Below is a transcript of reporter Shane Superville’s interview with a nurse at the Port of Spain General Hospital.
How much experience did you have as a nurse at the time of the escape?
I was already at the Port of Spain General Hospital for a while.
You know the hospital is located right there near east Port of Spain. I know in the past nurses would have had certain safety concerns, especially after a late shift. Were you ever concerned for your own safety?
When I was a junior nurse I remember I left the hospital at around 11 pm. As I was walking down Charlotte Street, a guy threw a bottle with what smelled like methylated spirit at me.
I had a mental breakdown at that point. Everybody at that time was already inside, and there were no cars on the street.
So I was always aware of how dangerous it could be.
On the day itself, you left home, came into work and everything is going according to plan. At what point during the day did you realise that something is going on?
Well, we had a very hectic day that day. We had several incidents of violence – there was a shooting that took place in Belmont earlier, so that patient came in a little before the prison break happened.
I had another patient that was in the next room and we had to try to take him out to put the officer (Maynard) when he came in. They brought in the…how should I say it…While I was trying to make room for this patient that I know is coming out, I could see how the police vehicle (was) coming into the hospital and I knew it was an emergency.
Around what time was all this?
I really can’t say. It might have been closer to lunchtime, just as I came out of shift. A little time had passed and there was a little wait for me to come off.
You’re seeing all of this going on right then. What were your thoughts knowing this was something that warranted a large police presence? Were you fearful for your own life?
I was very, very fearful, but I didn’t know the magnitude of the situation just yet. I saw the police and one of the prisoners right through the window. So I just thought that the police will deal with it and I will just have to deal with the officer that came in.
While we were there working on the police officer, we could hear the gunshots getting closer from outside. and that’s when it became frightening – something that we can be affected (by), someone could get shot.
The department was one where we always had issues with locking up doors and security, so I remembered when it really hit home was when I heard the shooting coming from the back of the department. You know how gunshots can echo, but it sounded like it was right there.
We could hear people screaming and running, but it was a really horrifying experience, because you were thinking that these people are coming inside. Whatever is happening, they are coming inside, and then while we are working on the patient, we are hearing someone saying, “Don’t move! Everybody get down!” and I remembered thinking, “Lord father, the man reach inside.”
You could still hear the shooting.
We were there trying to save the officer’s life inside. As much as you fear for your own life, we didn’t know what else to do, because the room we were in, it was almost as if we were trapped in there. So if a gunman came into that area, there really wasn’t anywhere to run.
Eventually a police officer came into the room, he was asking if we were okay and told us to remain calm.
Among the rest of the nurses, what was the atmosphere like on the inside?
We were shocked, and not just among the nurses, but the entire staff in general – everyone was in complete shock.
We usually are the ones that assist in saving people’s lives and although we have had incidents where people threatened our safety, I think that was one of the realest moments where you realise, “I don’t have any control over what happens next. This could really be my last day here.”
You think it’s because of how it happened without any warning?
Yes, we started hearing that prisoners escaped; we didn’t know how many at that point. We didn’t have any information, because it started coming across social media, but nothing official.
It’s only when we got word that one of them died and two were on the run we realised, okay, there was a pretty strong police presence, so thank God for that, because we were hoping they didn’t come into the department.
Some people were saying that he went upstairs but we didn’t exactly see anything like that from where we were. We just saw people running in. It was a horrifying experience.
At what point did you start to get calls from your relatives checking up on you?
Less than half an hour after. It was in a matter of minutes. I couldn’t answer some of the calls because I was in emergency surgery, and I think they were scared because I couldn’t answer them.
Later on, after the emergency passed, I started realising I had missed calls.
Did the police allow you all to leave just as it happened?
We had to stay. The hospital was on lockdown.
You didn’t feel bad at that time. When it happened I thought about my daughter, I don’t think she had school that day, or she stayed home that day, I can’t remember. But I had a daughter who was attending a pre-school just at the back of the jail, and that was my main concern.
