NOC – more than just a correctional facility for juveniles
By Ravena Gildharie
DESPITE the stigma it has fetched for years, the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) at Onderneeming, Essequibo Coast, has evolved as a correctional facility that not only instills discipline and moral values in its students, but also empowers and equips them with life skills to help them become well-rounded individuals in society.
Though it is generally known that the facility has not yielded 100 percent success of social rehabilitation of all deviant adolescents who have passed through the system, there are some success stories and several young people who remain grateful for the reform they secured at NOC.
Sergeant-in-Charge of the Anna Regina Police Station Deon Parris, now age 35, spent three of his teenage years at NOC during 1995-1998. Back then, Police charged him with wandering when Essequibo ranks found him skipping school and loitering with mischievous motives late into the evenings.
“Coming from a broken home, I was wayward and used to skip school a lot and follow bad influences. My grandfather got fed-up and then the Police found me wandering, charged me and I became institutionalised at NOC,” Sergeant Parris recalled.
Originally from Anna Regina, he grew up with his single-parent mom, two younger siblings and his grandparents. Due to financial hardships, the teenager found himself working many days, fetching load around the Anna Regina Market to get money to assist his family. At NOC however, Parris completed his education at the Johanna Cecelia Secondary School where he wrote CXC examinations and secured five subjects.
“NOC is all about discipline and back then, it was under the (Guyana) National Service, you had to adhere to the high discipline or be scolded severely and punished…I remember one of the punishment where they would bald your head and put you to weed in the hot sun,” Parris recollected.
He noted that it was a difficult environment where so many delinquents were housed together and there were lots of bullying and fighting.
Mentoring other young people
After NOC, Parris pursued training at the Felix Austin Police College in Georgetown and was later stationed at Suddie, where he served until 2012, when he was transferred to Georgetown. After three years in the City, Parris returned to Essequibo and was subsequently promoted to Station Sergeant in July 2016. Today, Sergeant Parris oversees daily functioning of the Anna Regina Police Station which is staffed by over 40 ranks.
He also supervises youth groups established across Essequibo through the Guyana Police Force (GPF) social programme. At Capoey, Parris is the group leader of more than 100 members, and spends much time mentoring young people. He also captains the G’ Division Police cricket team.
“My advice to young people is not to give up when faced with challenges because life is not a smooth road. There will be ups and downs but you have to keep the faith and trust in God,” the Police Sergeant advised.
Since NOC, he has advanced his education through the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE) and participated in numerous trainings facilitated by the Police Force. Last year, Parris joined a delegation of 20 Guyanese ranks who participated in a Public Order Maintenance training in China.
He remains convinced that NOC helped transform his life and is satisfied with the corrections.
To this date, there are scores of young men and women, like Parris, who after being reformed at NOC, have joined the GPF and Army. Some of them who developed athletics ability and other talents such as steel pan drumming advanced their capacities through the law enforcement service.
An official affiliated with NOC observed that majority of the male students have joined the GPF and Army although there have been some females too. Some of the students have been noted to pursue tertiary education at institutions such as the Kuru Kuru Cooperative College and the Government Technical Institute where they advance the skills acquired at NOC. A few of them including those who in the law enforcement service have enhanced their education at the University of Guyana too, but the NOC staff noted that there is no specific system that follow up with the students are they depart the facility.
As part of its programme, residents at NOC are exposed to a variety of training programmes such as electrical installation, welding, joinery, carpentry, handicraft, catering and home management. All students are taught information technology as there is as well-equipped computer laboratory. Some of the younger residents are facilitated to complete secondary education at the Johanna Cecilia Secondary School.
The facility currently houses residents ages 11 to 17 years who have been committed for varying periods and offences.
According to the NOC official, there is a staff of close to 60 including the technical skills’ teachers who have been conducting the instructions at the facility for several years.
The official observed that it is a challenging task to reform the juveniles, some of whom are hard bent in their wrong ways, but the NOC staff remain very committed and make the best effort to help the young offenders get on the right path, and there have been some positive outcomes.
Nineteen-year-old Police Constable Daniel Isles was once committed to NOC for three years in 2011 after being charged for larceny.
“NOC was tough but it helped to instill a lot of discipline…those in there now would call it punishment but to me, as I look back now, I am very, very grateful and I see it in a positive way because the staff was trying to reform me and without NOC, I might have ended up bad,” Isles indicated.
He had dropped out of school at Form Two and admitted to following “bad company” some of whom, the Constable observed have since graduated in their misdemeanors.
At NOC, Isles took a liking for playing steel pan and became the band leader.
After he departed the institution, he became an apprentice in the GPF steel band and practiced his pan skills up until the time he commenced police training in Berbice. After he graduated from Police college, he was transferred to Charity and subsequently Anna Regina. His working hours does not permit him time to conduct his steel pan music much to Isles’ dismay.
Isles also related that while some of his NOC peers were not rehabilitated, he had at least one close friend that made good use of the corrections and had taken up farming in the Pomeroon.