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Monday, March 31, 2008

"Prison not make to ripe fig"

People will hear many unsubstantiated rumours about prison and prison life. We get a lot of what we think we know about prison from television, whether fictionalised accounts like HBO's Oz and Fox's Prison Break, or from various National Geographic and MSNBC specials.

A former Prime Minister who has so far avoided lengthy incarceration gave us the caption to this post when speaking about local prisons. And on the odd occasion, one will hear prisoners and prisons officers let something slip about life on the inside.

A news story this weekend though provides a telling idea of how horrifying prison in Trinidad and Tobago must be. The Express' Jensen LaVende in covering the Magistrates Court published a story of a prisoner who would rather die than go to prison, ironically, to die. Emphasis here is mine.

THE stench of blood lingered in the Port of Spain Tenth Magistrate's Court Room on Thursday, long after a bleeding prisoner was dragged off by police, kicking and screaming, to the holding cell.

Randy Mason was so disturbed that he was remanded into custody after Magistrate Andrew Stroude revoked his bail, that he slammed his head three times into the wooden walls of the courtroom.

Mason, of Sixth Avenue, Barataria, was out on bail for possession of a firearm and ammunition and appeared in court on Thursday.

Everything appeared calm until Stroude said that Mason would be going to jail.

Mason asked Stroude for a phone call to inform his family. Stroude complied and ordered that this be done. Mason then begged Stroude to have mercy on him and let him go home.

"They would kill me if ah go up dey, they go stab me. Mr Stroude, yuh go read about me," he cried as court officers tried to handcuff him to take him down to the holding cell to await transfer to prison.

He then threw himself on the ground and continuously begged not to go to jail. Mason slammed his head into the wooden prisoner's dock twice. He did it a third time on the wall at the back of the courtroom, and again in the corridor used by court officials while shouting of "ah rather dead".

There were clots of blood and a long bloody trail leading down to the holding cell after Mason was finally taken downstairs. Mason was taken to the Port of Spain General Hospital and then to prison.

He is expected to reappear on April 4.

If a man would rather smash his own skull than go to prison, one can begin to understand why a bandit will do literally anything to avoid incarceration, including murder potential witnesses.

The incident puts paid to something I've heard over and over of late: that the young criminal isn't afraid to die, but they 'fraid jail bad bad bad.

It begs the question though, why doesn't that fear stop them from getting into criminal activity in the first place?

Perhaps they begin with a sense of invulnerability when they're young and feel that they will never get caught.

It's possible that prison life is so horrific that no one ever tells them what it's really like in clear and graphic terms. Maybe then when they get a first taste for themselves, they swear that they will never go back.

Either way, things need to get to a stage where prison becomes part of a set of deterrents from engaging in criminal activity, rather than the raw impetus for finding ways - legal and illegal - to avoid incarceration.

The matter here isn't unique to Trinidad and Tobago, nor is it restricted to our own lower classes. One only needs consider the time, money and effort exhausted by our own alleged white collar criminals to avoid even a day in Court, and to evade extradition to foreign jurisdictions.

Lying, cheating, stealing, twisting the law, and delaying justice are all fair methods it would seem to avoid prison. One wonders how soon it will be before we find that one of the upper crust has taken a life - directly or indirectly - to avoid jail time...

But as Slate's Daniel Gross notes, the motivations of the rich might not be that much different from those of the poor in any case.

Monday, March 10, 2008

JAMAICA GLEANER: Living "a foreign" no bed of roses

It was a letter to the editor of the Jamaica Gleaner. It was not only too sweet to let pass, but also put quite a bit of perspective on a topic or two that I've been pondering.

Readers must note that Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago compare favourably on several levels. As such, I've taken the liberty of replacing "Jamaica" and "Jamaicans" in the letter's text with Trinbagonian equivalents to give a different reading. No disrespect to Tobago is intended but the text unfortunately seems to read more smoothly with "Trinidad" and "Trinis". That though is for a whole other topic of discussion.

