An ex-inmate who spent 21 years in prison for murder has come forward with the grappling story of having met an 11-year-old girl in a chat room while in prison, and secretly mentoring the child from his cellular phone.
Henzel Muir, 44, told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week that he met the youngster during his time at the South Camp Road Correctional Centre.
“Right now I have a friend who is 24 years old who is now a doctor. I met her while I was in prison using my cell phone. If you can recall Digicel chat room, I met her in one of the most degrading chat rooms and she told me that she was looking a man,” Muir revealed.
Muir said he acquired the phone after paying a warder to sneak the device into the facility.
“I took the liberty to spend my money to hook up the VIP talk and I corresponded with her every night. My correspondence with her was like this, ‘what did you learn at school today? What did the teacher say? Did you get your work right, read it make mi hear? “We went on like that from she was 11 years old right up to when she turn big woman, and today she is a doctor. That was the advantage of me using the cellphone while I was behind bars,” he went on.
Muir contacted the Sunday Observer explaining that he wanted to share his experiences from his time behind bars, indicating that he had some suggestions for how the Department of Correctional Services could improve the rehabilitation process of inmates.
He suggested that the prohibition of cellphone use in prison is a futile measure with a double-edged sword.
As such, Muir conceded his experience of mentoring a little girl while in prison, might otherwise have been very dangerous for his friend.
“I had to ask myself ‘why did she seek outside attention? Where were the parents for this 11-year-old?
“She tell me say she never know her father and her mother never have no time for her. I asked her, ‘what do your mother do?’, she say ‘nuttn’. At one point she even tell me say she want phone sex. I say to her ‘wah name suh’? No, that’s not me. I tell her I want something good for her life.”
Having gone to prison at age of 19, Muir said he never had children, and realised that this was an opportunity to step in to fill a gap that was left by irresponsible parents.
“This to me was another sign of the breakdown in society. That is why I am trying to get my programme launched through the Jamaica Parent/Teachers’ Association. This is a programme that is about getting parents to spend more time with their children.
“I believe that parents are your first teachers, because if the parents were doing their job, she wouldn’t seek attention in a chat room.”
On the flip side, Muir said that if inmates were allowed monitored use, the advantages could outweigh the risks. He said that in general, inmates used their cellphones to communicate with their children.
“I don’t believe that the system should try to curtail the cell phone. Have they ever asked themselves the question of what are the advantages and disadvantages of a cellphone?
“You know how many inmates motivate their children; talk with their children from behind bars just trying to be the kind of father they want to be to their kids? That is another advantage.
“The Government spend millions of dollars on jammers to jam the cellphones in the prison. That’s not going to stop the inmates from using their phones. It might slow down one network but it won’t slow down the other network, so most of the inmates just use that network.”
Illustrating from experience, Muir said the prohibition of cellular phones only adds to the level of corruption inside the prison.
Muir suggested that, instead, the Government should normalise cell phone use in prisons by putting mechanisms in place to have the calls monitored.
“Cellphone use inna prison and them cannot stop it. The Government needs to stop kicking against the prick and work with one of the cable network. Employ about 10 or 15 other persons in the prison, and let the inmates have a phone with a number work through the system where they can monitor the calls.
“Now if the officer come and search your cell and find you with a different phone with different number, you are isolated and all privileges taken from you for a year. Other than that, them cyah stop it. Them only corrupting the officers more and more.”
Further to that, Muir illustrated another way in which he believes cellphone use in prison has its advantages. “You hear them talk about inmates using the cell phone to commit crime, but do they know how many crimes the cellphones also prevent from inside the prison?
“I can recall an incident where a member of staff lost his vehicle and he came inside the prison asking if any inmates lived in that area. And when him tell him, the inmate just make a phone call, the man get back him car.
“Another time, a different member of staff lose a chain, man pick him chain, and an inmate just make a phone call and him get it back. Members of staff also get threatened by people outside and an inmate inside just make a phone call and that save him life. So as me say, the cell phone does a lot of positive.”
Meanwhile, Muir said the Department of Correctional Services has been breaching the rights of inmates by unlawfully adding time to their sentences whenever they are found in possession of a cellphone.
“The department is setting up itself for a big lawsuit and anytime a inmate with sense decide to fight it, that inmate is going to win. When a officer search yuh cell and find a phone, them have a process like a disciplinary hearing where yuh face a superintendent and them charge yuh for having a cellphone.”
Muir described several occasions when he was summoned before a superintendent to answer charges for being in possession of a cell phone, but defended himself by pleading not guilty.
“I tell them I cannot plea because I don’t hear what section of the Act I’m being charged under. I don’t hear which bill or section of the Act I breach. If I am to be charged for something, I have to hear ‘under section such and such from such and such a bill’. Now, when them say this is not a court hearing, I say to them ‘may I go back to my cell because if this is not a court hearing, why you call me up here asking me how I plea’?
Muir explained that he spent much of his time reading the Correctional Act. He said his knowledge of the Act gave him the advantage during his many parleys with correctional officers, recalling a ruling in his favour by former commissioner of Corrections, Major Richard Reece.
“I remember that a superintendent tried to try me for a phone one time and she couldn’t try me. So she sent me to Major Reece and him affi come himself come try me himself. Major Reece said I was right. Cellphones are not in the Correctional Act but the Act talks about prohibited articles.
“I am the only inmate they were never able to charge for a cellphone because I know the law. And I always tried to tell the inmates to read and get to know the law. Me make sure get the Correctional Act and study it.”
Ultimately, Muir said the cellphone charge in prison needs to be addressed.
“The department is confiscating the phones, charging the inmates and adding 15, 20, 30 days on their sentence and it is wrong,” Muir said.