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Give Chance some peace
The current conflict between Vision on Mission’s Wayne Chance and the farmers of Wallerfield cuts to the heart of the type of relationship the society is prepared to have with citizens who have paid the price for their crimes. It’s a problem that Mr Chance must deal with frequently.
The Vision on Mission (VOM) project is one of the most visible efforts at creating a halfway house for prisoners leaving jail, normally after a long time spent behind bars. It’s a space for them to become reintegrated positively with society. In January, Justice Minister Herbert Volney threatened to shut down a $1.5 million facility that VOM was setting up at Mt Lambert to house former prisoners, deportees and delinquent youth.
Describing the project as an “imposition” on the community, Mr Volney went on to say, “If the residents do not want it for the purpose they are surreptitiously seeking to impose on the community… I will certainly fight tooth and nail to have it shut down and never opened.” If the Justice Minister feels that way, is it any surprise that there are few communities willing to embrace the role of hosts to these facilities?
Any ex-convict who embraces the opportunities of the VOM project is consciously not choosing to return to the spaces and lifestyles that led to his or her being incarcerated in the first place. Nevertheless, they are rejected when they try to forge a new lifestyle. Many people support the idea of rehabilitation projects—but don’t want to see the reality taking shape in their own neighbourhood.
Wayne Chance is himself a former convict and his commitment to Vision on Mission after all these years speaks not just to the value of the project, but the need to acknowledge formally the full arc of criminal rehabilitation by creating opportunities for ex-convicts to return to society as useful contributors.
The ongoing resistance to the reintegration efforts that Mr Chance is championing means that people who have served prison time and made a decision to forge a new life for themselves find themselves in a cycle of continual punishment for their mistakes. In May, Vision on Mission won the Best NGO Award from the JP Fernandes Foundation, an accolade that represents a third-party evaluation and endorsement of the project’s successes and continuing capacities.
But still VOM continues to struggle to find its place as an entity worth funding and more specifically in creating physical space to accommodate the freed prisoners, disadvantaged young people and deportees who see the initiative as a haven and a fresh opportunity. A second chance, as it were.
The farmers of Wallerfield have their own leasehold issues with the Government, and the start of Mr Chance’s agricultural project was, as one acknowledged, “like a red flag in front of a bull.” Mr Chance, at the meeting with the Wallerfield residents, seemed equally unsure of the length of his lease on the 40 acres he had been granted access to, but his focus seems to be, quite sensibly, on getting started and getting his charges occupied in farming.
The Vision on Mission CEO also has to sort out issues with construction on the property with the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation, which claims he has no clearance to build on the land. The Government, which has committed to the idea of rehabilitation, might find it useful to work more meaningfully with these VOM projects, offering more explicit support—perhaps starting with giving assurances to people that they will continue to be safe in areas where rehabilitation projects are set up.
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