Farm work may be strenuous, hot and sweaty but to inmates at HMP Northward Prison it is a good experience and process of rehabilitation while doing time behind bars.
Sometimes as many as 16 inmates, under the guidance of Farm Manager Raul Gonzales, tend a variety of crops that make up the 288-acre Wilderness farm, located in High Rock off East End Road.
Almost unsalvageable after Hurricane Ivan, today the farm flourishes with lots of fruits and fruit trees.
‘Most of the inmates that come to work on the farm do not know very much about planting or farming, but most are eager to learn. Through the programme they learn how to apply fertilizers, pesticides, prune trees and prepare the ground for planting,’ said Mr. Gonzales.
‘We also have an excellent irrigation system in place. Nine wells supply a good amount of fresh water daily which is piped to all the plants on the farm.
‘Eight cows on the farm are also well taken care of by inmate George Pierson. Some day soon we will be able to produce beef for the kitchen,’ said Mr. Gonzales
Not long ago a visit from Chief Secretary George McCarthy revealed that they were trying to put money together to get proper facilities for the inmates on the compound.
When Government bought the property some years ago there was a building on the property, but it was damaged by the hurricane. The inmates have done some repairs to the building which has seven rooms – two bathrooms, one shower a small kitchen and huge dining area.
There are also plans for staff from the Agriculture Department to come to the farm to teach about propagation, fertilisers, pesticides, diseases and seedlings.
‘Inmate Henry Buchanan prepares all the meals for the group and he is a very good cook,’ said Mr. Gonzales.
‘At the present we have over 5,000 green banana tees, 2,000 plantain, 5,000 mangoes, 2,500 orange, 500 tangerines, 2,000 cassavas, 1,000 scotch bonnet peppers and 1,500 coconut trees. We also have a good amount of pawpaw, tomatoes, callaloo yellow yam and sweet potato that are coming along very nicely,’ he said.
‘The soil is very rich it only needs lots of water.’
The produce, not available in local supermarkets, is used to supply the prison kitchen and other organisations such as the Pines Retirement Home, the hospital, Bonaventure Girls Home and various other government organisations. Some is also sold to prison staff.
Mr. Gonzales said when the hurricane came, everything was destroyed. This year during the Agriculture Show they were only able to provide a limited amount of produce for the fair. ‘We did sell a lot of coconut trees and bottled coconut water.’
With hopes of having the farm looking and producing more, Mr. Gonzales said he enjoys working with the inmates who are willing to learn the value of hard work and self sufficiency.