Mon | Jan 21, 2019

Mark Wignall | Why go back to prison hell?

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Three years ago, when Sam was 31, the police raided a dance where he was the one playing the music in addition to him being part-promoter.

It was a little after midnight. Sam still lives in the same cramped inner-city pocket as he did in 2015. Situated close to a middle-class residential community, it is quite likely that someone from that community called the police to complain about late-night noise.

A residential community is one where the main feature is a defined area of housing units. In the inner-city pocket, the very place where you live must provide you with daily sustenance. In time, an auto mechanic sets up a garage next-door to you. Groceries can be had at a little shop across the road. Young men hang out just about at every shop or bar.

He was taken to the Constant Spring Police Station. "Dem handcuff mi two han dem. In di holding cell, high up above mi head on two side."

Sam tells me that as he got tired, he was forced to rest his six-foot frame purely from his arms because the feet were swelling.

It was 7 o'clock "di next morning" that the arresting officer returned, and while freeing him from his shackles, expressed amazement that they had kept him in such a state for so long. His feet were badly swollen.

One thing about Sam is that he insists that he does not want to ever suffer that fate again. "If dat is just jail, in a holding area, then I cannot even tink bout how prison stay."

In the recent murder of that youngster in St James, we were forced to ask ourselves if some dots are not automatically connected. A policeman is involved in an incident where he says that he shot at a man who fired shots at his car, and thus his stepson, just having left Bible studies, lost his life.

As it turns out, the man to whom the policeman returned fire actually shot and killed someone in 2016. We are forced to ask, why, after his arrest, was he given bail? Although investigations are continuing, the most obvious connections need expert probing.

Even with the assumption that all individuals charged for a crime are innocent until proven guilty, the fact of the policeman being the main eyewitness and protagonist on behalf of the State ought to have had more impact in holding back the man's rights to bail.


Too many go back to hell


"Friday, I go to a jail (he tells me where it is) and minister to dem. Nuff a dem can read because mi gi dem Bible and talk about what dem read," said my taxi driver friend to me.

Something is wrong with a system where 47 per cent of the hardened prison population are repeat offenders. If inside that place of foreboding is the worst of our experience of hell, why go back?

"Some of dem get caught up wid making quick money. Dem leave prison and really want to do di right ting, but doing di right ting can't earn dem dat quick money. So, dem hit back di streets and automatically find demself under pressure by di police," said my friend.

Pretty soon they are back in prison. It is not necessarily a surprise for many of us to read that a young man registering at a police station as a condition of his bail is murdered either on the way to the station or immediately after leaving it.

Many people in Jamaica suspect that rogue cops are behind this, and they must have some strong but not legally sustainable conclusion that the perpetrator was very deserving of an extrajudicial killing.

It meets the social need to provide answers that only an emergency would require. Therefore, if a few rogue cops meet late at night to surreptitiously plan the murder of those who they are certain are professional killers, so be it. The times are desperate and we cannot be allowed to wallow in the luxury of doing only what is right, legal and socially sensible.

We are forced to surrender the critically lengthy enough debate to arrive at legally sustainable positions. We need to smell the blood of those who continue the bleeding of this nation. That means, only the matter that works and significantly stems the killings will matter to us. Legality is a cobweb of confusion.


Political earthquake likely?


Many have been those individuals who have listed the idea and the political pragmatism of Andrew Holness throwing Bobby Montague to the tenets of what is thought to be the best way out politically.

"It is not what one would consider the sensible thing to do. Take Montague out of his misery and let someone feel the same pain that he has. Holness must know that he is running out of political options. It has to be at crisis proportion now," said the well-known businessman and lifetime philosopher in his own ways.

"So, what do you think?" he asked me.

"I wish could get to reside inside Andrew Holness' mind right now. I agree with you that his options are mostly political because stretching out his weaknesses in little bits and pieces is much better than it just coming out all at once. After ZOSO as the ultimate crime plan to beat all other crime plans, with its faltering and the murder rate rocketing as it is in the new year, the prime minister may be forced to reach for that which buys him more time," I said.


Holness must rise to the occasion


Were I a paid adviser to Mother Nature on the virtues and the vices of how society sings its multiple songs and secures the engagement of most of those making it up, I would suggest that the worst time to be in tense negotiations with the police over wages is just not the time when violent crime is spiralling out of control.

"It is difficult for Holness to weave his way though threading that fine needle of well-managed policy and politics," said the young social scientist who asked that I not call his name.

"Holness cannot afford to give away any strength to the very hungry PNP. He cannot afford to create any weaknesses of policy that create the passage through which Peter Phillips can claw back his way to political relevance and possibility."

I do not get the sense that many of our people from all walks of life are in favour of giving this Government any more of that honeymoon hangover.

"This is the first of di month," said the fairly well-known bar owner who chews and spits out politics as hobby, therapy and a natural part of his personality.

"When a new year come around, politician tink differently. Holness under pressure and him know dat di nation burning up inside, even if now dem don't want to explode. Him have to give up something if him want it to get the biggest airplay among di public. Him is a politician."

At present, we are living in the moment where there is an inverse relationship between business growth and the viral spread of violent criminality, but it is no perfect equation. It happens not because of trend, but purely that that is the only way possible for now.

Jane and John, who must exist at street level, want the streets safer, especially at nights. Those who use their immediate residential surroundings as the means of their daily sustenance are the ones most at risk. And their vote is more desired than the ones from the rest of us.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to and