On Monday, we showed you a portion of our interview with 24 year-old Robinson Michael, the man who came fresh out of the Belize Central Prison to condemn the Kolbe Administration for corruption and advantage taking.
That's a very serious charge to lay at the feet of the country's prison keepers, and so we held off on airing his allegations against Kolbe until we got an opportunity to speak with an executive of the prison to address his laundry list of allegations. That opportunity presented itself today, when our news team had a sit-down with the CEO and an accompanying tour of the facility. Daniel Ortiz has that story with allegations and counter allegations on both sides.
Virgilio Murrillo - Acting CEO, Belize Central Prison
"Kolbe Foundation is very much into maintaining a secure humane prison that is geared towards rehabilitation for successful re-integration of the inmates that come here. We are very much aware that incarcerating has a negative impact on families, particularly spouses and children. What we try to is as a captive audience we try to rehabilitate these offenders so that when they return to society they can transition successfully and remain crime free once they return to society."
Daniel Ortiz reporting
That's the public face of the Kolbe Foundation Prison, a facility to protect the public from dangerous criminals who have broken the law. Because of the numbers of new prisoners, it keeps expanding, and the maintenance fee of about 7 million dollars annually is not enough to run an ideal facility.
The other image, the face that is allegedly reserved for only for prisoners housed at the facility, is one which is slowly rotting with corruption and maladministration. Former Inmate Robison Michael claims that there is inhumane treatment which can sometimes lead to physical abuse from prison officers who rule with an iron fist of intimidation.
But who do you believe? On one hand, the accuser is a former criminal who has spent 7 years in jail, who has lived the life, seeing things from the inside of lockdown. His credibility is, however, tainted by his past actions, and persons we've talked describe him as a fast-talking con artist. On the other, there is the new acting CEO, who the former inmate would lead you to believe is covering up illegal activity.
Virgilio Murrillo - Acting CEO, Belize Central Prison
"I'm the acting CEO for the prison."
"Sir how long have you been in the prison system here in Kolbe?"
"It's going on 13 years now. I don't know is I want to be spending too much time trying to address each and every issue he may be raising after this. I gave you the most upfront answers as far as I am aware. We have absolutely nothing to hide. "
"You need to be careful with Mr. Michael because he is a fast talking con artist and senior investigator, police officer and prison officers have told us the same things, they say your mouth is sweet, and they say you are able to present this picture to give a story that is believable. And so we have to question it ourselves."
Robinson Michael - Former Prison Inmate
"Well Mr. Ortiz, I'm glad that you brought this to my attention because I know this would have been the end result. They would have dug up my files and tried to use that to silence me, but I want to tell the administration of Kolbe that they need to 'wheel and come again'. Because my past is not a secret, I am willing to go to the court and get my rap sheet, bring it to channel 7 and show them who I was. This is the beauty about life because there's the past, present and now future. My future now is to deal with them."
So what are the allegations? The matter of highest concern is the issue of corruption and breach of security. For years, there have been allegations in the community that prisoners, referred to as "trustees" are being given weekends off from prison, like a weekend pass. Michael says it exists and that the Prison condones this illegal behavior.
"She has an inmate who goes out from in the morning until evening. That is a misuse of power and a breach of security. One, the inmate doesn't go to society in uniform, they use civilian clothing to hide his identity."
"We've received reports like this before and this is the first person to have gone on record."
"I am not aware that that has happened neither am I aware that it is happening and I can certainly tell you that under my stewardship it won't happen. I can categorically say that I am not aware that those things are happening. I can almost put my head on the block for my people that are not allowing those things to happen at night time when we leave the prison. Remember I don't stay here after certain hours, I have to go home so I don't know that is happening. We have a general system and my security hierarchy would more than likely call me if they see something is out of the ordinary."
"But sir, this is a human system and as you've rightly described, persons have found ways to circumvent these kinds of systems. So it's plausible that persons can be spirited from the prison and the books are cooked to account for that kind of behaviour without it raising any red flags."
"Like I said earlier and will say again, as long as I am the man in charge, it will not happen. So you can let the records show that because I'll make sure that there's every backstop, every holes are plugged to make sure it doesn't happen."
Robinson alleges that inhumane treatment is a part of prison life, and that those in the population accept that it happens, but he doesn't.
"The disposal of inmates faeces are done in buckets, which is outdated. Kolbe claims that they are striving towards a humane facility. What is humane in stooling in a bucket and have to inhale that all day, sometimes 3 days. Because they have the QTR that are responsible to go and ensure that the faeces are disposed of. Sometimes for 3 days inmates have to inhale their own faeces."
