AT the funeral a few years ago of one of his officers who had been murdered by someone still unknown, and for reasons equally mysterious, a former prisons commissioner movingly paraphrased the soca star Voice consigning such a perpetrator to flames. In other words, justice must be served.
For some it may have come across as a turning point in the resolve by the prisons authorities to gather greater determination in addressing what had long become a pattern. Prison officers appear to be sitting ducks for persons who have decided to exact the ultimate price, for what is yet to be made clear. Nothing has happened in the interim to give effect to the former commissioner’s threat.
Within days of each other in recent weeks, two more prison officers have been gunned down, with not so much as speculation behind what may have led to these murders. If the following has not been the conclusion of right-thinking citizens up to this point, it certainly has presented itself as a cold reality at present.
A decision to pursue a job, if not a career in the prison service, is one of life and death. The continued slaughter of these officers, with no clues as to why, makes this one of the potentially deadliest of occupations in Trinidad and Tobago today. In the wake of the murder of officer Stephen Richardson, sitting prisons chief Dennis Pulchan said the work of those under his command has some levels of danger attached to it. He testified to his and the authorities’ inability to pinpoint just why this has come to be the case.
He had been speaking, of course, in the shadow of the murder, just weeks earlier of another officer, Sherwin Francis. But the commissioner’s remarks qualify as understatement. There continues to be no indication of any intelligence into what is driving these successful plots to take out officers in the Prisons Service. This itself is singularly bothersome all on its own. By virtue of what is required of them in the normal course of performing their assigned functions, Prison officers must accept a grim reality. This is that they will likely become sitting ducks for interests and elements, inside and outside the system, vested in the perpetuation of an undeclared war.
Whether or not the repeated calls by the association representing the officers for them to be afforded arms for their own personal safety and security is still a rallying cry, one reality has been spawned over the period of this advocacy for self-defence. This is that this occupation has surely lost its attractiveness as a choice of employment for many job seekers.
There are obviously some officers who can be held to be responsible for enabling criminal activity, with the availability of cellphones inside the prisons, as an example. Equally, however, there are others committed to disrupting these systems inside the lock-up.
But the near-impunity with which those with clear, murderous axes to grind, continue to pick off those public officers calls for greater focus by the country’s forces of laws and order than is apparent.