All the same, change the name and the sentiment remains. And I'm sure that many a foreign-based Trinbagonian will agree with the Jamaican writer that life at home is indeed sweet.
The Editor: Sir,

Growing up in [Trinidad], I often heard the phrase uttered by many that 'foreign is no bed of roses' I used to get angry at individuals who, in my mind were only saying this to discourage other [Trinis] from going to America, giving them the impression that life is difficult there. Up to this point where I am now living and working in the United States (US), no one could tell me that life was not much better here than in [Trinidad]. In fact, living in America was my dream and no doubt the dream of countless [Trinis] who still hold on to the notion that America is still the best place to live.

I will not for a minute deny that there may be more and better opportunities for young people here. However, people must realise that opportunities must be sought wherever you are. It will not just come and fall in your lap. I must also admit and make it clear that you have to work twice even three times as hard here as you would the same job in [Trinidad]. "[Ah] neva work so hard [in mih] life!"

A different experience

Living in the US is a completely different experience. Would I come back to [Trinidad] to live now? Absolutely! I now realise that indeed foreign is no bed of roses as I used to hear others say and do I agree! For me and I guess for many [Trinis] living here, I feel like I am not living, merely existing. Life is or can be very monotonous and downright depressing. Especially if you live in those states affected by winter. Frankly, this place is not fit for human habitation in winter. Try spending a day in your freezer and you will know what I am talking about!

I guess what I am trying to say is that I would rather be in [Trinidad], with all the crime and violence, with all the so-called poverty and everything else that others seems to be running from. There is no place like home. America is not for everyone. If I knew that I would still be extremely homesick after eight years living in the States, that I would feel so incomplete and yearning to return home every given minute, I probably would have made a different decision about relocating. I would have stayed in my country and made the best of my life and my situation. I would have been more grateful being a [Trini] and living in [Trinidad]. I wouldn't be so critical of everything, and eager to leave.

A blessed country

[Trinidad] is, as we say, a blessed country. There is this sense of freedom and happiness that you experience there. I am not saying that there isn't a lot of problems and that things are not very difficult for many [Trinis]. What I am saying is that it is not much different here in the US, Life is just as difficult for many, especially if you do not have a skill or a career. You have to fight and work just as hard to make ends meet and to be successful.

My advice to the average [Trini] that still thinks that America is the answer to their problems is that you are in for a rude awakening. Work hard and build your country. Try to make a difference in whatever way you can. You have it good and you don't even know it. [Trinidad] is still the best place on Earth to live. Ask any [Trini] living a foreign.

I am, etc.,

[Name removed. If yuh fas' an' want to see, go an' check de Gleaner]

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Combating Global Warming

Click on the preview image to see the full size mind map. It outlines strategies that you can undertake personally to combat global warming.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Shivonne Du Barrry's Ramblings and Reason: Portrait of a Criminal

On Monday, in her blog Ramblings and Reason, Shivonne Du Barry wrote:
If we were to take stock, I am certain we would realise that our elite criminals swindle more money and cause more death and harm each year than all of the gun toting youths who are the objects of our collective ire combined....

Some people are too scared to walk the streets in broad daylight these days. They are afraid of the criminals in their midst and understandably so I suppose. But they smile and shake hands and look admiringly at some of the worst criminals and don’t even recognise them. It’s about time, I think, that we start seeing some new faces splattered across the front pages of newspapers or being hidden in shame while their owners are led to court. And it’s about time, I think, that we revise our idea of a criminal to include not only the baggy jeans wearing but the suit-clad as well.
Well said. Very well said.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Raffique Shah: One Caribbean, One Love

"...that short stint in [Jamaica] showed me why we need more than CSME. We need to bring our people closer together, not just facilitate traders. We have so much in common. We can achieve so much more through unity. One Caribbean. One love. Let's get together, as the prophet of reggae sang."

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