Jamaica Gleaner / Etched in many minds is the tragic fire in May 2009 that destroyed a government-run correctional institution, killing five girls and injuring another 13, and though many stories have come out of the incident, just as many remain untold.
Stephanie* told Family & Religion that she is a living testimony of the Armadale Fire, the name by which the incident is remembered.
Despite her admission that she does not bear physical scars, the now 25-year-old woman says she is traumatised.
“The fire might have happened nine long years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. But before I go through my experience at Armadale, let me first tell you my story about what led me to Armadale.
“I was a carefree teenager who didn’t care about what people wanted to say. I would do everything as if I was in control of my own life. I would get mixed up in the wrong company; I would run away from home. I was totally out of control. I would even hide from class and be involved in pornography and all kinds of misconduct. My friends whom I thought mean me well had led me down to the path of destruction. They influenced me to run away from home twice, and I didn’t even stop and think; I just did what they said. I was reported missing and after I went to court because of my disgusting behaviour, the judge sent me to the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre,” she said.
VALUE OF FREEDOM
Stephanie explained that it was while at the institution that she realised how much freedom and family really means.
“On the 22nd of May (the day of the fire), I woke up and started screaming. I had a bad feeling as if something was about to happen. I had a vision of my family in danger.
“I began screaming and crying and asking God not to let anything bad happen to my grandmother. Little did I know it was me who would be in a terrifying situation,” she said, adding that that same morning, she heard a voice that she likened unto the Lord God saying, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.”
Stephanie said it was in the evening when she decided to have a shower that everything started happening.
“Suddenly I heard a still small voice saying, ‘Get out!’. I started to wonder if I was getting crazy, however, I obeyed and got dressed. Then shortly after, I heard screaming and shouting. I climbed up on to the bed to get a glimpse, and to my surprise, the place was covered with flames and smoke.
“We were terrified! We began screaming and we banged the door trying to open it so that we could get help. At least we were successful. Tears began to flow from my eyes when I saw the girls all burnt up. I cried and I thanked God that I was alive and well.”
“I am able to testify about my experience, and I’m sorry that we lost those precious souls,” Stephanie said.
Using her experience to minister to others, the redeemed and highly grateful woman of God, who admitted that she was baptised before going to the institution, is warning young people to against misdemeanour.
According to her: “I made a promise to God. I told Him if He allowed me to live until I was out, I would recommit my life to Him.
“I just want to tell a young teenager to stop and think about your actions because there is a consequence for you to pay. Listen to your guardians, they mean you well. Please don’t let friends lead you astray.”
*Name changed upon request