SHOULD the gate at the Maximum Security Prison be opened for him now, former Death Row inmate Andrew Douglas would go straight to church.
Then he would look for work—hopefully with the Ministry of National Security, where he could contribute to crime prevention among troubled young people.
While Douglas spoke of his evolution as a human being since his days on Death Row, former prisons commissioner John Rougier appeared proud.
Rougier, an advocate of "reformation and not retribution" in the justice system, had just finished re-affirming his belief that change is possible at a panel discussion on the death penalty, hosted by the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, last Friday.
The audience, made up mostly of students, with a few activists and at least one "humanist" present, was engaged as Douglas spoke.
His first words as he took the podium at the Law Faculty lecture hall were, "It's good to be alive."
Douglas had nothing about him that suggested the crime he was convicted of in 1989—the murder of business owner Lall Sookdad.
Douglas admitted, though, to not supporting the death penalty. This was not as a result of facing it himself, he said, but simply because he believed "two wrongs don't make a right".
Dressed in a dark suit, hair neatly cut and face clean-shaven, Douglas presented more a scholarly air, with his glasses sliding down his nose and his eloquent address.
In what was an emotional moment for him—and for his audience—he said "sorry" to the family of Lall Sookdad.
"I know God has forgiven me," Douglas said. "I only hope the family can."
He would repeat his "sorry" statement many times after that, thanking God for the chance to live, even as he expressed regret for cutting short the life of another.
At no point did Douglas, who is now serving life in prison, attempt to lay blame.
Instead, he claimed culpability many times for his crimes, which saw him on Death Row for four years during 23 years so far in the system.
Though he disclosed that he had come from a single-parent home and faced abuse, Douglas said he did not consider his background an excuse for his involvement in a gang.
A former pupil of a St Augustine high school, Douglas said he carried a burden of emotional baggage that he had, over the years, slowly delivered to the places they belonged and laid to rest.
After making a decision to change and deciding he had had enough of a life in and out of the prison system, Douglas said he began to take part in as many reform programmes at the prison as he could.
He also worked on his spirituality, he said, and while it may not be a requirement for all, he credits this as the vehicle that brought him to where he is.
"I believe that people can change, once the opportunity presents itself and the people want to change," Douglas said.
He is still "working on it" and, while he accepts that he will "never reach", he will always keep trying to be the best person he can be, Douglas said.
After making the decision to change, Douglas said he had to clear his mind of the negatives generated from traumatic experiences.
He then sought his purpose and his identity.
"You must have a purpose. You have to ask yourself what am I here for?," Douglas said.
Today he sees himself with many purposes—as a broadcaster and DJ with the prison's radio service, as an artist and as a poet.
Douglas, who placed second in an island-wide prisons poetry competition last year, recited the winning piece, in which he took responsibility, said thanks for life and pleaded for a chance to give back.
"I live by two words, besides that of God," Douglas said. "Choice and responsibility."
Speaking prior to Douglas's address, Rougier said the country's reform system rivalled and surpassed even those of some developed countries to which Trinidad and Tobago is often compared.
Rougier said he will also continue to support the proposal to allow conjugal rights to local prisoners, as long as the rules are adhered to.
He said the conjugal programmes are not just based on allowing prisoners to have sex with visiting wives, but on allowing family time that can, in the long term, keep more families together.
Part of his vision for prisons reform includes tutoring by university students, Rougier said.
Interim director at the Institute at UWI Dr Anthony P Gonzales, who opened the discussion, informed Rougier that if the will is there among the students, it could be done without too much delay from "the authorities".
The panel included Gordon Husbands, executive director, Penal Reform and Transformation Unit at the Ministry of National Security; Catherine Ali, of the International Community of Penal Abolition; and Rev Gwenolyn Hope Greaves, of the Hope Support Group.
Accompanying Greaves were three women who had lost children, friends and relatives to murder and who shared stories of how forgiveness had allowed them to heal.