Article 188(1) (a) of the Constitution of Guyana, enshrines the President with the power to grant any person concerned in or convicted of any offence under the laws of Guyana a pardon, either free or subject to lawful condition.
Since taking Office in 2015, President David Granger has pardoned men, women, and youth from the Georgetown, Timehri, Lusignan, New Amsterdam, and Mazaruni Prisons, and the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) on the occasions of Independence, Emancipation Day and Christmas.
Ms. Ronella Junor, who was pardoned in 2017, and Ms. Bibi Parjohn, who was pardoned in 2019, share their stories of life after prison.
From inmate to community leader
“Prison is not a nice place to be. It’s definitely not a nice place to be… Prison is not good. I mean, it can change you. It can break you. But you just have to hold the faith and keep it up,” Ms. Junor said, solemnly recounting her time behind bars.
Ms. Junor said she clung to the unique premonition of her mother, who saw in a dream that she would be pardoned from prison.
“My mother told me… She said, ‘man, you’re going to be coming home for Christmas’, but I didn’t believe her… I asked her why [and] she said that she’s been praying. She’d been praying so much for me and she turned and [told] me she [knew] the President was going to pardon me. I said, ‘how do you know that?’ [She said] ‘well, I saw it in a dream.’ I was like, seriously? I didn’t actually believe… I was saying to myself… is it true? Because I know I got four years, but I was like wow. Only eight months I actually spent,” she said.
Ms. Junor said her return home was emotional. Her immediate and extended family wrapped her in their arms and shed happy tears. Her mother, who was overseas at the time, heard the good news through a tearful phone call.
While the initial release was a relief for both Ms. Junor and her family, the years since her release haven’t been without their challenges.
“The first year was rough because when [it was time] to get a job, it was a problem because if you start working, certain people in the area end up finding out where you’re working, then they [might] end up going to tell the work place about your previous brush with the law and so forth… From that I started [thinking] and I said, man is this how things are going to be, seeing that I just came out and I can’t really get a job due to my priors? But I just started praying and my mother said to pray and things are going to change. Things are going to get better,” she said.
Her faith and the birth and growth of her eight-month-old daughter, Sakiyah has been great solace during her challenges.
“But God is good and He has been so good up to now. In 2019 I got pregnant. I met somebody, I got pregnant and I got my daughter and she has changed my life. I’m at home right now due to her, but I plan on getting a job and I want to further my studies. I have [Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate] subjects, but I want to further my studies and I do have intentions to better myself and to become somebody in life,” she said.
Ms. Junor said she is deeply grateful to President Granger for a second chance at life.
“I don’t have words to express the thanks and gratitude. I don’t have words to express the thanks and gratitude [for what] he has given me… My life has changed [because] of Mr. Granger. He’s such a great person. And I just want him to continue doing what he does best, to continue helping others that are in need, help changing others’ lives, and to be the Godly man that he is,” Ms. Junor said tearfully.
“The President gave us that second chance and if he can give us that second chance, anybody else could give us that second chance because he believed in us. He put his faith in us and knew that we deserved that second chance in society. He placed us back in society to show society that we’re better and we’re changed persons… I would also consider him my father because he’s like a father figure… Mr. President, I love you… You’re the father of Guyana and you’re my father and continue doing the good job that you’re doing,” she said.
Since her interview, Ms. Junor has found purpose. During the morning hours, she operates a small store and in the afternoons she oversees after-school lessons in her neighbourhood. She works closely with a former Headmistress, whom she fondly calls Aunty Donna. Ms. Junor also hopes to develop a facility to help persons released from prison transition back into society. She hopes to help them to find employment and change negative habits.
From inmate to small business owner
“My name is Bibi Parjohn and I was pardoned last year, 2019, May… Prison is not a nice place to go and most of the young people in there, they’re not… behaving nice… I met a lot of young people in there… Spending four months exactly in there was a learning process for me. I [got] to learn about so many different things,” said Ms Parjohn, who was pleasantly surprised by the news of her pardoning.
“I didn’t know, but everybody was saying that you’re going to get pardoned if it’s your first offense… [Based on the length of my sentence] everybody heard that I have, they’d say it’s [a] joke. But it wasn’t a joke. They said if it’s [true] then I would go home for Independence and then one day, they sent for me and another girl, two other girls, to take out pictures and that was it. But I didn’t know what [it] was [for,] but the [other] girls knew. They said it’s [for the] pardon. So, I said I would be glad for that. And then on the 24th [of] May about 2 o’clock, they called us up and said, ‘Get your things, time to go’. I was so happy. I even forgot some of my stuff… but I never went back for it. I just [left] it,” she said.
Ms Parjohn happily recounted the events of that day. Her favourite part, she said, was surprising her children, whom she said were playing with their friends next door when she returned home.
“I was so happy because I missed my children so much and they weren’t doing well. They weren’t doing well at all. From birth, it was me all the time, anywhere we go… It [was] just me and the two of them. There are two bigger ones, but the two small ones, they’re always here… I was planning just to come home when I heard so. I was just coming home [to] surprise everybody… They were downstairs with my neighbour… they were downstairs playing music with the other children from over there… and I came in [quietly], nobody knew. When I came in, my daughter started crying and she came and she hugged me up. My son came and hugged me up,” she said.
Ms. Parjohn was pardoned a few weeks before her son’s tragic death.
“My older son, [used to] go and come… He would only be here [for] Christmas, Easter, holidays… The last week in June, he would come home and he’d spend the whole of July [and] August. Then he [would] go back to Berbice and Christmas time he would come back… Three weeks after [my release] my son died. It was very hard… I saw him eight days before… He said, ‘Mommy, come up Sunday.’ So… I [went] to Berbice and when I went up there, when I was going through the street, he [saw] me and he [came] and hugged me… That was the last time… I [saw] him. But about two days before he died, I spoke to him,” she said.
Despite the difficulties and the heartache, Ms. Parjohn is excited about her future and spends most of her time nurturing her young children.
“My plans for the future, I want to have my own small business, [and] do more catering. I want to be my own boss. I don’t want to work with nobody. I want to work for myself. In that way, I find more time for my children… That’s important because during the time I wasn’t around… My ex-husband [didn’t have] enough time with them and my daughter didn’t do well in her exams, her Grade Six exams. And my son, he just, [fell] off. Until now… [since] my son died I couldn’t pay all that attention to him. He is still a little ‘own way’. So right now, I’m trying to bring him back to normal,” she said.
Ms. Parjohn said she is grateful to the President for pardoning her.
“Thank you very much, Mr. President and I’m really grateful for the pardon,” she said.
After overcoming some challenges, Ms. Parjohn got her small catering business off the ground. She now regularly provides breakfast and lunch for persons employed near her home. She revealed that she will soon be building a small snackette.
President Granger has continuously defended his decision to exercise his Constitutional powers to pardon prisoners. He has said that his attention is on first time offenders and those convicted of minor or non-violent offenses, as he firmly believes that they could lead successful lives and contribute to the development of Guyana, if given a chance. Youth and women offenders are at the top of the list. To date, 96 prisoners owe their freedom to Presidential pardons.