Right Steps & Poui Trees

Ten Years Later, #RememberArmadale

Ten years ago, on the night of May 22, 2009, there was a fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St Ann, Jamaica. Seven girls died as a result of the fire and many others were injured. A Commission of Enquiry into the fire and its subsequent report revealed the horrific sequence of events that led to the fire and death of the girls and showed that the deaths were entirely preventable. Today, as we remember Armadale, I am posting an article by Alexis Goffe (my son), which also appeared in today`s Gleaner.

For most of my life, I was a loyal carnivore. I hated all vegetables except broccoli, which only interested me because I had it ingrained in my head from childhood that they were trees and I, the big bad hurricane. I despised peas and so I had to spend extra time at the dining table, after Sunday lunch, unable to leave until I finished the pile of red peas I had picked out of the rice. If you know my mother, you know she doesn’t mess around.

But then things changed when the fire happened at Armadale. A year later, I decided to give up eating meat, so every day, every time I think of what to eat, I remember Armadale. I wanted to ensure the nine-day wonder didn’t happen and I wanted to raise awareness of the incident.

If anyone asked me how come I didn’t eat meat anymore, I would tell them why:
On May 22, 2009, there was a fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St Ann, Jamaica, that resulted in the deaths of seven girls. There were 23 girls in a room which was meant for five people. The girls were given seven bunk beds and 14 mattresses in the room to sleep on. They had been on lockdown for two weeks prior to the fire, which meant they did not have access to education, recreation or the bathroom.

The police were called to the premises that night because the staff reported that the girls were being unruly. A tear gas canister was thrown into the room, which landed on a mattress and reportedly started the fire. The door to the room was locked. To date, no one has been held accountable.

Following a commission of enquiry, it was found that the fire was caused by a tear gas canister thrown by Constable Lawrence Burrell. However, he was freed of the charges after the Crown conceded that it did not have sufficient evidence against him.

During the first year after my decision, I told over 700 people about Armadale. At the time I was living in the United States and I started to recognise a stark difference between the reactions of Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans. The non-Jamaicans generally had a sense of shock. The Jamaicans – not so much.

I will never forget the first time I heard someone say that they, the girls, deserved it. It was through this experience I realised how traumatised we are as a people, how normalised violence is and how we cope with it in order to get on with our days as humans at all stages – children in school, employees at work, families at home.

Then almost a year to the day of the Armadale fire was the Tivoli massacre, where over 70 people died at the hands of the State. Jamaica’s soul took a beating in the space of a year.

In truth, with our history of intense violence and gross violations of our rights and dignity, Jamaica’s soul has been taking a beating for several decades. Perhaps this was the straw that broke the mule’s back and placed us further along in our collective trauma, feeling helpless at the question – what can I do to stop this?

Even though it’s been hard to witness, I understand why year after year, as sure as day follows night, when I say the memorial of the Armadale fire is coming, I’ll get responses that can best be summed up in a sound – yawn. Yet still, it must be done.

So let me take a moment to interrupt your morning, afternoon or evening, your breakfast, lunch or dinner, in your home, at your office, or on the bus, wherever you are reading this, to remind you that today is the 10-year memorial of the fire at Armadale that claimed the lives of seven girls and caused lifelong injuries to many more. Let us remember the seven we lost, their families and friends and the survivors.

And to those who do not know about the fire at Armadale, you have a decision to make: to learn or remain uninformed. To those who know about Armadale, we also have a decision – to forget or to remember. We all have a choice to either be complicit in our silence and inaction or to act and unapologetically call for justice.

To anyone who believes that every child deserves love, respect and dignity, I ask you to pay attention. Because in the midst of the 10-year memorial of Armadale we must remember that the story continues and the first line of the next scene is already written, “Then there was the fire at Walker’s Place of Safety on January 16, 2018.”

– Alexis Goffe

ARMADALE Newspaper Ad - white big 3 (1)

This is the link to the short video on YouTube that is mentioned in the picture above: Armadale: 10 Year Memorial Video



Electricity Disconnected at Walker’s Place of Safety Months Before the Fire

On March 22, 2019, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate for the following:

All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018, the death of the two girls as a result of that fire and any subsequent investigation into the fire or the resulting deaths.

After one extension of time, I received a number of documents last week Friday, May 17, 2019:

1) You will be granted access to copies of the following:
✓Letter from the Jamaica Public Service, regarding the account at 17 Lyndhurst Crescent, dated July 10, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Jamaica Fire Brigade Report dated April 5, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Electricity Division of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology dated March 15, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Emanuel Barosa, President and CEO of Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information dated July 4, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Ms. Jennifer Williams, Customer Service Manager at the Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information on the status of electricity on the premises prior to fire dated July 13, June 25 and March 14 2018 ;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Solomon Burchell, Director of Electricity at the Ministry of Science Energy and Technology dated July 18 and July 5, 2018;
✓ Letters from Mr. Downer to Inspector M. Anderson of the Half Way Tree Police Station regarding the police investigation, July 12, July 10 and July 6 2018;
✓Letter from Mr. Downer to Major General Antony Anderson, Commissioner of Police dated July 18, 2018;
✓ Letter from Mr. Downer to Mrs. Rosa-le Gage-Grey Chief Executive Officer, Child Protection and Family Services Agency regarding outstanding JPS bill balance and for the agency to clear that amount dated July 16, 2018;
✓Letter from Mrs. Diahann Gordon Harrison to Mr. Raymond Spencer, Commissioner. Jamaica Fire Brigade requesting a copy of the report dated February 1, 2018..

