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The island paradise prisoner of the heroin Story-level




Jude Jean has been in and out of jail after robbing to get money to buy heroin

About 10% of the local population in the tropical island nation of Seychelles is dependent on heroin in what is now an epidemic, according to the country’s government. Even being locked up offers no protection for those dependent on the drug. BBC Africa Eye was granted rare access to the main jail to witness the sharp end to a problem that threatens to overwhelm the country.

Short presentation gray line

Short presentation gray line

Perched on top of a hill, surrounded by beautiful views of the Indian Ocean, is Montagne Posée Prison, the main prison facility in Seychelles.

Seychelles is a country of contradictions, but even so, it’s hard to reconcile these stunning views with what’s inside.

At the entrance to the place where the prisoners are being held, after going through numerous locked doors and passing kilometers of coiled barbed wire, there is a four meter high mural of Nelson Mandela, painted on the wall of the office block.

Next to the smiling face of the late South African president, who was of course also a prisoner, is a quote that reads: “It is said that no one knows a nation until they have been inside its prisons.”

nelson mandela mural

nelson mandela mural

And it is true that, in many ways, this prison is a reflection of what is happening in Seychelles beyond its luxurious five-star brand.

We’re here to meet one of the inmates, Jude Jean, but first the BBC team is taken to what the inmates tell us is some sort of visitor’s display cell. It is clean but cramped.

There are eight beds, four on each side, one on top of the other with no room to sit upright. In the same room there is a toilet and a shower, privacy is not important.

Nearby are the dirty and dilapidated kitchens. Rotting fish guts clog the drain, the stench is unbearable but the flies are enjoying the feast.

Then there is the main cell block. The darkness is overwhelming. It is early afternoon but there is no daylight, the small bulbs in a nearby corridor casting a dim light. Inmates use cardboard boxes to create privacy behind the bars of their open cells. Some of them are so small that they look like cages and there are dirty mattresses on the floor.

Inside a prison cell

Prison conditions are cramped and offer little privacy.

The heroin problem also lurks in the dark when Class A narcotics flow through these cells.

Prison offers no protection from what happens outside.

Seychelles is facing what is now an epidemic.

It is estimated that around 10% of the Seychelles population is addicted to heroin. So much so that foreign workers have to be brought in to do the work that local drug addicts cannot.

At the jail, Tanzanian guards are rotated on staff in an attempt to stop corruption and the flow of heroin into the cells, but it’s not working.

Corruption, drugs and jail

Even President Wavel Ramkalawan admits that the prison is not fit for purpose.

“When you have such a mess, this is the breeding ground for corruption by officials. And once you have corruption, then the drugs will keep going into prison,” he tells the BBC from State House in the capital Victoria. and he added that he plans to build a new jail.

He acknowledges that “the drug situation is very bad.”

“Right now, per capita, when it comes to heroin use, Seychelles is number one in the world. And this is not a statistic that gives me much pleasure personally.”

It’s visiting day at the prison and Jude, who is on remand for robbery, is waiting for his mother.

The family room is outside – it’s a concrete patio surrounded by a chain-link fence with plastic furniture.

Jude is likeable: warm and friendly, confident but humble. He is also dependent on drugs.

“I’m embarrassed to say it, but you know, I’m an addict,” he tells us, “and it’s not easy.”

As he sits down today, his eyelids seem too heavy for him. Despite being in prison, he managed to get his heroin fix that morning, as well as some joints.

Jude Jean and her mother

Jude’s mother, Ravinia, has remained faithful to her son despite her drug dependency taking a toll on her.

Jude has been in and out of prison for over a decade, mostly for stealing to feed his habit.

His mother Ravinia has had to deal with this, as well as another terrible tragedy.

She is a bubbly woman; her smile lights up the room and her laugh is larger than life.

She worked hard for years running a fast food joint, trying to support her four children and give them a good life.

But the heroin took all that.

In 2011, Ravinia’s eldest son, Tony, was found hanged. His death remains a mystery, but Tony was heavily involved with the heroin, and she has no doubt the two are related. She doesn’t believe that she took her life.

As she speaks, she looks a million miles away, pain and confusion etched on her face.

‘Be strong mom’

To this day, she is baffled as to how not one but two of her children followed this path.

