Deputy Director of the Guyana Prison Service, Gladwin Samuels on Tuesday bluntly denied claims by several prisoners that he had instructed that a door at the Georgetown Prison be locked and allowed a number of inmates to burn.
“I would not have, Sir, more so in a prison environment” he said when asked by Lawyer for the Guyana Prison Service, Selwyn Pieters whether he had said on that fateful day, “let them bun and dead” under any circumstance.
Appearing before a three-member Commission of Inquiry into the March 3, 2016 prison violence that resulted in the burning to death of 17 prisoners, Samuels strongly suggested that the prisoners lied on him for fear of their own safety. “A prisoner is going to come here and say exactly what transpired on that day and there are persons in the prisons who are aware of what happened on that day but they cannot come and say it because either when they get back to the prison they are going to be what we call ‘sorted out’ or some time down the road… or they are going to be viewed as what is called a ‘kochore’,” he said.
Samuels said due to the high rate of repeat offenders, there was a great likelihood of prisoners being beaten if they told the truth to the Commission of Inquiry.
Before denying that he had issued an order for the prisoners to be locked inside, he detailed the tense situation inside the Camp Street jail in the hours leading up to thick smoke and flames emanating from Capital Block A. “I did not see anyone from Capital A coming out. I then instructed a civilian worker, Michael Cozier , to utilize a power cutter to get the lock on the door cut. Cozier responded immediately and I saw him actually trying to cut but he retreated and said the heat was too much to operate in,” he said.
Samuels explained that prior to the fire, prison authorities had hoped to sanitize Capital Block B of illegal items such as drugs and improvised weapons and then move to Capital Block A to get the prisoners out. However, he said on recognizing that that there was a fire, he went to the prison yard and instructed that the prisoners evacuate but the door was not opening.
After Cozier failed to open the door, he said efforts were made to use a small pump and a hose to cool the area but two lengths of hose could not have been connected. Eventually, the Guyana Fire Service’s hose was put through an opening of the prison wall and it was used to cool the area. Prison wardens then tried using a key to open the lock but that and banging of the door with an extinguisher failed until after “considerable efforts.”
On March 2, 2016, on the eve of the violent unrest, he said a search had revealed improvised weapons and suspected marijuana. By his account, he said the prisoners had also removed metal beds and made weapons, prompting authorities to identify the ring-leaders for transfer to another prison.
The Director of Prison said he never had a firearm in his possession on entering the Georgetown Prison where inmates had been cursing and threatening prison officers. A hole between Capital A and Capital B, he said, was broken out by the prisoners. “Having heard what was happening, when I looked around the prison yard based on my assessment I concluded that the security arrangement on the ground was not adequate to protect staff and by extension the public,” he said.
Although, according to Samuels, he had instructed three prison officers to uplift firearms for themselves and take his firearm to him in accordance with the Standing Order that deals with the prevention of a prison being overrun, he eventually abandoned the idea of the use of guns because of the worsening security situation at the jail.
The Deputy Director of Prisons recalled that during the search exercise, prisoners in one of the blocks refused repeated orders by now acting Prison Director, Carl Pilgrim, even as they issued threats to kill prison personnel and commit various forms of sexual offences, including anal sex, on them. “. Prisoners were told to come out repeatedly, they refused,” he said.
He said eventually after several requests, the prisoners from Capital B began exiting at which time he saw a fire in the hole of the wall. While prison service personnel were extinguishing the fire, he said someone from Capital A continued to throw mattresses on the fire.
After prisoners repeatedly blamed Samuels for the deaths of their fellow inmates, he said Commander of ‘A’ Division, Clifton Hicken asked that he leave the prison.
The Deputy Director of Prisons said he never lead a task force to the prison and was never clad in task force uniform.
Describing the experience as “very devastating,” he said over the years he had demonstrated excellent leadership qualities and “I did all that was possible to safeguard the loves of prisoners” especially an additional 64 prisoners who were held hostage in Capital B. He said the media have portrayed him as a “barbaric person,” a situation that has affected him, his parents, wife and child a lot. “My life basically has changed.” “Persons who know me especially prisoners who would be willing to speak the truth would give a totally different account of me and my operations at work.”
He said he was not offered counseling by the authorities but he sought such services on his own. “You relive the experience on a daily basis. It’s not easy to deal with,” he said.