My visit to Richmond Hill Prison was made possible through the good offices of Desmond LaTouche, Coordinator of Adult Education In Grenada, and the present Prison Commissioner, Winston Courtney. I wish to make it clear that Mr. Courtney appears to have the best interests of the prisoners at the front of his mind. This, according to the history which cross-checks with several witnesses, distinguishes him from former wardens about whom the prisoners, and some civilians, complain bitterly. The prisoners, and especially Bernard and Phyllis Coard, have written at length and protested at their trial about the torture and denial of rights they believed overshadowed the case against them.(1) What follows is a transcription of the notes I made immediately following my interview with Coard and others. No prison officials were present during the interviews which took place in a classroom and outside the prison library. Participants spoke freely. In this case, the use of recording devices was prohibited, a rule the prisoners chose to obey.
I was in Richmond Hill Prison from 10:40 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. Richmond Hill is on one of the most beautiful overlooks of Grenada. The jail is immediately adjacent to a courtroom building at the end of a winding road leading up from St. George. Seventeen NJM members remain in prison, sentences reduced from hanging to life, for the murder of Maurice Bishop, Jacqueline Creft, Norris Bain, and others, perhaps hundreds of Grenadian citizens. One enters through an aging green security gate, travels down a typically pockmarked lane interrupted by unnecessary speed bumps, past a small guard house, and to the office of the Director, a man of notable military bearing wearing the chevaliers of "HMP" and carrying a swagger stick which he uses as a pointer and a door knocker.
The Director took Desmond Latouche and me on a tour of the prisoners' work areas. The ocean breeze blowing across this hilltop is an incongruous intrusion into what prison life is portrayed to be. But the smell of Richmond prison is a reminder, always, that this is a jail, a very old one. Women prisoners are kept separate from men, though some limited visiting is permitted. I saw about a dozen women at work. The women, including Phyllis Coard, work as seamstresses, making heavy blue denim prison uniforms. Phyllis Coard jerked bodily over an old machine whining beneath her spasmodic fingers. She looked up at us, surprised, appeared as if she would speak, shook her head, her face trembled, and she returned to work. The warden moved us along, saying that "Mrs. Coard has had a difficult time". The men are held in areas slightly down the hill from the women. As we entered the work area, the men rose with a "Good morning, sir", to the warden, apparently heartfelt, at least not with any sarcasm that I could note--nor out of any obvious sense of fear. I should point out that this kind of greeting is common in Grenada, when employees greet employers for example, but also when citizens simply greet one another. We walked through a woodworking shop where the men were making beds on ancient lathes, through a floor-mat making tin-topped hut where coconut shells are converted to mats on a machine driven by a screaming rubber belt, through a broom shop and a rope-making shop (to say shop probably overstates the tiny tin sheds), past a large prison farm in the adjoining valley, brown with the sun, past a work crew (including former General Hudson Austin on the shovel and looking quite trim, down form his heavy-weight photographs) constructing a water facility, through a 3' by 5' brown door within a huge gate, and into the interior prison yard (here the warden left us), upstairs to the prison library which, with about 100 books, is not a terribly distant second to the Grenada National Library. We went to a second floor classroom, a dank place once painted, perhaps, yellow, maybe light brown, where about fifteen men, clad in the tough blue denim of the jail, were seated listening to a lecture by one of their colleagues on the intricacies of the human heart. It became quickly clear to me that this was not an introductory course; the fellow speaking had medical training.
On a wooden bench in the rear sits Bernard Coard, Minister of Finance of New Jewel. He looks fit. His teeth are still good, eyes slightly off focus behind a pair of thick dark corrective glasses. He talks with Desmond LaTouche and me while the class continues, then as the conversation gets good we move outside the door. He is fully upright, about 5'11", probably 190 pounds, no visible signs of maltreatment, and with a ready smile when he addresses a subject that fascinates him. Coard is clearly fulfilled by mental work, the struggle of debate. We are joined by Selwyn Strachan and other prisoners as the conversation continues. They do not contribute but watch intently.
