BVI News

Prison educator takes on role of mom, sister, confidant to dispirited inmates

By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff

When Annie Codner-White stands before her classroom of convicts in a small cottage at Her Majesty’s Prison in Balsam Ghut, unfamiliar outsiders might only reasonably see a ‘teacher’. But the inmates under her pedagogy see something more.

“I am also their mummy, their sister, their aunty, their confidant. Sometimes they come in here and they cry. Sometimes they just want somebody to talk to and listen to them. Some of them feel guilty about their situation. I embrace them. I don’t see them as an outcast,” the sole educator at the facility told BVI News.

Codner-White teaches inmates at the prison Mathematics, English Language, Social Studies, Science and Life Skills. 

The Jamaican national started her campaign at the prison in 2017, and since the inception of the programme, two students have achieved their BVI High School Certificate. The first was Omarie Winter and the second was Shakela Hanley.

“I also do individual studies with inmates where some of them are a bit weak, and also I teach Spanish-speakers English,” she said.

Beyond academics 

Codner-White said that her role is multifaceted. She opted do more than just focus on academics after witnessing the broken spirits of some of her incarcerated students.

“It is also a mission field for me because some of them it’s as if they have no hope. They feel hopeless, but I try to motivate them and tell them about Jesus and hopefully they can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Codner-White said.

I was a bit terrified at first!

She said that things were not always as smooth, and it still isn’t smooth sailing.

The prison educator admitted that she was “a bit terrified” to start the job.

“But the situation worked out quite well for me. It was immediately after Hurricane Irma, and things were on the downside a bit, and there was nothing much to do. But, I used my initiative, and I started a mobile library with the inmates where I took books up to their cells,” Codner-White told BVI News.

She explained that this initiative became an opportunity to foster a bond with the inmates and was the proverbial crack in the door for her with the inmates.

And when classes started in January 2018, “it was easy because that relationship was already set”.

“Even though I had new students coming in, because of the relationship I had with the previous students, they would come and see the relationship; they followed suit,” Codner-White explained.

Change the system!

In the meantime, the 30 year-veteran educator is hopeful that a policy will be implemented to make it mandatory for inmates between the ages of 17 to 21 take the classes.

Codner-White stated, that while there are between five to 10 inmates showing interest in their education, the number fluctuates daily.

“Some of the inmates have the potential. Maybe they didn’t have the guidance or somebody to motivate them. I must admit that it is not easy, and sometimes I have to get rough on them and let them know that their education can help them in the future,” she admitted.

“It bothers me that if they don’t take a hold of this opportunity that is being offered here at the prison when they go out, hey might not be able to find a way to survive and they would have to come back. This is what we don’t want to happen, so we keep encouraging them.”

She is in addition, praying for a change in how persons with a blemish on their record are treated in society.

“I am hoping and praying that the system will change here in the BVI whereby the society will embrace them when they are released [from the prison] and offer them employment because that will prevent them from coming back to some extent,” Codner-White reasoned.

Behind the Bars at Balo is a BVI News short-series that gives a closer look into the inner-workings of the Her Majesty’s Prison in Balsam Ghut. The news feature series seeks to explore inmate-life, prison operations, rehabilitative programmes, among other things.

Copyright 2020 BVI News, Media Expressions Limited. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.

9 Comments

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  1. Ausar says:

    Great news!

    Inmates, too, need proper education, to ensure productivity upon their return to society..

    Like 13
  2. @Ausar says:

    I completely understand what you are saying however, most of them get and receive the proper tools while on the insider to prepare them for their return back into society and they turn around do the same things that got them into trouble. Some have gotten out and stay on the right path by holding down a legal job, staying out of problems and doing what they have to do to be productive to Society.

    Like 1
    Dislike 1
  3. I have no problem with it says:

    Now she deserves being a belonger

    Like 3
    Dislike 1
  4. E. Leonard says:

    Prison/confinement is employed as a mechanism for violators to repay their debts to society for violating the laws of the land. However, there is no benefit to society to just lock up violators and throw away the keys. Most prisoners will return to society, to the community. As such, it must be the goal of the penal system to rehabilitate inmates so that they return to the community better than they entered.

    The community must be ready to accept inmates rejoining the community; the community still incurs a cost even if it rejects accepting returning former inmates. Sentences completed, former inmates need the opportunity to become productive members of the community. Rejected, they will return to the institution and become a burden on taxpayers. Thus, rehabilitation is an investment that reduces recidivism and equip inmates to become productive members of society, giving instead to community instead of taking from it.

    Moreover, the territory must cooperate and collaborate, ie, family, schools, police, churches, NGOs….etc to reduce the prison population. It must work to reduce the number of inmates entering the system in the first place. Investing time and resources on the from end is much more economical and beneficial to the community than having to invest on the back end. Thumbs up to Ms. Anne Codner-White-White!

    Like 13
  5. ?? says:

    Good job Mrs. Codner-White and bless your heart that you are there to get a restart.

    Guys this opportunity of being in prison may be the thing that needed to happen to you to restart your life on the right path.

    Take it and live.

    Ask Mrs. White to help you get a mentor from the outside when you get out there.

    Time go so fast and before you know it, you are 30, 40, 50, 60 and what have you done with your life. You have your family and your youths to live for.

    Don’t waste this opportunity guys….please.

  6. ?? says:

    Kudos to you BVI News for this news series that inform the public of the ups and downs of inmates and the initiatives by the Prison Service and those unselfish members of staff to shine bright lights of hope and support to them for change.

    This news series, I believe will encourage others out here to help and others to stay out here and not do the unthinkable and find themselves at Balo.

  7. Belonger says:

    Thanks for what u r doing Teach.
    God bless u.

  8. Sounds good says:

    This is a needed intervention for the prisoners, but I hope all the weight does not fall on the lady Teacher. There is a Chaplain, I believe, and also Prison Ministries from some of the local churches. Hopefully we will hear more about these from other articles in the series… What male mentors are doing for the young men at the prison.
    Good job, BVI News!

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