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The St Michael’s School for Boys, Diego Martin, is a “house of horrors” for those seeking sanctuary, confirmed one of the teenagers subjected to physical and sexual abuse at the facility. Asking for his name not to be used, the teenager, who is now 19, said it was time for the public to know what was really happening behind the six-foot-high steel fence that surrounds the compound.
“That is not a suitable home for children. It’s like a little prison for teenagers, because they don’t teach you anything,” he said, adding, “They don’t give the children counselling. Most of them, they pull them out of school and send them to train.”
In an interview at the T&T Guardian office, he said during his year-long stay he was deprived of a secondary school education, sexually abused by a female staff member, beaten by a male staff member, cursed and threatened, witnessed staff members using marijuana, and denied the chance to learn a trade by other members of staff, who deemed him a trouble-maker.
He spoke after Attorney General Anand Ramlogan revealed the findings of a report on the death of 14-year-old Brandon Hargreaves at the home in April. The report contained similar allegations, and the AG said he had written to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the acting Commissioner of Police asking for an investigation. Now about to become a father himself, the teenager who has never known a father’s love, said, “I have a baby coming, and I never want my child to go through what I did.
“I am willing to talk now about everything that has happened because this is for all those children who suffered like me, and for those who are still suffering.” He became withdrawn, sullen and aggressive during his time at the school, the teenager said, but was now prepared to deal with the authorities and any fall-out from making the information public. Sent to the school at 15 after his father took him before the court and deemed him “beyond control,” he said, “It wasn’t a nice situation when I was there.”
The teenager who is originally from Maraval and who now lives in Port-of-Spain, was left motherless following her death when he was four years old. Recalling the beating he received on his first day at the school, the teenager said he was cursed and verbally abused by an official, who later beat him with a wooden stick. He said certain supervisors would threaten the boys, saying if they spoke out about the situation, marijuana would be “found” on them and they would be sent back to the court for breaching regulations.
Referring to instances of disrespect by the staff who would taunt them about their parents “not wanting them,” the teenager said he was beaten by a supervisor who kept demanding marijuana from him. Advised by a guidance counsellor not to retaliate, he said the threat of being sent to the Youth Training Centre worked to keep him in line many times. After several court appearances, he was given little relief after he complained to the magistrate about the conditions he was being subjected to.
The teen was unable to complete his education after skipping Forms Two and Four, and said it was a constant struggle, as he was often pulled out and sent back whenever the authorities decided. Admitting that he has not yet told his girlfriend the details of his time at the school, the teenager said, “I’m not really ready to speak to her, but I need to do it.” Asked if he kept in contact with his father, the teenager said, “My father is in a wheel-chair now, and although I see him sometimes, we aren’t close.”
As for his older siblings—one brother and two sisters—he has no interaction with them.
Misbehaviour by staff
Referring to a male senior official who “normally took stuff from the boys” the teenager said the rules were ignored when it came to certain boys. The boys are not allowed to have more than $10 in their possession, nor cell phones, laptops or any other gadgets. But, he said, “There was one student who was like the king in St Michael’s. He had money, cell phones, a laptop, and he could go and come when he wanted.”
He was hesitant to talk about the sexual abuse at the school, but admitted, “I was in that too. At the time, I was young and didn’t really know what was going on.” He was encouraged to approach the 27-year-old female staffer who had “broken up” with another boy at the facility, the teenager said. “I went and told her I liked her.” That admission led to the staff member and the teenager having sex in one of the dormitories, which became a regular occurrence. He also admitted going to hotels in Port-of-Spain and Diego Martin with her.
Asked if he had been given money in exchange, he replied, “Anything I asked for, she used to give me it. Money, cell phone, anything.” He couldn’t estimate how many other boys might have been sexually abused during his time, but said, “Since I was there, with staff taking children to hotels, I only knew about two people. Me and another guy.” He believed that other staff members knew of the situation, he said, and during one such rendezvous, he contacted a friend of his at the school.
“I called my friend and told him I’m with her in the hotel, so that was how the rumour spread and everyone got to find out.” Even in the face of such allegations, the female staffer was not disciplined, suspended or fired. Referring to the male senior official whose office and car he was often made to clean out, the teenager said, “I personally saw him smoking weed on the balcony with a lot of children passing up and down. Even in his drawer, he used to have weed and cell phones.”
Having seen marijuana in the official’s car when he was made to clean it, the boy said his cell phone was later returned by the same official.
‘Stop the abuse’
The teenager’s employer, a Port-of-Spain businessman, accompanied him to the interview. The teenager, now a tradesman, said his employer had saved his life by giving him a job and proved to be a positive male role model for him. The businessman appealed to the authorities for counselling for the abused teenager, and said the situation at the school cannot be allowed to continue. He pleaded with the authorities to stop the cycle of abuse.
“Government trusts these people with resources and funding to see about these children and it is not happening. If there are so much allegations, then investigate,” he said.