Asked the base of the national literacy project, Coard is straightforward, "Economics. Production. For national development." He explains in elaborate detail the rippling effect of adult literacy--into the family, into the home, into more sophisticated jobs (which he saw as the future of Grenada, not labor intensive, but capital-intensive high-tech jobs). "It's a very small island. You can have 10,000 people here unemployed and call that 40% unemployment. Figures here get magnified. But five factories of industries could wipe that out. Our plan was to use the money from the airport to recreate the nature of work in Grenada, to have fully high- tech employment based on the next stage of the education program, vocational-technological education. We put education first to develop the human resource, which should be seen as constant capital, for national economic development".
Responding to my question, "What do you see as the link between literacy, political consciousness, and support for, a mass base for, the revolution?", Coard replied,
"You can generate a lot of support from people through their pocketbooks. We set in place a mass housing program, often benefitting the poorest people in Grenada, the people in Gairy's base, which influenced thousands of people, especially in a country where one house fits six or seven. We also relied heavily on the educational aspects of our mass rallies. That happened at least every week (the new government is trying to duplicate that with festivals now-- in fact they've adopted, adapted, many of our programs under the slogan 'good programs---bad guys of the past'). These mass rallies, usually led by Maurice Bishop, combined the spirit of the revolution with the basic information, economic factors local, national and international, that the people needed to understand their lives and surroundings. So these rallies were a new form of literacy which built political consciousness and support for the revolution.
Of course we invited Freire, as you know, and he designed the literacy campaigns. I think they were pretty successful. We believed we halved the rate in four years, most of
that the first year. He put together the workbooks with Creft
and others. They were as we hoped. The textbooks would have helped
build our technological class. Now things are going fast
backwards. All the time we get in here young men, 17, 18, 19,
who passed through Grenada's education system and still cannot
read or write. We set up this literacy program here because of
that. It happens all the time, man, even from St. George."
The literacy campaign would have made jobs, would have made technological development possible so we could be a high- tech country. That was possible then."
And democracy or equality or social justice?
"Those come with the enhanced economic base. But you must see that the PRG was far more democratic than any previous government and far more fair with the masses of people. Equality also means equal chances to go to school and get a job. We had incentives to get people to work and to heighten the desirability of jobs. But the main thing was to put people in motion building the national economy and then things could flow from there."
At this point, Coard entered a long discussion about the state of education as it is today. He accurately described the number of scholarships available to secondary school children post-revolution but credits the revolution for what scholarships are there. He pointed out the privatization of schools on the island, the return of biased entrance exams and fees. He claimed the revolution created a whole new class of professionals. Before the PRG only the professional class could produce professionals. the revolution sent children all over the world for technical training to learn to be dentists, and doctors and lawyers and economists. Now they are back in Grenada and they have not lost their cultural ties. So Coard claims they may outnumber the old people who once constituted that class and because of their numbers they are changing the nature of that class itself. That was an important goal.
"I would rather not say that the teachers were a weak link. We did plan to retrain them all over time. They did volunteer work during the CPE period for example and many were
supportive. The invasion hit our retraining process. Remember many of our plans were crushed but we still made big steps. Yes, our materials were directive and crude. But remember when those Soviet and Cuban teachers were here, even the nuns said, 'We want them back' because they
weren't teaching doctrinaire politics, they were teaching math
and science and subjects to promote national economic development and growth. That was the political part.
But of course we should have developed more sophisticated textbooks.
We developed Marryshow and Let Us Learn Together under great
pressure and time constraints. We put together a crusade about literacy in less than a year. Remember it was a crusade. It involved the spirit of the masses of people. Whenever a top leader stepped forward, that leader talked about literacy, the importance of reading the material. But we also developed a structure based in the constant capital of the people, that reached nearly the entire population. And today, while they use many of the things NJM built, from the airport (which they could not destroy like they tried to destroy the rest of the revolution) to the adult literacy campaign, the bureaucrats cannot understand that in any of these campaigns money need not come first. People are the constant capital of that job. You can carry on decent classes under a mango tree. That may not be
ideal, but it can be if the people are participating. I cannot understand why this cannot be done today. These men (today) are not corrupt or dishonest or incompetent, they are in fact fine patriots, men who have their country deep in their hearts and who you could call at midnight with an educational problem, but they do not and seemingly will not put people first in their plans. It is always building, materials, etc.