"Prior to taking over the prison, there was no sewer system and with the limited resources that Kolbe had over the years. We have installed a proper sewer system, proper plumbing. I would say most of the buildings and cells have their individual toilets. There are locations that might still be using the bucket, but certainly it's not three days they have to wait. The bucket is a parade that takes place every day."
"There exists the possibility that, because you aren't there to monitor what's happening, the prison officers or the QRT, as we've been told they are called, could be using this as some sort of punishment mechanism. 'Stay in there with it for a little while'."
"We have, I should say, what we call an inmate advisory committee. It's a committee that is made up of 6 inmates and I meet with these people every two weeks. These inmates come to the table every other Tuesday and they would report on those matters that are affecting them. We are very much aware, like you pointed out a while ago, that it is human beings that are supervising these inmates and they might very well be covering up or might very well be allowing certain things to happen that should not be happening. I am sure if we had this kind of thing happening, believe you me, these guys won't keep quiet. I mean if you go back to part of 2000, you will realize they had riots at this place and prisoners lost their lives because of the unrest. Definitely this is exactly how they behave."
But according to Michael, inmates would keep things like that quiet because there are prison officers who allegedly run everything inside the prison walls. He claims that officers have an area where they beat prisoners with batons and pepper spray them to show who the boss is.
"The QRT's come in when they have violence, they come in with their pepper spray and their batons. Now I want to ask you if you think it's right to have me restrained and still spraying me laughing like it's a joke. This is actually torture, I would call it. And they have a place, the same administrative segregation that has a tower, where they do the torturing. One time I was placed back there, I committed an infraction in the prison, and the super intendant set an order for the whole "A Wing flight" in the remanded section to be brought back there and beat and sprayed. I was in this cell and all you hear is inmates crying, getting tortured."
The CEO acknowledges that corrupt behavior could happen with the administrators of the prison, and that the biggest motivator is financial gain, because the prison officers aren't getting the salary to sustain the high cost of living.
"We are dealing with human beings, and they will make error. Whatever their frame of mind was at the time they calculated to do those things, there's no telling. I can tell you with sincerity and assurance that we had a case recently where a particular prisoner was treated brutally. I took a stance against that. We have a zero tolerance for it, it would go against our humane aspect of our vision. I terminated those 2 officers and I suspended three. I believe that sent a message. From time to time, these things may occur. We don't want it to occur, but it is always a human being or a human resource that lets us down. It happens in every organization, it doesn't have to be in a prison, and I mean the police has it, the BDF has it. But you could rest ashore that it doesn't happen, and if it does and I find out, we will investigate thoroughly. The bill will be placed properly and the persons responsible will be dealt with accordingly. We're at a stage right now where we would want to pay our prison offers more than they are collecting right now. If you look at the news, you will notice that a lot of prison officers get caught trying to smuggle drugs into the prison, smuggle cell phone. Well you don't hear about the cell phone because it's not really breaking the law, we will normally just let them go. But the cell phones and smuggling into the prison is no joke and quite a number of officers lose their job for trying to smuggle a cell phone. What you think he did that for? He did that for a probably a little extra $50, a little extra $100. He never really tried to weigh it on a scale and compare it to what he makes as a salary per anum - looking at 100 dollars for that moment he says 'it's a nice little way to make something' and he tries. Why would you think he would make that risk? Because maybe he has needs and maybe he has wages that Kolbe is paying is not suffice."
Michael goes further than that and suggests that desperation is not the only motivation, that Kolbe's autonomy in managing the prison causes corruption to breed.
"Please let the abuse of inmates cease. Because actually Mr. Ortiz, when you treat a human being like an animal. Eventually they start to act and behave like an animal. The ripple effect comes out into society. Because at the end of the day, each inmate has a release date. A man with life right now is going home Mr Ortiz."
So, it goes back to the big question. Who do you believe?
Today, there were portions of the Prison that Michael wanted us to visit, but which we were not allowed to see due to security reasons.
As a matter of fact, Michael went through painstaking lengths to draw us up a map from memory with the names of the facilities, and areas we should go. Viewing it here, we were only able to go to all the areas on the right, all the way to the industrial zone. We were not permitted to all of the areas from the middle of the map, going to the left, which are the prison cells of the general prison population.
And, while that's a summary of the controversial issues of the prison - which in itself was lengthy, there is that other side of the prison that we haven't shown you yet. Tune in to Monday's newscast when we'll show you how the Prison has turned the projects designed for personal rehabilitation of inmates into profit which is now a major source of funding for the facility's daily operations. That's in addition to the 7+ million dollars that the foundation receives from the Government annually. We'll share that with you next week.