ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Almost 19 years ago he made headlines when he was convicted and sentenced for the 1993 killing of Comptroller of Customs Rolston “Dolly House” Samuel, and today, less than a week after his release, he is using the experience to admonish young people to keep out of trouble.
Everton Welch, who was merely 17 years old when he was convicted said, “There are some young men out there who see the prison like it’s another St James’s Club and I want them to know prison is a complicated place. It is harsh.”
Welch, who was serving time at the Queen’s Pleasure, (no fixed date for release) was released after his lawyer Dr David Dorsett made representation on his behalf to Judge Richard Floyd, who deemed that the convicted had served enough time and was sufficiently rehabilitated.
The father of one said his time behind bars had its positives and negatives but many who are condemned to serve time only hold on to the negatives.
“Prison is a very difficult place. It can bring you down and also bring you up; it depends on many things. For me, after being in prison for 18 years and 10 months, I’d say that without the love of God and without strong faith and courage one could lose one’s mental status. So I learned a lot, I earned to trust in God and to hold faith and believe in who I believe in, which is Jesus Christ,” Welch said in an exclusive interview.
“The good thing is that I’ve learned that once Jesus Christ is on your side, don’t care how long it is, he will see you through.”
Welch said he recognises that not many inmates choose “the better” path because the system is not designed to rehabilitate, thus “the weak ones don’t change.”
Those he referred to as weak include the repeat offenders. Having said that, Welch, who is eager to get a job to help take care of his daughter, added that he hopes government would consider hiring him for advice on identifying and rectifying existing problems with the operations of Her Majesty’s Prison.
“If I get the chance I’d advise the government that prison doesn’t fit everyone. I think prison should be a place for rehabilitation, but the way in which the prison is running at present, they train young people to be like wild lion(s), Welch said.
Directing his remarks to the Minister of National Security Dr Errol Cort, Welch added, “They need a new prison; they definitely need a new prison and rehabilitation programmes that run on a regular basis. There was a group called the visiting justice committee who came to the prison and was supposed to do rehabilitation and there were times we hadn’t seen them in months,” he charged.
He also pointed out that many of the young men currently behind bars and others who have passed through the prison during his time there, were “brought up at the Boys Training School.”
“I think in that regard the government is also responsible in a lot of ways. Most of them come out and are worse and they end up in prison anyway. At the end of the day, they still come out bad. The stop sign should be outside the prison and not inside because if you wait until the person gets into prison to try to help, it might be too late,” Welsh said.
Now 36 years old, Welch said he spent many days and nights in a cold cell, reflecting on his mistakes and one of his biggest regrets is not finishing school and thus not reaching his goal of becoming a lawyer or social worker – a goal he said he might have set “a little too late.”
“Education is very important. I could not read very well when I went to prison but I kept trying in there and I am now qualified, a better reader and I can write, I could get along on my own now,” he revealed.
The seemingly contrite man said, “I want a new life. I want to know what it feels like to fall in love and I just want to put everything behind me and move forward. I was 17 when I was arrested and my daughter was born eight months after I went to jail so I’ve never met her until recently … she didn’t finish school … my situation has affected her life as much as it did mine,” an emotional Welch said.
With tears in his eyes, Welsh said, “I never got to do the things I always wanted to do for her, but now I’m here she can have a new start … I would do anything to help her as a father and I’m going to always be a part of her life once she is willing to and ready to accept me in her life … I never had expected my life would’ve been like this and I’m sorry this is the way it ended up. I know I would’ve done a lot of things differently, Welch said to conclude the interview.
Meantime, Dr Cort said the convict’s observations are in line with what the ministry has also noted and efforts are already underway to make necessary improvements, though not at the desired pace.
“We have started a very serious and structured rehabilitation programme in the prison and that is evident with the establishment of a prison library and the number of courses we have running in the prison through the Ministry of Culture and the Directorate of Gender Affairs,” the minister said.
He said the partnership of the ministries would see more inmates writing Caribbean Secondary Examinations Council (CSEC) in 2012 while there is hope they would soon be able to prepare for “A” Levels, online diplomas and degrees.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)