The education plan was to build the economy. As the economy
grew, then we would move more to the other goals. We had great plans for full employment through technological development, through building the economy, but, well the but is why I am here."
I asked Coard his estimate of the political consciousness of
people in Grenada now. He replied that people are "cynical, but they remember the New Jewel programs. They know the way we were creating development was working. But no one believes the current leadership can do anything. There are no new leaders around and none in sight."
Asked how it is there are no leaders now, Coard simply shook his head. He said, "The invasion crushed the leadership and many people are fearful now."
Coard went on to discuss the possibilities for his release from prison, which he thinks are less than 50-50. He indicated that he would like to do work for the Ministry of Finance from jail, but if he is ever released he wants to leave the island, permanently. Now he assists in running the prison adult education program. He thinks nothing good can come from his presence in Grenada. He insists he did not get a fair trial and should be released for that reason alone. Coard also says he was tortured, as were most of the men, but that the women were tortured most severely. Phyllis Coard is clearly unwell, he says, "Now, not well in her mind".
When asked what is the role of school and educators in social
change, Coard again turned immediately to a discussion of national
economic development and the vital link development plays in social
change. He never raised the issue of class consciousness. Informed
that I believe the theory of productive forces is a Trojan Horse,
Coard looked briefly surprised and laughed heartily.
Terry Marryshow is the elected (1992 by a democratic vote) leader of the Maurice Bishop National Party (once Maurice Bishop People's Movement) which he credits with, if nothing else, getting the highway to the airport named after Bishop, a compromise position falling short of the Maurice Bishop Airport. The MBNP, claims Marryshow, is composed of masses of people, including dozens of teachers, who support the programs of the revolution. A Cuban-trained M.D., Marryshow left the island in 1981 when he noticed discord within the PRG armed forces where he was a commander. Marryshow returned to Grenada in 1986 but was not allowed to practice medicine or vote until late 1989. In the interim, Marryshow lived by the graces of a "generous mother". TM hates the "Coard gang" who he says committed fratricide by murdering Bishop and hundreds of citizens who threw themselves off the St. George Fort wall. Moreover, he sees Bishop as an "early proponent of perestroika and glasnost", a nationalist leader adapting socialism and well ahead of his time. In contrast, TM talks of the "ideology drunk" Coard gang who talked of an "Afghan resolution" and wanted Grenada to become a duplicate Soviet Union. TM would like to see Coard, et. al., hanged and he also says he hates the owner of my hotel, Glen St Louis (who urged me to talk to TM--interview below) for participating in elections on the MBNP ticket but being, in reality, " A Coard agent". He says MBNP led a series of rallies beginning on March 13, 1994 (the anniversary of the revolution) which involved thousands (St Louis, the press and Latouche say hundreds) of Grenadians in commemoration of Bishop, but the Coard forces sought to subvert the effort by joining it, selling their own T-Shirts which did not include a photo of Bishop. TM would like to see the MBNP continue Bishop's programs, which he distinguishes from PRG programs by saying the latter were heavy-handed, even though he believes the MBNP will get, maybe, but 10% of the upcoming vote. TM believes the Grenadian people are peculiar in that they "require their leaders to be from the landed and professional classes". Interestingly, like Coard, TM believes these classes were expanded by the revolution and are the future of Grenada, especially professionals who studied abroad. He insists that nothing has been done for the Grenadian infra-structure since the invasion, except the airport and one road around the island. TM says now the vast majority of people, nearly all, are turned off by politics, extremely cynical, do not vote, refuse to discuss analyses of local conditions, and believe that they cannot act on their fate. He says this especially includes teachers, including those who worked with the PRG. TM states real unemployment is higher than 40%, especially among youth. But the youth do not turn up in urban areas because they're taken care of by families and "stay back and watch tv".
