Nearly half dozen inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison at Dodds, St Philip who went on a hunger strike last week are eating again, prison boss John Nurse has revealed.
Responding to questions this afternoon from Barbados TODAY regarding reports that five inmates were on hunger strike in protest against the “poor” quality of food, Lieutenant Colonel John Nurse said the action was now over and the concerns resolved.
However, he dismissed claims that the prisoners were refusing to eat because of the quality of their diet.
Claims had also been made that some prisoners have suffered from malnutrition due to the “inferior” quality of the food resulting in skin and teeth diseases.
But Nurse was adamant that the meals prepared at the prison have been given a passing grade by health authorities.
“We had some people on hunger strike last week and they came off hunger strike and it had nothing to do with quality of food,” he stated.
“The reasons that the guys were not eating included…we had two people arguing that they wanted a high fiber diet. We discovered that they did not understand what was a high fiber diet. So once they were fully aware of what really made a high fiber diet, they started to eat again,” Nurse told Barbados TODAY.
“Then we had one chap claiming that he was being victimized by prison officers because he is charged with an offence against a family member of a prison officer. We could find no evidence that he was being victimized. He started back to eat once he recognized we were having a peek to see what was going on there,” the Superintendent of Prison explained.
Nurse continued: “Another chap said he heard about the COVID-19 and he wanted a mask…[and] he ain’t get sufficient soap powder to wash his clothes.
“And one man with a ‘tickling’ to his right ear and an itching to his eye. So you see that none of that had anything to do with quality of food, but more to do with little issues that they perhaps thought were not being addressed quickly,” the prison superintendent added.
However, he told Barbados TODAY that once management got to know the issues, they were addressed as quickly as possible and everyone is now eating.
The prison head chastised those who made reports that the hunger strike related to the quality of food.
“I think however, we do have some people who will wish a few seconds of fame by reporting falsehoods to the Press,” Nurse declared, explaining that in his 20 years’ experience managing the penal institution, hunger strikes are not new.
The prison boss admitted that inmates here go on hunger strikes almost every year for various reasons.
“I mean, I have been here now for about two decades and I probably have had about 50 or so hunger strikes that we have had to deal with,” Nurse said.
“And the moment that we get to find out the true cause, we try and address them…and in many cases, there are fairly simple things…matters of misunderstanding and so on; and we try and deal with them as quickly as possible. That is why we are here. To look after the guys,” declared the prison superintendent.
Reports reaching Barbados TODAY had also indicated that the prisoners were only being given meat sometimes on Sundays but instead were fed a regular diet of “manna rice”.
However, while not denying this type of rice was part of the daily meals, Nurse defended the management’s decision to offer it.
“If somebody goes on hunger strike because of manna rice, something really wrong with them…because manna rice is fortified rice. It has all sorts of vitamins and minerals and it has in gran burger and that sort of stuff. So it is a meal-in-one. So it is much more beneficial than normal rice,” Nurse contended.
“In fact, the prisoners clamour for it. They don’t refuse it. If you don’t share some of that sometimes, the fellows start murmuring. They love it. So that most certainly could not have been the cause,” he argued.
The prison chief recalled that about two years ago, officials of the Ministry of Health visited the prison and checked the quality of the meals in light of complaints then about the quality.
“The Ministry of Health come in here and checked our food, because at that time some people were saying the quality was bad. So to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt and to demonstrate what we were doing we had the ministry come in with all of their experts and so on. They looked at the food and we had a passing grade,” the prison head stated.
Nurse was full of praise for the conduct of inmates during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The prisoners have been cooperative, they understood. We have been working with the prisoners, letting them know what the circumstances are on the outside and what we need to do to keep safe; and people have been working together, both staff and prisoners, to make sure that we remain,” Nurse said.
He also noted that so far, there have been no cases of the virus in the prison.
“We keep our fingers crossed,” he added. [email protected]