Features — 06 December 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Kolbe axes Chaplain

Chaplain tells Amandala he was fired because he “caused trouble” over inhumane condition of prisoners

Kolbe Foundation, manager of the Belize Central Prison, has terminated its Chaplain, who they allege was going outside the ambit of his role by raising contention over denominational issues. However, the former worker, Chaplain Andrew Reynolds, told Amandala Wednesday morning that he was fired because he kept pressing management to address the inhumane conditions in which inmates were being kept.

Reynolds said that he has been brought to tears over what he has seen, and he wrote Kolbe’s management – to no avail. Instead, Reynolds said, what he later got was a termination letter, telling him that his services were no longer needed.

After conducting an investigation commissioned by Labour Minister Godwin Hulse, Labour Commissioner Ivan Williams disclosed that 33 workers were let go by Kolbe during the first six months of 2013—a high rate of almost 6 workers every month, resulting in a 12.3% reduction in staff.

Although the firings have not continued at this accelerated rate, we continue to receive reports of more terminations.

In July, health authorities had documented issues of unsanitary conditions at the prison, and while that report raised concerns over houseflies and rodents, Reynolds said that one inmate’s cell was invaded by a “fat tommy goff” snake.

Reynolds told Amandala that he was terminated after he wrote Kolbe management raising concerns about what he described to us to be the subhuman treatment of inmates.

In a letter dated September 9, 2013, which Reynolds wrote Kolbe’s Superintendent of Prisons Taheera Ahmad, he expressed the intent to produce a three-month program of spiritual awareness, anger management, leadership skills, and self-knowledge—which he said would prepare inmates to reintegrate into society with a positive outlook.

He said he also wrote Kolbe chairman John Woods on October 8, 2013, offering to provide counsel to Kolbe guards and an on-site nurse. Reynolds pointed to a female officer who “talks dirty and curses like a sea-man.”

He also complained that, “I have heard and seen officers treat inmates like animals for no reason; I have heard with my ears the prison nurse cursing like sea captain.”

Reynolds offered to counsel these persons “to make Kolbe Foundation a more respectable place, safer, and [a] place of discipline.”

“When we treat another human like an animal, we will get animal results,” he wrote.

Reynolds said that Woods had previously mentioned to him about the counseling of the guards.

On October 25, Reynolds was terminated by Kolbe CEO Earl Jones. He was told that his assignment with Kolbe had ended with effect on the said date.

However, when we spoke with Jones today, he said that Reynolds was let go near the end of his three-month probationary period because he did not satisfy the requirement, as set out by law, to be the chaplain for Belize Central Prison. He said that the chaplain should display the skill to address the religious aspect of all different denominations, and can’t only focus on one denomination.

“He has to be able to address everybody’s spiritual needs,” Jones said.

According to the CEO, Agrippo Ical, who is serving a life sentence for murder, has been under the tutelage of Catholic priest Stochl, and he is being prepared to take over the job that Reynolds had. Ical had been working in the chapel for 8 to 10 years, said Jones.

While Jones told us that he had sat with Reynolds two weeks before his termination to discuss the denominational issues—including allegations that he had been canceling prison visits of Catholics and other denominations—Reynolds told us that no such meeting was ever held.

Reynolds claimed, when we spoke with him again today, that Jones had indicated to him on termination that the issue was funding.

He said that Kolbe chairman John Woods refused to meet with him over his termination.

But Reynolds does take issue with the manner in which the inmates are being indoctrinated—he said, contrary to the Scriptures. He points to Rosary prayers to Mary and graven images, which he said emphatically are contrary to the commandments in the Scriptures.

He said a lot of guys want to go to the chapel, but when they see a Virgin Mary and Jesus on a cross, they don’t want to go.

“That is the worst thing,” said Reynolds, adding that the Scriptures distinctly say that graven images are not to be made. Plus, he said, Mary is dead, yet they have inmates praying to her.

“They water down the Word,” Reynolds said.

But, he told us, his main issue—for which he is convinced he was fired—had nothing to do with his religious convictions.

According to Reynolds, his outcry over how inmates are being treated was the real problem.

Kolbe gets its name from Maximilian Kolbe, the Roman Catholic patron saint for prisoners. Jones said that he was a Jesuit.

He said that although there is that Catholic connection, they do not exclude other religious denominations from teaching in the prison – whether they preach of Buddha or Christ or Islam’s Mohammed.

Reynolds had made it clear to prison authorities that he preaches and works in the name of Jehovah.

He also takes issue with Catholic priests having inmates confess to them.

“These people are still doing these things in 2013!” he told us.

Jones said that the prison does not support discrimination against other established religions.

Abdul Nunez, leader of the Belize Central Prison Coalition, told Amandala that he is disheartened that the firing of Kolbe workers continues, even after they have gone to the highest authority of this country – the Prime Minister.

He said that, since no action seems to have been taken with regards to Kolbe even after he went and had a sit-down with Godwin Hulse, he is starting to believe this is racism. If it was a black man chairing Kolbe, he said, the Government would have already stepped in.

“That is the impression I get. I don’t have any other choice but to wonder what is going on,” Nunez told us.

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