TM says there are, "all the other parties, which are alike,
and us. They have proved they are for stagnation and we are for all the reforms the PRG stood for under Maurice-- except the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric. We are not Marxist- Leninists. We are a national patriotic party in the name of Maurice Bishop. People in the third world require charismatic leaders. They have just not gone past that. In any
case, MB was an extraordinary man, not a crude communist like
Coard who could never gain the love of the people but a kind
man who loved the people and they loved him in return. That is
why we chose the name. But the people, even the old activists,
are fearful and still confused and hiding in the woodwork. We
cannot get people of substantial quality to run with MBNP and
that holds us back. We have democracy now. Why will they not
vote or participate?"
TM believes events will finally carry the MBNP to power. But he says there are no leaders on the island that take a perspective similar to Bishop's, and right now there is no organization, including his own, which can mobilize what he calls "a powerful, in any way, opposition". Marryshow, then, sees events, economic decline in particular, as pushing people to reconsider his party. His office, a large walk-up off a downtown alley, has four sizeable rooms; an examination area, a business area, a dental clinic, and the official site of the headquarters of the MBNP where I found, to his slight consternation, U.S. Socialist Workers Party tracts on Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, and copies of their Trotskyist paper, "The Militant".
Pressed on the MBNP educational program, TM says his party's prime focus will be education, literacy, and, at top, building the national economy and consciousness.
"Because there must be economic development before anything
else. The professional class must play a leading role in developing
the economic base and national superstructure, probably in high-technology. But there can be no national economic growth without
the leadership of the professional class, which gave birth to
Maurice Bishop and the spirit of the people which Bishop
Miss Francis (as she asks to be called) is the principal of Anglican High, a girls' school where the average class size, by my count in observing six classes through the day, is 41. The girls come to the severely dilapidated school uniformed, as do most children in Grenada. Miss Francis was a teaching colleague of Jacqueline Creft (both taught at the Grenada Boys School) and taught secondary classes throughout the PRG period. While she did not participate in the original Freire literacy groups, she knew people who did. Miss Francis and I spent considerable time discussing the present state of education in Grenada which she finds more and more segregated by the increasing fees and declining availability of school facilities--less is available for fewer children. In addition, Miss Francis feels restricted by the "Caribbean Syllabus" which is used from the primary grades through the secondary years. The teachers work from the syllabus each day. Miss Francis recognizes that the syllabus is designed to create employees, but feels that at least those employees will be fully competent. Indeed, there is discipline in Grenadian schools that I have not witnessed for many years. The children rise when the teacher enters. There is a minimum of talk in the classroom. The children chant responses and address their teachers as "Miss..." Miss Francis would prefer a co-ed school but feels most Grenadians are still convinced that sex-segregated schools are the most effective.
Regarding her teaching during the PRG period, Miss Francis
felt her professionalism as a teacher was threatened. "There was a
total lack of freedom. If you didn't teach the PRG line, you were
fired. More than 20 people were removed from their posts." Miss
Francis did not attend NISTEP sessions but did attend adult
literacy training classes, after the textbooks were chosen. She
believes NISTEP was designed to re-educate younger teachers and
that older teachers' skills were denied and they were written off
as politically hopeless. At the same time, she credits Creft with
a devotion to teaching, Maurice Bishop and the policies of the NJM.
