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From disgrace to glory

An ex-prisoner’s victory story

By Donstan Bonn donstan.bonn@trinidadexpress.com

What would drive a man from an esteemed family and with an educational background that would be the envy of most to run afoul of the law?

Shyam Ramlogan puts it down to a willingness to engage in risky behaviour as well as the desire for instant gratification.

Ramlogan, 45, graduated from the Fredric G. Levin College of Law at the University of Florida with a Juris Doctor’s (JD) degree* in law, and also holds a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Child Development Psychology.

Employed in the legal fraternity as an analyst and having the necessary qualification to be admitted to the Bar in most states in the US, he seemed set for success.

But then, poor judgment changed Ramlogan’s life.

“I never in my entire life envisioned myself going to jail although I had a tendency to engage in risky behaviour. Then one day I took a chance and the rest is history.”

In 2007, Ramlogan was arrested and charged for larceny of information. He was subsequently found guilty of the offence and sentenced to two years incarceration at the Maximum Security Prison, in Arouca.

“My first thought was how do I explain this to my family, and next I wondered how was I to cope with being in prison.

“Fortunately for me, my expectations and my experiences were quite contrasting.”

As a result of his education and training, Ramlogan was able to work closely with both junior and senior prison officers in designing and administering restorative programmes.

“There are adequate programmes within the penal system,” Ramlogan explains. “However, a lot of them are done in an ad hoc manner. None of them are mandatory and this I believe impacts heavily on why so many inmates do not take advantage of the opportunities provided by those programmes.

“The prison administrators,” he continues, “are talking about embracing a restorative approach but it’s not really being pursued. When officers are trained in the retributive way it’s difficult for them to digest the restorative ideals.”

Ramlogan says he made numerous recommendations but most of them fell on deaf ears.

“In prison an inmate is an inmate, thus a perception exists that once you are wearing brown you are more intelligent than a prisoner, regardless of his academic qualifications.”

He singles out Nicholas Gilbert as one of the few officers who showed an interest in the welfare and reformation of prisoners.

“Mr. Gilbert introduced Standard Instrument (SI) testing. This allowed for an assessment on each incoming prisoner so that the risk factors attributed to the individual’s behaviour type could be identified. Stemming from this an informed decision can be made as to which programmes can best meet the person’s needs.”

Ramlogan describes his stint behind bars as not only safe but also productive.

“I assisted in designing programmes, recruiting persons to attend the programmes, and making myself available, even on weekends, when officers were absent for whatever reasons.

My involvement was because I wanted to ensure my fellow inmates had an opportunity to benefit while they serve their time.”

But Ramlogan says the ignition of his spiritual life was the most significant aspect of his incarceration.

“Prior to my imprisonment I never had a strong spiritual foundation, and I would have been the first to challenge some of the precepts of Christianity. Now, however, I believe wholeheartedly in its teachings,” declares the former agnostic.

So what led to such a radical change?

“I was placed in the same cell with one of the prison’s church elders by the name of Carrington, and I became totally influenced by his examples and way of life.

“In my eyes,” Ramlogan continues, “he was a wonderful Christian because his lifestyle was a mirrored reflection of what he said and stood for. He did not do any preaching verbally, he just lived a Christian’s life. And this really made me aware that there are sincere people who lived a life of Christianity.

“Carrington did not get anything yet he was so happy. The joy he had was worth more than a million dollars. And I said to myself that I wanted some of that. So, I told him I wanted to be just like him, I wanted a bit of what he had.

“He simply said alright, you need to start doing this. Eventually, after two years of practicing Christianity everyday it became a habit.

“It’s ironic. My scariest thought just before entering prison was how am I going to cope with it. Upon being released my scariest moment was when I began wondering if I would continue practicing Christianity.

“But I am happy. I am afforded the opportunity of exercising my faith daily with more enthusiasm and more vigour than when I was in prison.”

Having a criminal record prevents Ramlogan from practicing law.

“Because of the high level of integrity associated with the legal profession I am in agreement with persons holding a criminal record being debarred from practicing the profession.

“At first I saw this as a barrier for me with regards to me becoming successful but that is no longer the case as I have found a niche, a call, and a purpose.”

Ramlogan offers some words of advice for those who may find themselves in positions similar to his.

“Get right with yourself, accept the conditions and limitations with which you have to work with and learn to delay the need to be instantly gratified. Take your time and work towards achieving things, accomplish your goal step by step, and always think about the consequences of the things you do.”

Ramlogan says God has blessed him by harmonising his professional and spiritual lives.

“I get to work with people and share my past experiences while offering advice and encouragement.”

Ramlogan is now the Projects Manager-Implementation at Transformed Life Ministry, a faith based organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation of male ex-prisoners. Additionally, he supervises postgraduate students attached to the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus.

(See video at bottom of home page)

*EDITOR’S NOTE: A Juris Doctor’s (JD) law degree is required in all states in the US, except California, to gain admission to the Bar.

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