Thu | Apr 22, 2021

Taking no prisoners

Published:Friday | October 2, 2015 | 12:00 AM

With protests and all the talk about reparations and repatriation, British PM Cameron didn't receive a particularly warm Jamaican welcome last week. My nominee for the most ill-conceived and ridiculous protest is the Church-inspired one prefaced on the idea that Cameron came to pressure Jamaica to repeal its buggery law.

From a certain point of view, I understand how it could be attractive to the participants: In one stroke, one could be righteously anti-colonial, anti-government, and anti-homosexual, and since there was so much 'anti' going around, why not go for the trifecta?

What's clear is that many Jamaicans wanted to hear about reparations, but Mr Cameron, it turns out, had little or nothing to say about it. Except, perhaps: "Fagget it!"

Cameron, we've been told, is the descendant of slaveholders. But that's not quite right. In 1833, an army officer named General Sir James Duff was compensated £4,101 for 202 slaves on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica. This man would be Mr Cameron's first cousin six times removed.

What to make of that? Well, I'm not at all surprised by his breezy dismissal of reparations and his exhortation to "move on". Our common experience of the world tells us that moral, legal and penal systems struggle, mostly unsuccessfully, to get men to accept some responsibility for even their own actions.

When accused, even by our own consciences (those of us who have them), we are expert witnesses on behalf of the defence, willing to manufacture excuses, alibis, extenuating circumstances, and copious justifications. And all that is just for why we ran the red light, or made the illegal turn.

Regarding more serious matters, our skills at self-justification and self-excuse grow even more formidable. How often do you hear someone accept that he failed because of his own bad character or unwillingness to apply himself and suffer discomfort? Not often.




Cameron is, I'm sure, no different. And few men - I'm tempted to say 'no man' - will take responsibility for a first cousin, far less a first cousin six times removed, and then for actions from 200 years ago? Good luck. I state this merely as an observation about human psychology.

On the other hand, Cameron was quite interested in repatriation. The difference is that when we Jamaicans dream about repatriation, our minds carry us from comfortable berths on the Black Star Line to long strolls along the Nile and non-stop dance parties in the Congo. Cameron, on the other hand, dreams repatriation and what he has in mind is deporting hundreds of annoying Jamaicans from his prisons.

Worse yet, Cameron wasn't even particularly nice about forking over the loot earmarked for a new prison here, out of which he also intends to derive benefit. As we all know, he's playing a political game back in Britain, so the 'gift' has a spin and a stink on it.

By the way, we'd better get accustomed to Cameron and his ilk, as the British Labour Party has been readying itself to become a permanent Opposition. Their new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, seems to have smoked something unusually powerful during his time in Jamaica, for while his spirit seems priestlike and righteously intact, his political judgement is seriously flawed.

He's threatening to withdraw from NATO, and just this week announced to the world that he won't ever use Britain's nuclear arsenal. Why not announce that you're tearing down the fence that has protected you these last seven decades, and those guard dogs over there, never mind them, they'll never ever bite anyone? The man is a danger to himself, the Labour Party, and all Western Europe.




So the question of the day here is whether we should take the money from Britain for the prison. I say, take it. Build an improved prison. In fact, demand more. The real problem is that the money isn't enough. And demand that the Brits pay us to house the Jamaican nationals who they want imprisoned (who are going to be deported here afterwards in any event).

Win! Don't sit and complain: "Woe is me, Mr England didn't fix all our problems!" Our thinking and the public commentary on this have been severely clouded by our low-level, cargo-cult mindset and the expectation that Massa England was coming to announce something grand. Cameron has his own interests and problems, and he doesn't care all that much about ours. And one of our sore issues is that we need a prison.

Mind you, like many other Jamaicans, I'm enjoying Vybz Kartel's steady output of catchy material from the penitentiary. While his trial and conviction may have presented a minor speed bump, overall, it hasn't really hampered his productivity. So, however dilapidated and overcrowded the lock-up supposedly is, there seems to be a fully functioning music studio.

But that incongruity aside, it's otherwise generally accepted by any sane, remotely humane person that we need a new slammer, perhaps a few new ones. Various governments have been looking at methods to finance one, but without any success.

It's worth pausing here for a moment. Focus. WE NEED a prison built. Filthy, overcrowded, hellhole, disgusting disease farms aren't facilities where punishment is generally limited to the deprivation of liberty. They're filthy, overcrowded, hellhole, disgusting disease farms where punishment is the deprivation of liberty, hunger, beatings, dehumanising public use of buckets for toilets, and a tidy suite of bacteria and viruses to take back home to the family and community upon release.

I don't see much point in being so righteously indignant about human maltreatment, suffering and deprivation two centuries ago that we miss the opportunity to do something about the guys down the road, right now, living in slave barracks, six men in a cell built for two.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to