Behind Prison Walls With Ryan Ramoutar
Lyndon BaptisteFri 07 Sep 2012
Author Ryan Ramoutar sat opposite us wearing a jersey, three-quarter pants and handcuffs. Because it was a “special visit” we met on the second floor of an admin building in a cramped, air-conditioned half wall, half glass office, Ryan on one side of the table, his aunt, fiancé and I on the other. A lean man of twenty-five with chiselled features, he appeared terribly shy, but conversation and a nervous chuckle came easily. Occasionally, he shivered. During the interview, the door remained open and prison officers glanced in. Two seats away, Ryan’s aunt dabbed her eyes while she listened. Whenever I glanced down to scribble, he joked with his fiancé, “How are you?”, “Do you like my haircut? I tried something: I combed it to the side like a Chine’e.” Gradually, we became a family of four and an interview I had difficulty preparing for became an unstructured yet flowing conversation.
Lyndon: Ryan, it’s great to finally meet you. I’d like to congratulate you on your first book. Your aunt also mentioned you secured several O-Level subjects.
Ryan: It’s nice to meet you too. Yes, I did Human Social Biology and Principles of Business and Office Administration, passing with ones and twos. I had to study on my own as the subjects inmates can sign up for are limited to Mathematics, English and Social Studies. Hopefully this opens new doors for other inmates. I also hope to pursue advanced studies in Sociology, Communications and Caribbean Studies.
Lyndon: Tell us about Ryan Ramoutar.
Ryan: I was born in Princes Town. I passed for Cowen Hamilton Secondary School, a seven year school so I was off to a good start. My dad committed suicide when I was ten, then my mom left, so I grew up with my grandparents and aunts. I used to do trade: joinery and tiling. I was getting money. I eventually dropped out of school at 17 and began working for a security firm. I hoped to get into the army under a special programme. Along the way, I strayed and now I’m here in prison. I’ve been here for the last eight years. As a boy I used to write in a notepad. Three years ago I decided that instead of watching walls and wasting time in prison I should write a book about my personal experiences.
Lyndon: Pretend you’re a salesman and I’m a customer: sell me Breakable Moments.
Ryan: The read will quench your thirst. It’s a cross genre: crime and romance. According to my foreign publisher, it’s a gun powder smelling romance. I used many adaptations from my life in order to give the realistic imagery to the readers, and the rest—well—it’s all about my wild and creative imagination.
Lyndon: What’s the message?
Ryan: Originally, Breakable Moments was supposed to be an autobiography. I wanted to let out the pent up emotions of a past relationship. [Glancing at his fiancé] Not you eh, babe. I especially wanted to highlight the small factors that could push people over the edge, such as a poor boy getting a girl pregnant and needing money for an abortion. I wanted people internationally, not locally, to understand what leads to crime in a third world country.
Lyndon: What are some other “small factors” that come to mind?
Ryan: Pursuing money for a better life. Love. Friends.
Lyndon: It’s interesting that you specifically highlighted an international audience. Do you think we locals even understand how these “small factors” contribute to crime?
Ryan: The majority don’t. They are driven by the media, and the media shows you what they want.
Lyndon: As we’re on the topic, what do you think can be done to address crime?
Ryan: We need programmes that integrate individuals at an early stage, from preschool through primary to secondary school, programmes that address the small factors.
Lyndon: What drives you as a writer?
Ryan: Inmates, officers, family, friends, my fiancé. It feels good when people give me the kudos. Now I help teach English. Sometimes while I’m reading an inmate would shout, “My pores raising, boy!” and I feel like my writing is doing something, it means something.
Lyndon: I’m very curious: when and where do you write?
Ryan: I write in my cell. It’s no problem because there are lights in the cell. I scribble in different notebooks, notes, plots, character sketches, writing, rewriting. There are five of us in the cell.
Lyndon: Five! I always thought there were two to a cell. I have been misinformed by movies. As a writer how do you manage?
Ryan: There’s always talking, quarrelling, cursing but after eight years you learn how to blank out the noise, brush it off, now I can write as if I’m alone. But yes, sometimes I read to them.
Lyndon: At least during the first draft of a story I think writing is a very private affair. I imagine that as a writer in a tight space and in the constant presence of others you must get many suggestions.
Ryan: Yes. While I may note them I stick to my plot. Even before I begin to write I know what happens.
