Mon | Sep 27, 2021

Ronald Thwaites | Poverty of mind and pocket

Published:Monday | September 13, 2021 | 12:07 AM
A boy rounds a motor vehicle on West Kings House Road in St Andrew.
A boy rounds a motor vehicle on West Kings House Road in St Andrew.

This elderly guy sits on the stoop of the Baptist care facility opposite my office downtown. He is thin, alone and slightly smelly. “Doan give im nuttin,” the ‘sketel’ down the street advises, “any money im get, him tek it and buy numbers.” “Him...

This elderly guy sits on the stoop of the Baptist care facility opposite my office downtown. He is thin, alone and slightly smelly. “Doan give im nuttin,” the ‘sketel’ down the street advises, “any money im get, him tek it and buy numbers.” “Him nevva deal wid him children good, so now dem no notice him,” explains her friend.

Notwithstanding, I gave him a $100 – a ‘bills’. “Me a go buy a $70 biscuit and tek time eat it. That will hold mi for the day,” he said, as he thanked me. “Yes, sometime mi tek change and buy numbers. What mi fi do? Silver and red money cyan buy nuttin, but every few weeks I get lucky and win all $700, and then I can eat good. And even when my number doan play, ef I stay outside the betting shop, somebody who win might sorry for mi and leave a small money.”


The vocabulary is changing with the devaluation. Some people are calling what used to be a ‘grand’ a bills’. After all, it takes almost $1,000 now to buy what $100 used to purchase a few years ago. A ‘grand’ is not grand anymore. Ask any pensioner.

My old friend (who is actually younger than me) can only think about his food needs and knows little about COVID-19 or national issues. “ You can find somewhere to lie down, wear anything to cover yu bottom, but belly is an everyday business,” he philosophies. He shakes his head when telling me how ungrateful his children are and blames it on “di wicked madda dem”.

He will soon die, disregarded by society, demeaned by his own history. Death will be a release for us who react to human distress and a relief for him. Poverty of pocket begets scant mourning, no requiem at the May Pen Cemetery.

This is the advancing fate for large numbers of our people, even as the financial sector announces another round of billion-dollar profits, most to be expatriated and thus to make the $70 biscuits dearer; the government (this one, every one) wastes our taxes (see the front page of last Friday’s Gleaner) and Delta gets married to Mu.

Tell me: how do those sensitive, humane folk who deny God, transcendent purpose for life and ultimate justice, manage to stay sane? I am beginning to understand why we need the opiate of incessant bacchanal to distract from the systemic brutality of the street corner.


It is fairly easy, if only we wanted to, to enable people to feed, shelter and educate themselves . We know how to relieve poverty of pocket. ‘Live simply that others might simply live’ would be a starting ethic. Or for those guided by the Bible, lightly paraphrased “ he who enables the poor, lends to the Lord”.

The harder problem is the escalating poverty of the mind. President Biden realises that it is impossible to beat COVID-19 while 100 million Americans remain unprotected by vaccination. He is taking strong executive action to enjoin vaccine compliance. What about us?

Last week, a fervent Labourite humoured her leader’s health advice and instead encouraged him to prostrate himself before God to seek a cure for COVID-19. He does not seem to have been persuasive in his reply to her.

I know of a worker in a good-paying, health-sensitive job who has just lost it for refusing inoculation because her pastor has told his congregation that the vaccine is the mark of the beast being forced on her by Catholics and Bill Gates. She has no idea who Gates is, by the way, and she covets a place for her grandchild in a Catholic school.

This is poverty of the mind; atrocious because it is irrational, unchristian because it prefers individual prejudice at the price of the safety and life of others. Which Charter of Rights supports that? If the suasion of the badly chosen Gordon Shirley committee fails, as is very likely will, and given the escalation of infections and variants, a vaccine mandate is clearly compatible with a free and democratic society.

Enter the comatose trade unions, joining the reactionary churches, the duppy conquerors and the scared political directorate to oppose and thus construct a likely reality of many more deaths and irredeemable regression in our schools and economy. What do they really defend as they line up for their CDs and OJs?

That is what is facing us right now.

Look here: you can’t build a wholesome society on irrationality and injustice. Poverty of mind is incubated by a mass media which is more influenced by inducements sanctioned by the overused 50-something of the Betting Act than to drilling the messages of good health and citizenship. Add to that a pitiful school experience still preoccupied with exam passes more than the ethics of good living.


We are better than this. Those of us who have availed all the precautions and respect the ongoing protocols need to stop being willing hostages of those selfish ones who want us to canonise their rights while they are careless of ours. Biden is getting it right – this time. Are we?

COVID-19 has ‘taken step’ in our minds as well as our bodies. If the majority of us were to comply with the precautions, I believe it would be possible to reopen schools, operate an efficient and economical transportation system and reopen businesses, all in reasonable safety.

How to enforce and achieve that should be the biggest topic in town. It needs leadership and a burning commitment to fashion national life in a way that no person should have to endure the poverty of pocket that limits their affordable daily food to a $70 pack of biscuits. Or a poverty of mind which allows the advancement of the whole nation to be sabotaged by the induced and culpable ignorance of one section.

So if you choose not to be vaccinated or to deny that COVID-19 is real, feel free to indulge your choice. Nobody is going to hold you down and stick you. But all choices have consequences. So please don’t bring your contagious and unprotected self to my workplace or home. And don’t expect my tax dollar to subsidise your self-indulgence by continuing to pay you to stay home.

A last word. Right now, stop this charade of trying to resurrect virtual schooling till God knows when. There is abundant evidence that it doesn’t work. At all schools, set up a vaccination centre at the gate. Those of eligible age and condition, students as well as teachers and staff, once inoculated, come in and resume classes and activities while respecting reasonable protocols. Those who refuse without good cause, please go home and keep trying on your phone or tablet. Hopefully, you will manage, or the God who inspires science will lead you to change your mind.

For Jamaicans to live an abundant life, we need to banish both poverty of mind and pocket.

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to