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The Leon Cornwall/Pastor Williams drama

Pastor Christopher Williams – the head of the Prison Visiting Committee

One of the so-called Grenada-17 who was convicted for the 1983 execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop is not happy with the Chairman of the Prison Visiting Committee (PVC), Pastor Christopher Williams of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Ex-army Major and Ambassador to Cuba, Leon “Bogo” Cornwall is now back at the Richmond Hill prison providing counselling to inmates on a contract that he landed with the government of Grenada.

THE NEW TODAY has obtained the transcript of the Minutes of the May 6, 2021 PVC meeting in which Cornwall appeared before Committee members and took strong objection to remarks made about him by Pastor Williams.

The meeting was attended by Committee members Roy Raymond, a former Superintendent of Police, as well as Prison Superintendent Rupert Neckles, Lydon Richardson, Curriculum Development Officer and Secretary Sharlene Modeste.

The spat arose from statements allegedly made by Pastor Williams that Cornwall does not have the certificates to show that he is a qualified Counsellor and that the prison might be in violation of the Orders of the Court for some inmates to receive Counselling as part of their sentences in the institution.

Following are excerpts from the meeting involving the Pastor Williams/Leon Cornwall exchanges:

Pastor Williams discussed among the members of the Committee an incident that occurred whereby Mr. Leon Cornwall had an outburst towards members of the Committee expressing the Committee’s non-recognition of his duties at the Prison as the Counsellor. The incident occurred in the driveway following the completion of the meeting on March 03, 2021.

The Chairman elaborated that Mr. Cornwall, being a Senior Officer at her Majesty’s Prisons ought to know the functions of the Prison Visiting Committee.

He said Mr. Cornwall’s outburst was an attack on the integrity of the Prison Visiting Committee. He further informed that the prison Administration was already aware of the incident.

Mr. Williams in his belief, felt that Mr. Cornwall should be writing a letter of thanks every week to the Prime Minister as a form of gratitude for the role he currently plays. The Chairman went on to say that the Committee condemned his behaviour and the words which were addressed to the Committee. As a senior officer, he must behave in a manner with the position which he holds.

The Superintendent of Prisons, Mr. Rupert Neckles joined the members of the Prison Visiting Committee at 11:12 a.m.

The Superintendent informed that Mr. Leon Cornwall had requested an audience with the Prison Visiting Committee as he heard comments that were made about him by Pastor Williams as Head of the Committee. Pastor Williams briefly informed the Superintendent of the incident where Mr. Cornwall expressed himself to the Committee.

At 12:04 p.m. Mr. Leon Cornwall met with the members of the Visiting Committee. The Superintendent was also present.

Mr. Cornwall informed the Committee that suggestions were made to him by the past Commissioner of Prisons, Mr. John Mitchell to meet with the Committee.

He said that he met with Mr. Mitchell where he raised concerns that he had in terms of remarks that Pastor Williams as Chairman of the Prison Visiting Committee made which, was conveyed to the inmates that there wasn’t any Counsellor at the prison and there was need for one.

He said these remarks were said by the Chairman continuously in different forums over a number of years, dating back to the year 2010 when he started working at the Prison.

He said that these remarks are heard by the inmates. He believes that this approach is not a professional one.

Mr. Cornwall informed that since the beginning of his service at the Prison, there was never an occasion where the Chairman raised any concerns with him in terms of his work at the Prison and suggestions.

Mr. Cornwall stated that the remarks made by the Chairman, of there not being a Counsellor at the Prison has even affected the past Commissioner of Prisons.

Mr. Cornwall went on to say that the Government of Grenada employed him as Counsellor at Her Majesty’s Prisons and that he does not have the formal university training as other persons may have.

He said he started educating himself as best as he could, added to his knowledge of the inmates having also been an inmate in the past. During his time as a prisoner he said that he used to do Counselling and ran the Education programme.

He said that during his tenure when he ran the Education programme that was the most active part of the programme. He’s even gotten a letter from Mr. Bernard Coard congratulating him on the work he did at the Prison.

Mr. Leon Cornwall commented that having worked at the Prisons, he’s seen progress made in the lives of a number of inmates.

He added that there are (a) number of problems in the prisons and even with the presence of 2 or 3 Counsellors with all professional degrees that the problems would remain as it goes way beyond just counselling.

He said that given what he was hearing, he felt that there wasn’t a sufficiently wide understanding of the issues facing the prison and felt himself being targeted as well.

As far as he knows nothing is being said in that way about any other person on the Prison staff but every time it’s about him.

He went on to add that not only is he employed by the Government as Counsellor but is also carrying the portfolio of School Principal. He elaborated on the work done with remarkable results as Principal of the Education Programme and said that the only time the Education Programme fell was during Covid-19.