I was also told that all other documents had been denied:

2) You have been denied access to all other documents due to the nature of these documents and as they are exempt in accordance with Sections 17 and 22 of the ATI Act (2003) and Sections 44 and 45 of the CCPA (2004).

This morning I posted a thread on Twitter, sharing some of the questions and concerns raised by information in these additional documents:

Walker's Thread 20-5-19 1
Walker's Thread 20-5-19 2Walker's Thread 20-5-19 3walker's thread 20-5-19 4Walker's Thread 20-5-19 5Walker's thread 20-5-19 6Walker's thread 20-5-19 7Walker's thread 20-5-19 8Walker's thread 20-5-19 9Walker's thread 20-5-19 10Walker's thread 20-5-19 11Walker's thread 20-5-19 12Walker's thread 20-5-19 13Walker's thread 20-5-19 14Walker's thread 20-5-19 15Walker's thread 20-5-19 16Walker's thread 20-5-19 17Walker's thread 20-5-19 18Walker's thread 20-5-19 19Walker's thread 20-5-19 20There is obviously so much more to be learned about this tragic incident. I continue to use Access to Information requests to obtain more documents and I continue to hope that somewhere within the state’s agencies the full account is being compiled.






Sargassum on the Beach!

The guard in charge of directing parking and taking entrance fees informed us that the water was dirty. When we asked what he meant, he said that there was a lot of seaweed in the water. Having driven out to Boardwalk beach, however, we weren’t about to turn around and leave without even taking a look. So in we went…P1380922 Boardwalk beach sargassum

Yes, there was a lot of seaweed on the beach…and in the water…IMG_20190508_090658_resized_20190508_090722933 beach seaweed

Sargassum……a type of seaweed found only in the Atlantic Ocean…IMG_20190428_125357_resized_20190508_092007576 beach seaweed

…is a kind of open ocean brown algae.IMG_20190428_125411_resized_20190508_091849377 beach seaweed shell


“The influx of the seaweed is believed to be related to increased accumulation in the Atlantic Ocean where nutrients are available and temperatures are high. The seaweed consolidates into large mats and is transported by ocean currents towards the Caribbean, washing up on beaches throughout the region.” (National Environment & Planning Agency website)IMG_20190428_123943_resized_20190508_091444580 beach seaweed

A few people went in to swim, despite the seaweed in the water. But not many. Most people were on the beach…P1380936 trees on beach

…in the shade…like me…P1380960 beach

or in the sun…like this vendor, who didn’t have much luck making sales, since few people were going into the water…vendor on the beach 2019

…because of the sargassum there….IMG_20190428_125503_resized_20190508_091734713 beach seaweed water


“The excess of Sargassum washing up on beaches in the Caribbean originates from the Sargasso Sea, located in the open North Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda. This sea stretches 1000 km wide and 3200 km long and is estimated to hold up to 10 million metric tons of Sargassum (see image below). It is known as “the golden floating rainforest”. It is also found in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Scientists suggest that the influx of Sargassum in the Caribbean is due to a rise in water temperatures and low winds, which both affect ocean currents. In essence pieces of the Sargassum are becoming entrained in currents which head towards the Eastern Caribbean Islands. These factors and the spreading of Sargassum has been linked to increased nitrogen loading due to pollution of the oceans through human activity of increased sewerage, oils, fertilizers and global climate change.” (Sargassum: A Resource Guide for the Caribbean, p. 4)


Pausing on Garden Boulevard, Mona Heights

Garden Boulevard is the longest road in Mona Heights, running from the intersection with Old Hope Road near the Hope Gardens gate all the way to the intersection with Mona Road, where the aqueduct leads into the Mona Dam.

IMG_20190425_125537_resized_20190501_103755162 cut trees

As I turned onto Garden Boulevard at the Mona Road intersection last week, I noticed that some of the trees along the sidewalk had recently been cut.

IMG_20190501_104220_resized_20190501_104236885 cut trees

It was the bright colour of the cut wood that caught my attention and made me stop, park and get closer, to take photos of the pruned privet trees. The only sign of those who had done the cutting was a red cap seemingly forgotten near one of the pruned trees.

IMG_20190425_124457_resized_20190501_104941627 cut trees

Cut surfaces of different sizes and shapes.


And already, across the stump of one felled tree…

IMG_20190425_124308_resized_20190501_105208158 cut trees

…something new had begun to grow….

IMG_20190425_124347_resized_20190501_105603139 cut trees

Small details captured while pausing on a long road in Mona Heights one morning….

IMG_20190425_125346_resized_20190501_104504139 cut trees

(And if you’d like to see the full length of Garden Boulevard, take a look at this video I found online- click here.)Garden Blvd blog pic