Wyclef Jean aids youths at Haitian jail


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Wyclef Jean asked a crowd of child inmates what they want for Christmas, standing on a plastic chair to see every young face in an overcrowded juvenile prison.

"A CD!" one shouted. "A Walkman!" Then a chorus erupted from the back, and soon half the jailed Haitian children were shouting the same thing: "Freedom!"

The Haitian-born recording star, whose Yele-Haiti charity is working to improve health, education and social conditions in the impoverished Caribbean nation, laughed as he apologized in Haitian Creole.

"I'm not the president, I can't release you guys," he said.

The prison's 138 boys, ages 11 to 19, are accused of everything from petty theft to rape, murder and kidnapping as members of some of Haiti's most vicious gangs.

Working with advocacy group Foundation PRODEV, Jean's charity is trying to improve conditions at the prison, donating supplies and assisting with education.

"These kids should have the opportunity to have beds, to play sports in the prison," he told The Associated Press during his tour. "There should be teachers who teach them how to write and how to read, so if they get out, there's a future."

Jean, who leaped to fame with The Fugees before going solo, was mobbed for photos as he toured the prison and gave inmates tips on the basketball court.

"Nobody ever visits us," said Stanley Lacrete, an 11-year-old arrested two months ago on suspicion of kidnapping a younger boy in the seaside slum of Cite Soleil. "I miss my mother."

Built to hold about half its current capacity, cells at the small prison, known by its address at Delmas 33, are crowded with young inmates -- most still awaiting trail.

A urinal donated by Yele-Haiti hangs on one wall, an improvement, the boys say, over the bucket they used before.