She thinks it was good that the NJM set up the literacy campaigns
and NISTEP, but she feels that people were denied the freedom to
teach about things they knew best. "The textbooks took things away
from us as teachers". As more time went by into the PRG period,
Miss Francis believes more and more teachers began to just teach
the old material because there was less and less time for he PRG to
pay attention to them. Miss Francis is not aware of any dramatic
change in teaching methods during the PRG period. She says that
what changed was the content of what was being told to children. It
is the content, she says, that distinguished the former textbooks
from the current syllabus. She felt the material in the textbooks
was very directive and she disagreed with the political line which
she felt drove the texts. However, when asked what specifically in
the textbooks she did not like, she returned to the idea that it
was the line of the PRG that she did not like, that is, she
objected to her notion of socialism which she did not identify as
part of the text, and she indicated that she did feel that the
textual references to developing the national economy made sense,
were what should be done. But she believes the texts themselves led
to, if they did not specifically contain, socialism--which she
opposes. Miss Francis indicates that it was not enough, especially
during the early PRG years, to simply teach; one had to teach
appreciatively of the PRG line, or one was considered an enemy. She
says the materials chosen, the texts written, were created to build
the national economy through education, which she says is
continuing now, but with less dedication. Less of the government
budget, it seems to her, is spent on education and there is less
willingness to sacrifice to get behind education than under the
PRG. Miss Francis does credit the "young and exciting" NJM
leadership with building support for the literacy programs and with
getting teachers (and doctors) trained. She also says the PRG
shifted monies into the education system and began to subsidize all
schools more, which had the effect, in the first year, of raising
teacher pay. But even with that, many teachers did not like the PRG
because they felt they were under constant watch, even in the last
stages of the PRG rule. Miss Francis returns often to the view that
many of the PRG programs were good, but the PRG was not. She
approves of the Airport, the adult eduction programs, the health
care system; but she says the NJM officials were, "at the end of
the day, just out for themselves, or many of them were. They were
also many good young men with bad ideas." Miss Francis thinks that
many, probably most, of her current graduates will not get jobs.
She misses the hopefulness of the PRG period, even though she
considers it false. She believes the education system in Grenada
will continue to deteriorate, despite the disciplined efforts of
dedicated teachers, and that nothing can be done about it. Less
than half of the children who apply to secondary school now get in,
and that figure will go down.
Miss Morris (Grenadian teachers call one another Miss and Mr, and ask to be addressed this way) was teaching a class of 44 girls on the topic of teenage pregnancy when I came to observe here class. Girls are removed from Anglican High if they get pregnant. Five are now out of this class. Miss Morris teaches dialogically: Why is this a problem? Why are so many young girls (thirteen to seventeen years old, 19% of this group in Grenada, more than double that for the Caribbean) getting pregnant? The noise from surrounding classes is sufficient to drown out many of the answers but Miss Morris works the girls through the problem as it is seen through their eyes, and they develop the answers. They discussed the effects of teenage pregnancy on the girls, and on the community and the girls moved the discussion to talk about methods of prevention. That then became a session on STD's. This was the most teacher-student interaction I witnessed in Grenada, and the least directive. I was able to interview Miss Morris in the moments between classes. She taught during the PRG period and worked with the "Let Us Learn Together" textbooks. I asked three questions: Would you have chosen these textbooks? "No, they were not too bad, but they didn't have the children in mind, or the adults. They did not consider them first. But it was better than now, when there are no textbooks or only one book for every two or three children--and no other books anywhere." Why do you think those textbooks were chosen? "Because they were written with the positions of the PRG in mind. Just a few people really wrote those textbooks and they adopted the positions of the PRG and the NJM. Some of those ideas were quite fine, but they perhaps pushed too fast." What do you think the purpose of the textbooks was? "To develop more literate people in order to better their chances to improve the economy. They hoped the people would be able to work more efficiently." Miss Morris is deeply concerned that the girls she teaches have no future, and that pregnancy is their only available means of self-validation.
I met with five other teachers from Anglican High on this
date. Four of this group had not been teachers during the PRG, One,
Miss Morgan, was somewhat more positive about the PRG textbooks.
However, her comments as to the purpose of the textbooks paralleled
Miss Morris's. All of the teachers, meeting in a hurried session
with me in the room that serves as the teacher's lounge, requested
books from the U.S., textbooks, dictionaries, any books. They
simply do not have enough.