We didn’t know the magnitude of what was happening.
That’s where my mind went first. Yes, I had my safety in mind, but it changed my train of thought. I wondered how safe she was because the school was right at the back of the jail.
So that happened and you all are still inside the hospital. I can only imagine how that is feeling.
I was one of the people in contact with the police officer (Maynard) and we had to literally rush him from casualty to the surgical theatre.
So when I helped with that, I got a little view of the outside, but I was really frightened because they were still looking for the missing guys.
So I was literally running into the theatre with this police officer. You’re hearing the helicopter and sirens blaring from all different directions and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
When Sherman Maynard died, what were your thoughts at that time?
He didn’t die in casualty, he was pronounced dead in surgical theatre.
So how long after all of that did you all get to leave the hospital?
We had to work a double shift. We tried to make contact with our relatives, because the administration didn’t know exactly what was happening: they wanted to ensure that they had sufficient staff available. If something else happened and there were some other nurses that didn’t come out for duty, I suppose they didn’t want to come out to work.
We worked until the night, maybe around until 9 or 10 pm, when the night staff got in.
Did you get a ride home, or did you have to travel?
I think I was driving at that point.
When you were leaving the hospital, can you remember what the streets were like?
It was clean. Not just the night, the whole hospital on that day was quiet. The patients we had in the department, many of them, once they were well enough, got up and left. We had people calling patients to find out where they were. People left the hospital.
So when you got home and were interacting with your family, what was that like?
I continued to get calls and texts during the course of the night.
I just tried to make sure my children were safe. I let a relative stay with them to make sure there was someone competent to care for them in the event something else happened and I had to be called out. We didn’t know what was going to happen.
So you got home: did you ever have a conversation with your family over whether it was safe to go back to the Port of Spain General Hospital to work?
I myself didn’t have that thought, but I know there were many people who saw the hospital as a risk, but I didn’t think about that.
My issue after that was more to secure the hospital. I have always felt that the jail should have been moved.
The position of the hospital itself is critical, if you look at the kind of incidents that happen, Laventille, Morvant, San Juan, Diego Martin. They all get sent to us, so the position of the hospital wasn’t my issue.
But I felt that the position of the jail could be moved. I felt the jail was the problem at that time and I still do.
From then to now, four years have passed. Have you seen or felt a big difference as far as security is concerned?
There were certain things that were implemented. They did things like changing the security company at the hospital.
But it’s only recently they started talking about additional measures. Only recently they’ve started talking about fixing the front entrance to make it more secure and having security manning the area at all times, because that in itself was an issue.
We had the back entrance that was not well secured. I think our area wasn’t secured as quickly, and if the prisoner really wanted to get into our department – but he probably saw it as a higher risk of getting caught, but if he wanted to come inside it would have been an easy task, and I still think although measures were in place, there are still smaller issues that need to be addressed.
I know that many people talk about feeling violated in terms of checks, but having some control over the people that have access to the hospital…We have had emergency cases and times when people come into the department and then because of the nature of the patient, they may have someone with the intention to kill a patient and we are also placed in risk.
I remember there was one night a little old lady came into the department and she was talking to us, and when we checked her bag she had a nine-inch knife in her bag, and she was also a little unstable. So it’s a risk area.
I know people don’t like to think that anyone is looking at them as a suspect, but there should be more thorough checks on what someone is walking with into the department.
There was one man who threatened to kill me if his son died. I don’t know what he had on him, and I know this is something that might not go away because of the area we work in.
Knowing that you have a good security system, with persons patrolling regularly, things like that will help you feel better.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
The hospital has tried. One of the first things they did was change the (security) officers, because there were some officers where, if something was happening, you really couldn’t count on them. I think the officers now have better training.
Having a police presence in our emergency department has also been a topic of discussion, especially around Carnival time.
Belmont Police Station isn’t far from us, but even getting a police officer from there can take some time.
Do you think other nurses feel the same way?
Yes! There is some consensus.