Mr. Cornwall continued to say that instead of receiving some sort of recognition for his work done, he’s instead getting a perception of himself being misplaced as both Counsellor and School Principal.

He went on to say that at the start of his tenure at the Rehabilitation programme it was just himself carrying out all the functions. He then started to create a staff and recommended Mr. Christopher Stroude and Mr. Dave Bartholomew as persons to be employed as Social Workers.

He also added that it was during his tenure that they were also staffed with an Imani Trainee which was never achieved under Ms. Antoine’s tenure as Principal.

He said that based on the remarks made of the Prison needing a Counsellor, he thought it unfair to him and further expressed that he felt that efforts were being made to get rid of him as no conversations were held with him directly.

He said that he’s been staffed with (2) two Prison Officers, who are attached to the rehabilitation programme, Ms. Tomica George and Shelden Hasten, both hold a Bachelor’s degree.

He’s advised Mr. Hosten to further his education in acquiring his Master’s degree so that one day he may be Principal.

He’s also encouraged Ms. George to do her Master’s degree in Psychology as she has her Bachelor’s in that field.

He wants her to be more engaged in Counselling instead of Education. He has been advocating for those two (2) officers to be able to take up those positions.

His concerns are Her Majesty’s Prisons and the inmates and to help build the prison. He went on to share some stories on the result of inmates that went through the rehabilitation programme under his service as Counsellor and Principal.

He emphasized that his work at the prison has seen great improvement.

The Chairman Pastor Christopher Williams responded that Mr. Cornwall may have heard only part of the story on the remarks made.

Pastor Williams continued to say that among what was said he admired Mr. Cornwall as an academic who has done what he knows no other person has done.

He said that Mr. Cornwall has done Greek for University of London and passed which was remarkable being that he did it on his own.

The Chairman went on to say that he saluted Mr. Cornwall as an academician who sat within the prison walls and completed his Bachelor of Divinity. However, as Chairman of the Prison Visiting Committee he has certain responsibilities.

He said that it is not his duty nor the Prison Visiting Committee’s duty to interfere with the files of any Prison Officer or any worker at Her Majesty’s Prisons as to what they have done.

Pastor Williams said that he did say to the Commissioners and people at the Ministry that he was concerned that the sentences in the Court sentenced persons to have Counselling.

He further elaborated that when he had asked the Prison Authority, he was informed that persons are sent to. Mt. Gay for counselling.

Following the response, he said that the Prison needed to have a qualified Counsellor. This, he’s said on numerous occasions and would continue to say that Her Majesty’s Prisons should have a qualified Counsellor.

The Chairman went on to say that the Government has a number of people who are qualified in counselling and one should be at the Prison.

He again stressed on the need for a qualified Counsellor. He said that counselling demanded a certain course of study and when one is qualified as a Counsellor with a Master’s degree in counselling only then are they recognized as a qualified Counsellor.

He says he still maintains his stance irrespective of what Mr. Cornwall’s contract said.

Pastor Williams repeated that he admired Mr. Cornwall for his academic prose, and has said in other forums that he’s never known of anybody in any part of the world who studied Greek on their own and passed for London University except Mr. Cornwall.

He reiterated the existing need of a qualified Counsellor. Though the work that Mr. Cornwall is performing is equal to what a qualified Counsellor does but in his knowledge Mr. Cornwall does not have a Counsellor qualification.

He might have the ability to perform but as far as the court is concerned when persons are sentenced to receive counselling they should get counselling from a qualified Counsellor.

There should be no need to be sending inmates to Mt. Gay for counselling. He said that when the judge sends persons to the prison and they need to receive counselling, they must have a qualified Counsellor.

Even if Mr. Cornwall is on the staff of the Counselling Team and the qualified Counsellor asks Mr. Cornwall to execute certain tasks, he doesn’t see that as a problem, but the Prison should have a qualified Councillor.

He said that he is not aware of what’s in Mr. Cornwall’s contract but that everyone needs to work together for the good of the prison.

Pastor Williams said that he is not in favour when the judge sent a prisoner to the prison and said that they must get counselling and they have to be sent to Mt. Gay to receive same.

Mr. Cornwall interjected that there may be a lack of understanding on Pastor Williams’ part, as he explained that the persons who are sentenced to receive counselling don’t go down to Mt. Gay Mental Home but it is those that were referred to in some specific cases.

He went on to also say that he’s had the assistance of Counsellors from the Ministry at the prison.

The Chairman said that he went to the Prime Minister’s office and met with the Prime Minister and told him the problem that needed to be addressed.

