The Community Regeneration Fair took place at Westgate today, bringing a range of agencies and private sector employers together with prisoners looking towards life on the outside. *File photo by Ras Mykkal
The Community Regeneration Fair took place at Westgate today, bringing a range of agencies and private sector employers together with prisoners looking towards life on the outside. *File photo by Ras Mykkal
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WEDNESDAY, MAR. 28: Prisons chief Edward Lamb today (Wednesday) threw open the doors of Westgate to publicise a pioneering scheme to help ensure prisoners who complete their sentences don’t go back behind bars again.

Lt-Col. Lamb said the Community Regeneration Fair, which brings a range of agencies and private sector employers together with prisoners looking towards life on the outside, helped to make it easier for inmates to cope back in the community.

Col. Lamb added: “It’s called ‘bridging the gap’. We bring in people so inmates can be pointed in the right direction so they can start making plans — somewhere to live, work or financial assistance.

“We want to bring the community into the jail to help inmates get back into the community and we’ve found in the past that it’s been very productive and extremely successful.”

Around 120 inmates of the 190 Westgate prisoners were eligible to attend, and Col. Lamb said around 80 or 90, who were not either at work or in classes, were expected to take advantage of the event.

Government agencies, construction and other businesses, as well as a range of charitable groups were among the more than 20 organisations which turned up to meet the prisoners.

A 37-year-old, who hopes to be released next year after being sentenced to two-and-a-half years, said: “I’ve found it a very productive event.

“It gives you hope that people are interested in those who are in prison – I’m prepared to do any work I can possibly find, providing it’s legal.”

One prisoner, a former aircraft engineer in his 40s and within sight of the end of a long sentence, said: “I just want to get some information on how we can help ourselves when we get out of here.

“I want to start my own business, pick up the pieces and get on with my life. I want to be a better person in the community and for my kids.

“I was an engineer and I want to get back into that.”

Another prisoner, aged 30 and a former cruise ship waiter, is one year away from the end of a three-year sentence for drugs offences.

He said: “I want to open my own restaurant — a bar first, then a restaurant. This is a useful event for me.”

Blair Richardson and Vance Hollis, both highly qualified technicians, manned the stand for Bermuda Air Conditioning.

Mr Richardson said: “We’re here to show them there are opportunities out there for them. We’re telling them how they can qualify and that they’re welcome to apply for an apprenticeship for us once they have done a college course.”

Mr Richardson added that, in addition to being prepared to take on suitably qualified apprentices, the firm had in the past hired ex-prisoners for labouring jobs with the company.

Mr Hollis added: “We want to encourage inmates — there are individuals who have done a distance air conditioning course while incarcerated and joined Bermuda Air Conditioning afterwards and led productive lives.”

Col. Lamb said: “Our mission is to enable inmates to become more productive and be better citizens. In order to do that, we have to get them the right tools.

“This will help put the right tools in their toolboxes. Our goal is to never see these guys again. We have a low recidivism rate, comparatively speaking anyway, but we want to make it even lower.”

And he threw down a challenge to people who think Westgate is too soft an environment.

Col. Lamb said: “If they think Westgate is a hotel, I invite them to check in. They will get a reality check while they’re here.

“They will see exactly what deprivation of liberty means. A lot of people have difficulty in adjusting to that. Westgate is definitely not a soft option.”

Col. Lamb added: “In addition to incarcerating people and keeping them from the rest of the community, which we do, it’s our duty to equip them to live the rest of their lives.

“We can’t simply warehouse them — in addition to depriving them of their freedom in a secure environment, which is a serious thing, we have to prepare them for life.”