NASSAU – For many inmates living in maximum security at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services, preparing for bed means mopping up sludgy puddles of faeces and urine, dusting off aged cardboard mats and lying down to sleep in a small, torrid prison cell, cramped among five or six other men.
In the cells, which were built to hold no more than three inmates, prisoners can be seen tossing and turning in the smouldering heat, their arms draped over a neighbour’s knee or waist, and with men sitting or reclining with someone’s feet at their head.
When The Nassau Guardian visited the prison for a guided tour last week, rodents could be seen sneaking around the shadows of the windowless cells.
“Dogs don’t deserve to live in the state that maximum security is in,” one prison officer told The Nassau Guardian on the condition of anonymity.
“There’s no ventilation. Boy, you don’t even know. Did you know that rats run up and down all day, every day? It’s not fit for humanity.”
The rats, the officer said, appear to feel more at home than the inmates.
Most of the 887 inmates in the Maximum Security Correctional Center spend roughly 23 hours of the day in their cells.
“They spend basically all day in the cells,” the officer said.
“They come out for about half an hour in the mornings.
“We let different blocks exercise, each block gets half an hour to exercise and shower but some people choose to stay in their cell because they don’t want to come out and exercise because they’re trying to avoid problems, which means they can’t shower.
“They have access to the shower during that time but the inmates stay in their cells for the rest of the time.”
Being escorted through much of the prison, The Guardian witnessed looks of isolation and despair in the eyes of inmates.
Commissioner of Correctional Services Charles Murphy and his executive team chaperoned the journey through the crevices of one of the most guarded facilities in The Bahamas.
While Murphy stressed that change is coming to the maximum security unit, it was apparent that such change is slow to come.
The Guardian’s team was instructed to walk close to the stained walls, ensuring a safe distance was kept between media and the inmates as the tour progressed through a stifling corridor lined with 10 industrial fans – five bolted to the ceiling and five positioned between each cell – all blowing hot air.
Inside the cells, some of the inmates leaned their sweaty, shirtless backs against the rough terrain of the cement walls.
The top of their heads grazed against the black fishlines, which extended from wall-to-wall across the cells, with dark-coloured plastic bags and dirty clothes hanging from them.
Other inmates stood with their heads tilted against the rusty iron gates that separated those who were free from those who were not.
Some looked fearful, some looked timid as the commissioner and his entourage passed.
Their bleak eyes disappeared as the tour went farther into the belly of maximum security.
The United States Department of State has issued several human rights reports reprimanding the conditions of the prison.
Its most recent report, which was released in March, highlighted the prison’s “harsh” conditions.
“Many cells also lacked running water, and in those cells, inmates removed human waste by bucket,” the report read.
“Sanitation was a general problem, with cells infested with rats, maggots and insects. Ventilation was also a general problem. Prisoners in maximum security had access to sanitary facilities only one hour a day and used slop buckets as toilets.
“Prison inmates complained about the lack of beds and bedding. As a result, inmates developed bedsores from lying on the bare ground.”
At the end of the dank block of cells hangs a heavy iron gate.
As he calmly waited for one of his officers to open the gate, the commissioner noted that attempts to address some of the concerns raised in the report are underway.
As the gate screeched open, it was almost as if it was a portal to another world.
Behind it is another corridor which consists of a cleaner, more modern block of cells.
It was a striking disparity of two separate sets of conditions in the same maximum security building.
The grimy, stained cement floor was replaced with what seemed to be shiny epoxy floors.
There were two flat screen televisions bolted to the wall as a source of entertainment for inmates.
The rank, mustiness of the room no long existed as a result of cool, fresh air being pushed out of a newly installed ductless air conditioner.
In August 2018, several blocks in maximum security underwent drastic renovations.
Some of the renovations were completed in November of last year.
“It signifies a change,” Murphy told The Nassau Guardian.
“We’re bringing more organized, up-to-date, better working and living conditions for the officers [and] a more professional working environment for the officers [as well as] a healthy and a cleaner accommodation for inmates.
“We’re trying to bring it as close to international standards as we can with the old facility that we have.”
Inmates are expected to move into the first set of renovated blocks next month, according to the commissioner.
Murphy, who was confirmed as commissioner last month, is hoping that his tenure will signify a rebirth of the prison’s image and functionality.
His plan is to eventually have a new maximum security unit where things like running water, flushing toilets and proper ventilation are synonymous with the corrections facility at Fox Hill.
And the image of dungeon-like atmosphere, much like what exists today, will only be a memory.
(The Nassau Guardian)