He said that there were people in the prison who committed murder and are in need of specialised training to handle conflict management and other issues so as to solve some of these problems.

There are almost four hundred inmates at the prison with a large amount needing counselling and the prison should be staffed with Counsellors.

Mr. Cornwall interjected and questioned as to why this has not been done, why a Counsellor or even a Principal hasn’t been appointed to the prison.

Mr. Leon Cornwall expressed ‘that he felt that because he lacked the proper paper qualification that the Chairman has latched on to that fact in a way that is not a solution that would make a difference.

Mr. Roy Raymond stated that based on what Pastor Williams said, in his own understanding, that this was a legal concern, that if the Court has passed an order that order should be obeyed and there must be a person that the court would accept as a person responsible to carry out the order that was given.

He went on to further say that in his view, that while he was the Commissioner of Prisons; during Mr. Courtney’s time, that the Education and Rehabilitation programs at Her Majesty’s Prisons were of the highest in the Caribbean.

He said that he tried to keep it at the same standard as Mr. Courtney had it. He believes that even in his tenure at the Prison that it was a brilliant time and he put that brilliance with the seventeen that were inside the prison including Mr. Cornwall.

He measured it that the seventeen were responsible for the education and the rehabilitation level that existed at the Prison then.

Mr. Raymond reiterated from what Pastor Williams said that Mr. Cornwall’s brilliance was noted but he thinks Mr. Cornwall might be overloaded.

He would recommend that he prepares a graph to get the education and rehabilitation programme at a higher level than it currently is.

He said that Mr. Cornwall and others might be overloaded even based on the existing conditions, of what the officers have to deal with, even with space, etc., that they do not have what it takes to carry a good prison.

He added that released inmates should have Provision officers following up on them in an effort to build a good society and on a whole the country.

Mr. Leon Cornwall expressed his appreciation to Mr. Raymond on his remarks and he shared his delight for the opportunity to meet with the Committee.

He said that in his opinion there isn’t sufficient understanding between this period and the period when they, the Seventeen were in prison.

He outlined the difference in the period and the challenges; (1) the total change in the atmosphere of the prison, for example, the education programme was done in all sections of the prison; (2) In the past, the Commissioner and his top staff would have weekly inspection of the inmates in each section of the prison.

He said that the environment and mentality in the prison then and now is totally different and without understanding that, then a more effective solution would not be able to be realised.

He added that if he resigns from his duties with immediate effect, and a Councillor with the paper qualification is utilized to perform the present duties, that the situation would remain unchanged because of a lack of understanding of the issues at the prison.

Mr. Cornwall stated that in one aspect, the education programme now is in advance compared to back then.

This, he said is owing to an idea that he came up with as it relates to Project Reach, In 2013, he came up with the document, which suggested shifting education from the pure academic to technical education and make it more comprehensive so that the inmates are given the skill, that in the event they don’t get a job they could create a job.

Mr. Cornwall expressed how hurt he was about the remarks made and the narrow approach that he believes to some extent undermined him among the inmates and for the Chairman to now say that he is brilliant, etc., he is in no way impressed with it.

He said the responsible thing that should have been done was to have a meeting with him but instead was going behind his back.

The Chairman interrupted to say that he was ending the meeting and expressed again as Mr. Raymond did, that the Committee has a legal responsibility.

He said that he told Commissioner that in no uncertain terms that when people are sentenced for counselling if they did not carry out the sentence given by the Court, they will be held in contempt of court because the prison has a responsibility of providing legal counselling.

He repeated the intelligence of Mr. Cornwall, but he has to face the fact that the prison has to obey the law and he, as Chairman of the Prison Committee, he (has) to ensure as far as possible that the prison authorities obey the law.

Mr. Cornwall again raised the point that the remarks were said among inmates, which he saw it as an unprofessional approach as Chairman of the Committee.

He said that a different approach could have been used to relay said information to him rather than hearing it from the inmates.

The Chairman repeated that the issue at hand is a legal issue and not a personal one. Mr. Raymond added that he would still like if Mr. Cornwall can look into preparing a graph so as to help the system.

He repeated that Mr. Cornwall might be overloaded and that he needs help with the staff for the running of the Rehabilitation Unit.

Mr. Cornwall again repeated that the approach was unprofessional and said that the Chairman’s attitude may have had a part to play and what was said was undermining to him and that the Chairman has not acknowledged that which caused him to think that there is more to it.

Pastor Williams informed that he respected what was said by Mr. Cornwall and on behalf of the Committee said that the Committee has a responsibility which will be executed as best as possible.

It has never been the practice of the committee to look into persons’ contracts, as the committee is guided by the act and follows the Prison rules as best as possible and the committee would continue to do so until the mandate expires.

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