“Even if you tell me not to blame myself, I have myself to blame,” she says. And so many mothers across the country feel the same way.

When Ravinia sees Jude, her mood and smile light up.

“I’m happy to see you, my son,” she says as she hugs him tight.

“I’m happy to see you too, Mom,” Jude replies.

As they sit down, she tells us, “You know we talk, even though I know he lies to me sometimes, we talk, we’re friends!”

But the tension soon shows. As she breaks down in tears, Jude wipes her own and tells her, “Be strong, Mom, be strong.”

And she is.

She is Jude’s rock and you can see how much she means to him, but over the years he has put her to the test.

“We don’t have anything at all today because it’s all gone. He even took my checkbook and started [writing] checks,” he explains.

“He took everything… I remember one time we didn’t even have sheets. Everything he saw, he took and sold as drugs.”

The first time Jude went to prison, Ravinia was relieved, but her respite was short-lived, she says it’s as if she had sent him to “a school for criminals.”

promise to change

While inside, Ravinia was also forced to finance her son’s drug addiction, as he “took drugs on credit”.

He says that “he had to pay because they sent people to collect his money” and they made threats. . It’s Jude who told them to go to my parents, they’d pay for me.

“They threaten you. They say they are going to kill him.”

It is not lost on Jude how lucky he is to have such a mother.

“Thank you mom for always being there, I know that with you there, one day I will be a better person, I want to be a better person.”

“Do it before it’s too late,” Ravinia tells him through tears.

Jude promises him that he will make a change. She’s not convinced, but she’s not giving up on him.

Jail is not the ideal place to recover but it is not impossible. He has a methadone program, which can be used to treat heroin dependency, and some limited counseling sessions, but Jude has to want to.

Sunset in Seychelles

The island’s heroin problem contrasts with the beautiful scenery and vacation paradise

Methadone is also available for users outside of prison. It is free for anyone who is registered, such is the scope of the epidemic.

In Victoria, every morning a custom-built white van with a distribution window on the side makes several stops around the city, where long lines of people from all walks of life wait to receive their medicines.

Surprisingly, in a nation held hostage to heroin, methadone is the only consistent support available to drug users.

However, for many Seychellois, this daily dose is nothing more than a free morning hit that is incredibly dangerous. Using methadone and heroin at the same time can lead to a fatal overdose.

Taking methadone without a detox plan and counseling is rarely a good long-term recovery solution. Despite this, political decisions have led to the closure of all residential rehabilitation centers on the islands.

The president, who has been in office for two years, blames his predecessors for the lack of much-needed hospital care.

He says that politics got in the way of dealing with the issue during the previous administration.

“But we received a grant from the United Arab Emirates to build a proper rehabilitation center. And we are going in that direction,” says Ramkalawan.

Craft drug industry

Heroin mainly enters the Seychelles from Afghanistan and Iran by boat, through its vast and porous water borders. With nearly a million square kilometers of territorial sea, smugglers have easy access.

Once it hits the ground, it is largely sold in small makeshift shops in the back of people’s homes in the country’s many ghettos.

It’s basically a cottage industry, and entire communities are involved.

Drive five minutes from any main street, past the fancy hotels and expensive restaurants, and you can see for yourself. This drug is everywhere, and the fear is that the worst is yet to come.

While heroin remains the favourite, at least for now due to it being relatively cheap, there are new players on the market.

Crack cocaine and methamphetamine are coming into use and neither drug can be treated with methadone.

Jude Jean is a clinic

Jude enrolls in the methadone program in hopes that it will help him recover from his heroin dependency.

In prison, a few days after her mother’s visit, Jude decides to keep her promise and give recovery another chance.

He’s taking a big step and trying to sign up for the prison’s methadone program, but not all of them qualify.

Jude arrives at the prison medical center visibly high. When the nurse tests his urine for heroin, he is not surprised that he tests positive.

They tell him that he must stop using the drug completely to be admitted to the methadone program. Hey okay.

The next day he stands in line with his fellow prisoners and takes his first dose.

Jude is also enrolled in a counseling program to give him the best chance at recovery.

Her mother, Ravinia, isn’t holding her breath, she’s been disappointed so many times before, but she’s praying hard that this time it sticks.

BBC Africa Eye Seychelles film, Heroin and Me is underway BBC Africa YouTube page.

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