The 21 men had been arrested under the state of emergency.
After spending 22 days at the Golden Grove Prison in Arouca, the men, all of Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain, were happy to be free and back home with their families.
Ranging in ages 19 to 63, they were arrested during the state of emergency and charged under the Anti-Gang Act. However, they were all released yesterday morning after the State dismissed all charges against them due to a lack of evidence.
When Newsday visited Nelson Street yesterday, some of the released men could be seen eating Chinese food and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and sporting freshly shaven hair as they celebrated their freedom.
The men described their stay at the Golden Grove Prison as “the worst treatment ever” since, according to them, the conditions at the prison were not even fit for animals to live in. They said they were unjustly treated by the State and were treated as criminals.
One of the released men, Atiba Gorkins said, “It was the worst thing I ever experienced, the prison was very unsanitary, the food fit for animals, and I don’t think I would want anybody to experience that,” said Gorkin.
He said no one truly knew the conditions they were forced to endure at the Golden Grove Prison and he was hurt by the comments made about them even while being labelled as gang members by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. “I was truly hurt by the comments made by the Prime Minister and the Attorney General because I am not a gang member, I have never been charged with any offence and none of my family members are gang members either,” said Gorkin. Another of the freed men, Kevin Myer, described the situation as frustrating since he was the sole provider for his family and could not do so as he was incarcerated.
“I have three kids to see about and it was hard for them because I wasn’t there to provide for their needs.
“I am happy to be home but I have come home to nothing,” said Myers. Some of the released men stated that they were now unemployed as a result of being incarcerated for 22 days and they would like the Government to compensate them for the “unjust treatment” since they were innocent.
Winston Wilson said he has a kidney and lung ailment and was refused medication while at the prison. He stated that as a result of not taking his daily medication his health has deteriorated.
Community activist Lennox Smith described the Anti-Gang Act as “asinine” and called for the law to be repealed immediately. Smith continued that the authority given to the police and army during the state of emergency could have been done without the state of emergency.
He said, the fact that the 21 persons who were arrested and now released, shows the Anti-Gang Act and the state of emergency were ineffective.
Smith continued that the wrongful incarceration of persons under the state of emergency has further reduced the quality of life of struggling citizens.
“Persons who were already struggling to survive have been further reduced and oppressed due to lost of jobs all because of a wrongly timed (law),” said Smith.
Attorneys Vince Charles and Criston Williams who represented the 21 men stated that they were considering taking legal action against the state since the men lost their jobs and their families suffered due to their “wrongful” incarceration. Charles said he was thankful that the Director of Public Prosecutions stated early that the State had no evidence against the men and dismissed the charges laid against his clients.