You are what you is.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A quick visit to the Hattieville Ramada

Only in a country as laid-back as Belize could a fully functioning prison be considered a tourist attraction. It's the only prison in Belize (the name 'Hattieville' is to Belizeans what 'San Quentin' is to Americans) and as such houses criminals of all stripes, from pickpockets to murderers. But don't come looking for some sort of American style corporate-owned Supermax with imposing concrete walls topped with electrified razor ribbon and sharpshooter-manned guard towers ever 20 yards. The 'Hattiville Ramada' (as its called on the streets) looks more like a summer-camp, its main prison buildings set back from the road and surrounded by farmland (where the prisoners work). This is surrounded by a fence about as daunting as what you'd find surrounding a suburban junkyard. According to a few Belizeans we've spoken to, Hattieville residents have been known to break out at night to go drinking with nearby friends only to return in the morning before head-count. So what makes the prison worth a visit?

Two words: Gift Shop.

Belize Central Prison has an amazing gift shop, filled with items from the reformatory's renowned woodshop. Inside of the small shop (located on the road and outside of the actual prison itself,) you'll find hand-carved walking sticks, traditional masks, religious icons like crucifixes, statues depicting saints, a host of carved Jesus figures, and even beautifully crafted wooden doors. All items in the shop are meticulously crafted by the prisoners themselves from locally grown woods like mahogany, teak and sandwood. There's also a fine variety of smaller items, including jewelry, cards, calendars, hammocks, clothing and other assorted knick-knacks, all of which have been made by the prisoners themselves.

This most unusual penal facility is part of the larger vision of an organization called the Kolbe Foundation(225-6190,, which took over the management of the once-notoriously horrible government prison and restructured it in a way that would be more in line with the foundation's Christian philosophy. Rather than merely punishing criminals by sequestering them from society, the Kolbe approach focuses more on rehabilitation through education and development of skills. In addition to the various craft-making shops inside the prison, there are also a number of small-scale animal farms and gardening operations, from which the prison gets some of its food. One of the long term goals of the foundation is to have the prison be totally self-sustainable; as such, all funds earned by gift-shop sales go back to the maintenance of the prison, meaning that your purchases directly assists in the rehabilitation of Belize's criminal element (who might otherwise wind up robbing you on your next visit to Belize).

While the gift-shop is open to the public, the prison itself isn't. Plans are in the works to expand operations to include a snack-stand.


  1. I am going to e-mail this to the Sussex Community Institution...ain't that a grand name for the BIG HOUSE, where I work...we do have a wood shop!!!

  2. I find your blog very interesting. Ramada, Inc. is one of the nation largest hotel chains in the country. The company deserves its good reputation due to the years in the business, however not every customer is satisfied with the services. I learned about customers’ feed back from and that was really something that made me reconsider my hotel choices after all.

  3. People should read this.

  4. John McFadden8:50 AM

    I realize that this was written tongue in cheek, but as a volunteer at the Kolbe Prison I can verify that they take security very seriously.
    When I was there this past July two Guatemalans and an Belizean man escaped and the tower guards shot at them at least 7 times.
    Just because the prison treats the inmates as human beings they should not be critized.The main intention is for humanitarian rehabilitation. Kolbe is a faith based facillity, and as you said besides teaching them a meaningful trade we attempt to convert the inmates to a life changing experience in having a personal relationship with God.

  5. Hi John,
    I support the rehabilitation work done at Kolbe, and it wasn't my intention to denigrate it in any way. I hope that, despite the "tongue in cheek" tone, my sentiments are clear in both this posting and in the write-up done for the Belize guidebook. Thank you for pointing out the possible misunderstanding, and thank you for being a part of the work that takes place at Kolbe.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Joshua Samuel Brown

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