In the early morning hours, shortly after midnight, on Wednesday, October 9th, Trinidad and Tobago police stormed the walls of Transformed Life Ministry Rehabilitation Centre after warrants were issued under Section 13 Chap. 12:10 of the Trafficking in Persons Act.
Police are said to have liberated 65 men and four women, some of whom were found nude and in various states of restrained, some including in what were described as cages. Some of the people reported that they had been at the center for years, and others made allegations of torture. Police found, and confiscated handcuffs, batons, and tasers during the raid.
Those freed from the center were taken to hospitals for medical evaluation.
Six people from the ministry, including the founding pastor, Glen Awong, were detained for questioning. Since the raid, some members of the ministry, including Awong, have taken to various outlets to defend the ministry, while other employees have spoken out against the practices.
The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian quoted one worker as saying, “Maybe we thought or we were made to think that it was the right thing that was being done that it was for our safety. Maybe we were brainwashed. We were warned and threatened over and over and reminded of the confidentiality. I’m scared for my life now. I can’t say any more.”
The Guardian reported that officials from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, in an attempt to downplay statements made by the local authorities, described the case as more of a matter of "false imprisonment" and "maltreatment" given the conditions in which the people were found.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, however. minced no words when he called what was going on at Transformed Life as "modern day slavery," and "human trafficking," a statement that has caused Awong to demand a public apology from him.
He expressed a belief that law enforcement had cracked the biggest human trafficking ring in the country, and described the conditions in the center as "barbaric."
"This is a much bigger picture and we have to investigate each and every case. This relates to virtual slavery with what we have seen here. Some of them say they have been tortured," he said. "It is such a bigger picture with profit being made out of this. Family members deliberately sending their loved ones here and extracting the profits from the families."
The center billed itself as a transitional housing and rehabilitation facility for those dealing with substance abuse problems, and those that had recently been released from jail, “to promote healthy reintegration into society.”
Psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh described the situation as disturbing, but stated that “Most of those persons are drug addicts who are mentally ill and their family is unable to cope.”