Children in Nicaraguan prisons are sharing their poor conditions with adults.
courtesy Bruce Callow

Former Calgarian helps kids in Nicaragua

Callow raised funds through benefit concert for juvenile prison in Bluefields

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The imprisoned children of Bluefields, Nicaragua can sleep more comfortably thanks to the humanitarian efforts of former Calgarian Bruce Callow.

After raising $2,500 at a July benefit concert in Calgary and nearly $12,500 through the Caribbean Coast Prison Appeal of Nicaragua campaign, Callow said there is enough money to construct two separate jail cells to detain minors aged 12 to 17. At these new facilities, Nicaraguan children will avoid the overcrowded cells they once shared with adult prisoners.

"When you have a situation where children are mixed in with an adult population in cages and they're allowed out for sun one hour a week and the food allotment is inadequate, we try to find a goal that we could actually reach and that was protecting the young prisoners," said Callow, who has been a political officer at the British Embassy in Costa Rica since 2004.

The Tico Times claimed in March that 120 convicts serving full-term jail sentences are being kept in underground cells initially built for 40 people. This has forced many prisoners to live in cramped living quarters up to 20 hours a day. Additionally, the British Embassy in Costa Rica has been lobbying the Nicaraguan government about overcrowding and health problems that have resulted from unsanitary conditions in jail cells.

Callow said not only are living conditions in Nicaragua's prison system poor, but children are learning from hardened criminals. They are also at risk for rape and assault by adult inmates who are incarcerated for a variety of crimes.

"You can imagine the influence it must have on them psychologically, physically, emotionally and so on," said Callow. "It's not a good situation and the sooner we can get them out of there, the better."

According to Callow, most of the young prisoners have a history of stealing, drug possession or assault. To help Nicaraguan children learn valuable skills, the Marian Baker School in Costa Rica donated nine boxes of books to the new jail cells in Bluefields.

Jesse-James Cameron, the lead band member of Makeshift Innocence and one of the main contributors of the benefit concert for Bluefields' prison, said reading about Callow's fundraising plans encouraged him to help Nicaraguan children.

"After reading [a Calgary Sun article,] I felt somewhat inspired," said Cameron. "I came from a harder background and a lot of people I know ended up in prison. The minute I read that, it kind of hit me at a personal level."

Construction of the next jail is expected take place in Puerto Cabeza, just north of Bluefields. Cameron added his band would like to be a part of future fundraising events if the opportunity presents itself.

"We believe in helping people," said Cameron. "We believe in small changes that can do a lot. They have a ripple effect and they can do quite a bit of good down the road. Sometimes it just takes some inspiring of the community to get together and try to help out."

Canada's Ambassador to Costa Rica Neil Reeder, the Canadian Cooperation Agency, Leeds University and several non-governmental organizations also helped Callow ease the suffering of imprisoned Nicaraguan children.