Pauline Waldron and I spent about 5 hours together over a period of three days. Her office is adjacent to the Adult Education offices at the Grenada National College, the area that I used as an operating base. I was therefore able to see her frequently, if intermittently, as she had duties to attend to and usually had her adopted seven year old son, Daniel, with her. Waldron is a practicing Seventh Day Adventist, was principal of a Grenadian school, and taught and worked on the literacy campaigns of the PRG period. She was certified as a teacher through the University of the West Indies and received her M.A. in Language and Literacy at Lancaster University in Great Britain. She taught for 28 years in Grenada before coming to the Grenada National College to coordinate a literacy program which is to begin before the next election, in October, 1994. She is aware of the probable political reasons for the initiation of the program at this time but feels that it is important for Grenada to have a literacy program as illiteracy, which she says she really cannot estimate but guesses at 25%, is on the rise. As she begins to prepare for the literacy project, she tutors young adults who walk into the college. There is no outreach program. Right now, her work is unpaid, that is, while she was told this position is a paid job, she has not been paid since February, 1994. She is able to get along on savings but regularly protests to the Ministry of Education and expects to be paid in the not so distant future. In her current volunteer status, she continues to teach reading to young people as well as to people entering the college for skills training in office arts or hospitality work. There is no prescribed college text and Waldron does her own test designs based on student interests, like auto mechanics. She hopes the Ministry will fund a literacy project that will be based in the communities, regularly doing outreach, not trapped in an office. She plans to base her literacy campaign on androgogy, a learner-based curriculum which looks a great deal like the old PRG program, and she acknowledges that the PRG plan is the base of her plan, the latter somewhat diluted.
Waldron states that in the earliest days of the PRG, there was no textbook. People produced their own texts and then devised their own textbooks for particular classes. She found this topical, but the language remained a problem--the textbooks were sometimes too complex. What follows here is a near-verbatim transcript of my handwritten notes, though I record that my transcription is insufficient to reproduce the rich wisdom in Pauline Waldron's use of the language:
"During that period, some Grenadians became authors. There were wonderful poets writing then but they are not politically published now. Then it became necessary to have production for textbooks and the Cubans did that. Then we got the PRG textbooks. And the change from the people's textbooks, which were just hand done, to the official textbooks, that caused political problems. Whenever you have a literacy campaign, you have political problems."
I think there is a danger in having any textbook. No text is neutral. Are we not now trying to do a sanitized PRG textbook? Of course we are. But having no books, as is the case in many Grenadian classes now, that is not helpful either. Before the PRG there were textbooks, but they denied the peoples' lives. Then there was the brief period without textbooks and people became producers of literacy. Then came the PRG textbooks which were just standardized items. Now there is no PRG and there are no books. This is a difficult dilemma.
The PRG came to power very fast and had no real mass base because of that. Then they had four years and could not overcome illiteracy and could not develop a base of support for themselves. But, as you notice many people now, including the current government support many of New Jewel programs. There were difficult internal and external problems for the PRG but many things they did were important. There is no talk now about the woman question which PRG mad a definite out-front fight about. A few women can carry on without the PRG. Many cannot. The woman question is dropped by the government but I am not going to get involved in that. There is a calypso song now, 'The revo is over and now I can beat you'. The National Women's Organization is there but it is not government policy any longer.
Freire's approach is in many ways radical but in many ways like many other projects, Dewey for example. Freire's way is not a new one. But I think that a government, as he did here, should never be in the forefront of a literacy campaign. That needs autonomy. I would like to do this with the cooperation of the non-governmental organizations like the women's organizations, the World Council of Churches of Grenada, the Agency for Rural Transportation. This would give our program some autonomy. These groups have people with them, as do some of the unions.
But back to the textbooks; they are never neutral. The PRG textbooks drew a lot of bad press on the island, from a press which was not neutral. People said they were full of red ideology. That revo showed me how much respect people have for print. The (post-revolution) government just grabbed off all the PRG textbooks. There was a mad scramble for them and there are no more now. But texts can impose too much bias, and not give the teacher a part. In working with adults I try to build a language experience, but some adults do not want to use their own language. They want an official text like the ones they understand are used in real schools. Peopl