Lyndon: As a writer in prison what do you lack most?
Ryan: Research material. And a laptop [chuckles]. NALIS runs the prison library in the MSP (Maximum Security Prison), but here in remand the library is wish-wash. There are encyclopaedias and textbooks but they are old and only skim the surface. Some James Patterson books will be great.
Lyndon: There’s a poster in the corridor that compares reformative and retributive theories. Under reformative theory “patience” and “guidance” are noted as key elements. Having said that how has the prison authority responded to your accomplishments as an author?
Ryan: They haven’t met my expectations. There was talk of a launch, only talk. I would have also expected that my accomplishment would have spurred a programme to inspire other inmates who would like to get published, perhaps even through the prisons. They do it with poetry but it isn’t for personal gain.
Lyndon: And the inmates’ response?
Ryan: They call me author. They call me bright boy. My success has inspired the older heads. I think it has showed everyone it is possible to accomplish great things inside prison.
Lyndon: How have national bookstores responded to your publication?
Ryan: I’m a bit disappointed at the response. I was especially disappointed when a big bookstore rejected my book. It piqued my curiosity. I wondered if it is because I’m a prisoner.
Lyndon: There’s something I wanted to say earlier. I was a bit disappointed that there was nothing about prison life in Breakable Moments.
Ryan: Being in prison and writing about the reality could have caused problems and disturbances I rather avoid. I will get there gradually.
Lyndon: Was Breakable Moments censored?
Ryan: Yes. It was scanned by an Acting Supervisor and approved by a Programme Officer. But I go into prison life in my next book, Kiss of a Killer. Of course the prison and characters are fictitious.
Lyndon: I remember my own experience when I first held my book 90 Days of Violence. I thought I would sell 500 copies in the first week. What was it like for you with Breakable Moments?
Ryan: I was real’ excited. When it was first published my aunt sold about 90 copies. That included 30 copies to The National Library. I thought it was going and done in a flash. I told my aunt here, “We need to print more copies.” But sales slowed. I don’t think locals have interest in local works. When they think about buying something from a local writer, they think the smallest amount is asking too much money for “something local”.
Lyndon: Looking back is there anything you would change about Breakable Moments?
Ryan: No nothing… but there are some typos, so maybe the editor.
Lyndon: Tell us about Kiss of a Killer.
Ryan: Romario Conor is ex-military and an assassin for the Columbian mafia. His job is to oversee the mafia’s business, kill those who don’t keep their end of the bargain. The real trouble starts for Romario when a young American woman witnesses a murder committed by two high-ranking members of the mafia. He’s ordered to take her out but develops feelings for her. In turn the mafia orders a hit on both Romario and the girl. I personally admire this book because Breakable Moments is my first try and I was able to do more in-depth research for this book.
Lyndon: Where can we get copies of Breakable Moments?
Ryan: Breakable Moments is available at NALIS, Mohammed’s Bookstore, Princes Town, R.I.K. Booksellers, Ishmael Khan, Book Specialists, and online at Amazon.com and Smashwords. There’s also my website. Geneva Hosein, my fiancé, can be reached at (868)355-0824; and my aunt, Delinda Sadar, at (868)396-4555.
Lyndon: Given your restrictions, publishing Breakable Moments must have been a challenge?
Ryan: It was indeed. But I kept at my goal, thanks to my family, my fiancé and some prison officers who worked with me to gather information on publishing.
Lyndon: You mentioned a foreign publisher for Kiss of a Killer. Why the move from a local publisher?
Ryan: If I had the knowledge I have now, I would have used a foreign publisher for my first book. Producing the title is free, and it’s internationally edited, designed and published.
Lyndon: You sound remarkably impressed with international publishers. Can local publishers compete or meet your expectations?
Ryan: I think you can. If publishers arrange with writers to produce titles for free and receive payments for services as the books are sold as soft or hardcopies over time.
Lyndon: I always ask writers to share tips.
Ryan: Expand your vocabulary; in my cell I have lists of words stuck to the wall with soap. Find the right word for the right situation.
Lyndon: The officers are signalling that it’s time to wrap up. It was a pleasure, Ryan. I had fun.
Ryan: Thanks for coming, Lyndon. I’d like to thank you for your support and encouragement. I look forward to seeing you all again.
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