, PFJ team, that this public tribute under my leadership grants you no state immunities. You are not to be like the Pastor who hoped his good deeds could grant him that privilege. He had been so busy visiting prisons and hospitals that he was late for a very important meeting. At the location he found no parking and left his car on the curb with a note to the police: “I really tried, but could find no other place to park. Forgive us our trespasses”. When he came back, he found a ticket with a note from the police: “Lead us not into temptation”.

I thought it fitting, Ladies and Gentlemen, to reference Nelson Mandela who spent twenty seven years in prison, eighteen of them in one of the apartheid harshest prisons: Robben Island. There he slept on the floor in the small cell to which he was confined.

The sanitary convenience was a bucket. He did hard labour breaking rocks in a quarry. He was permitted only one visitor per year and allowed to write and receive only one letter every six months. If anyone had the right to bitter hatred and unforgiveness, it was Mandela. The injustices and cruelty he suffered could have made him a time-bomb of hatred and resentment, bent on repaying with violence. But he chose freedom, which he knew begins in the mind. Though he never read Garvey in prison, he shared our National Hero’s conviction that “none but ourselves can free our minds”.

From that awful crucible of suffering, Mandela emerged to conquer animosity of the most brutish of those whose belief system defined Blacks as inferior even to the animals on which they lavished care. Mandela became the master of his own thoughts and emotions which could have been a more devastating and lasting prison than Robben Island. Mandela therefore, will be remembered as one of the greats in Human history because he did not let prison define him, he freed himself.

His greatness rested not in the fact that he became the first black President of South Africa, the back of apartheid having been broken, but that he became the globally acknowledged example of forgiveness and reconciliation. In reflecting on the moment of his internationally televised departure from that odious jail, he said: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison”.

That is where rehabilitation begins: in the mind. There are inmates and wards who are subject to a steady diet of indignity and are made to feel less than human are imprisoned in a version of Robben Island. The choice they make about how they will live when they are released from that physical prison will not naturally pattern that of Mandela. Many are prone to become time bombs determined to make society pay for their loss of freedom when they are released. Thanks to the Prison Ministry, many of them are guided into becoming new creatures for God and country.

If prisons are to protect society from criminals, then they must become places where the incarcerated are encouraged to believe in their inherent value as human beings. There is no doubt that education, skills training, programmes dealing with mental health and drug abuse and other social programmes reduce the rate of recidivism.

Our Correctional Services know that very well and I commend the work they are doing within the limited resources at their disposal.  They long to be able to roll out the full gamut of programmes which would better prepare inmates for re-integration into society.  They need to be enabled to offer improved programmes so that more inmates might leave with certified skills and enhanced self-discipline to improve their chances of gainful, decent employment.

The leadership of Our Correctional Services also know that the best programmes can only succeed in transforming the lives of their inmates when wardens and all other staff of their institutions are trained to respect the inmates’ inalienable human rights.  Conditions in the jails can be significantly improved when all staff of correctional institutions see themselves as agents of God’s life-changing power in those institutions. Rehabilitation, therefore, must also begin in the mind and heart of the individuals who work in penal institutions.

This is why I am pleased that the Prison Fellowship ministry does not overlook those who staff correctional institutions. It is good that from time to time, as resources permit, the PFJ also renders assistance to them and I hope that sustainable programmes in this regard can be adequately sponsored. We do not need scientific studies to advise us that the state of mind and body affects not only the way we treat others, but also our commitment, performance and output.

I am reminded of a worker who often thought up new excuses for taking an extra-long lunch break or for leaving work early. Well, one morning when he returned to work, his boss asked him:  “Do you believe in life after death?”

“But of course! I learned that in Sunday School!” he proudly responded, knowing his boss was a Christian. His boss replied: “Very good indeed, because after you left to attend your grandmother’s funeral yesterday, she came here looking for you”.

Our National Heroes and the thousands of Jamaicans who have selflessly served our homeland have bequeathed us a legacy of excellence and productivity which too many continue to squander.  Two National Heroes, the Rt. Excellent Marcus Garvey and the Rt. Excellent Sir Alexander Bustamante spent over two years in jail on unjust, politically motivated charges, the former in the USA and the latter in colonial Jamaica. They believed that if they did not use their freedom to the advantage of their people, their own minds would be their prisons.  Their lives demonstrated the truth much later voiced by Nelson Mandela:

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

The difference which the Prison Fellowship continues to make in the lives of so many proves the immense value which they are to our nation. You who serve in this ministry are blessed as you shine the light of Christ in the darkness of troubled lives. Thank you for allowing us the privilege of supporting you through our time, talent or treasure.

Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen and may God bless you all!