Sheila Rampersad’s eye-opening series on persons convicted of murder and still serving time has opened a new vista onto the long-cherished ambition of many in the society for a non-judgemental appreciation of life. Everyone’s.
It also widens the arguments being made for some time now, for the society to consider when someone has spent enough time behind bars, and when their continued incarceration makes no sense to the rest of us.
Prison officers and their leadership have been campaigning for decades now for some people who have paid their debt to society to be let out. For one thing, they say, it will have an impact on the cost of keeping people in jail. They have to be clothed, have their medical and other needs taken care of by the rest of us.
But before we launch into some of insights generated by this unique series, let’s address the decision two weeks ago to exonerate the three prison officers who were subject to disciplinary action for the prison break of July 2015.
Somebody jumped up to say that anybody could be exonerated by anybody, but as far as others might be concerned, there is still a criminal investigation going on into this matter. Is five years not more than enough time for a matter such as this, where there was a prison break-out, where a police officer was killed in the line of duty, and the standard operating procedures which were in place that day to have been analysed and understood as to what went wrong and who was at the centre of it?
The question for sometime now has been what’s taking the investigators so long to come to a conclusion, and to come to the country and tell us what has been uncovered to this point.
Another question which begs to be answered is, on what basis were the three officers suspended?
At least one of those officers has been pleading his innocence from day one has been seeking, without success thus far, to get proper access to a purported report by someone appointed from the prison service itself. In the time between when that incident occurred and now, at least two prison commissioners served and retired. It must be assumed they would have come into possession of the files in this matter.
What did they come to know about the process which led to the action taken against those who have now been exonerated, and what should they be compelled to make public, at least to the competent authorities?
But back to the issue of the “Prison Interviews”. In the first episode of this series, we came face to face with a young man who was telling the story of how there was something in him that just propelled him to commit crime, even to the point of killing someone. He killed a neighbour, a boyhood friend of his, because that person had second thoughts about going ahead with a mission to rob someone. This young man, the convicted killer, has developed into something of a model prisoner, having amassed a series of passes in CXC exams, besting hundreds of thousands of his peers who remained on the “outside”. He says, pretty unemotionally, nonchalantly, you might add, he thinks he deserves a second change at life, to show what benefits can come from having paid a debt for a crime which can have no human reversal for the victim. What’s the society’s view on this is a proposition we must ponder.
But the case reviewed in the Sunday Express of April 12 is even more touching, and requiring of closer examination by those of us concerned with mercy and forgiveness above considerations of flat justice, in any of the million slices in which this might come.
Justice has been served, some of us could say, after 35 years in prison for the man convicted of killing his outside woman, in a situation in which he felt himself under attack and in danger, based on the story he has told the interviewer and her intrepid team.
You get from it that this was a crime of passion, or a version of it, not the kind springing from the hurt feelings of a jilted lover. This was a case of a man fearing for his own life, in a situation in which he felt he was wronged, because of a trust issue with money he had been giving to the woman for safe keeping. He happened to grab a cutlass which had been intended to be used against him in a quarrel which ensued. He lost his mind, and describes in some detail how he used the weapon to his advantage. He could still only remember dealing three blows bu, he says the prosecutor says his victim received 14 chops. He has no way to dispute it.
He is now 78 years old, with no prospect of pardon, in a system in which we are still behind the curve when it comes to considerations of parole. The wife whom he wronged originally by paying more attention to the outside woman—to his ultimate shame, disgrace and regret—is prepared unreservedly to take him back, even after all this time. This itself is an example of living grace.
Of what benefit is it to anyone for this man to remain in prison for however how much longer, possibly to die there, without the opportunity to demonstrate, for the benefit of those who might learn from it, the wisdom of his corrected ways?
These and other questions spring forth from the episodes aired and published from this series. Their debate and discussion are just some of outcomes which should be pursued, as reason for their conduct, and for such valuable access, if they are to make compensatory sense.