Custody Suite … The name has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? And, of course, the name must have been chosen with great care and consideration, given the many very varying meanings the word may have. ‘Custody’ is defined as being ‘the protective care or guardianship of someone or something’ as in ‘the assets were placed in the custody of a trustee’ for safekeeping; a mother, father or guardian may have ‘custody of children’ to protect then and keep them out of harm’s way.
Of course, if the police take a person into custody, all bets are off, and the situation changes radically and dramatically – at least in Saint Lucia. In the blink of an eye, the synonyms become ‘jailed, imprisoned, under arrest, locked up’, and possibly but not always, ‘charged’.
There’s also the juicy little detail about people being ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but that teeny legal nicety need not concern us in a country where someone taken into custody should be immediately treated like a convicted criminal, at least, apparently, according to a certain vociferous ‘Defender of the Faith’ who never misses an opportunity to espouse her blind belief in the value of punishment first, trial later; and apparently, the worse the conditions the better the rehabilitative effects of custodial incarceration.
Now in many countries the practice of ‘profiling’ is abhorred and even illegal, though I must admit I have a tendency to believe that if 99% of terrorists prone to hijacking airliners profess to be followers of Allah and come from countries in the Middle East, I would be quite happy to have the authorities take a closer look at these passengers before they embark on a flight that I happened to be sharing with them. Then, of course, there is the super-sensitive issue of profiling ‘Blacks’ – a definite ‘No-No’ that will, if shown to be true, often allow the accused to go free.
Well, let’s get back to Saint Lucia. Our police profile suspects. Let me give you an example: A couple of years back, probably about the time our Justice Minister visited the Custody Suite and found it to be a congenial place to hang out on a Friday night, a young friend of mine was sitting with his buddies from work – they all worked at the STAR, and were all wearing their STAR t-shirts, which is the closest thing to a uniform in that job. They were sitting on the wall by the market place in Castries, chatting, joking, liming away the time in the late afternoon, when they noticed a police car on the other side of the street. The cops inside were obviously observing them.
About half an hour later, two cops came out, grabbed my young acquaintance, hauled him across the street, bundled him into the car, and delivered him to the Custody Suite, where he was deposited into a crowded cell with a large number of other unfortunates. And there he rotted for the next 17 hours, without food, water, toilet facilities (unless you count the communal bucket), until the next morning, when a friend delivered a food package for him (By the way, the food package was confiscated by the officer at the reception desk and my young friend never saw it, never mind tasted it)
The friend contacted me. I contacted a lawyer friend. He called his likewise lawyerly brother, who then contacted me. In that way, we were able to find out why our young friend had been locked up in placed in custody. Apparently, a young boy had been robbed of his Blackberry on the Chaussee some two or three weeks earlier and the policemen who had been sitting in their vehicle apparently received a visitation from on high at 5 in the afternoon, and realised that the perpetrator was sitting on the wall on the other side of the street from them.
It was all fairly miraculous. The description they had to go on was one of a young man, red-skinned, short black hair, with a scar on his neck. Well, my young friend is red-skinned but has no scar on his neck. In addition, when we demanded that the mother should bring the child down to the custody suite to identify the thief, the boy broke down at home, refused to come to the police station, and admitted the whole story was a lie. He had been separated from the Blackberry in some other way, but not through theft.
My young friend was obviously innocent. Everyone agreed. Unfortunately, he could not be released because the arresting officer could not be found, so he would have to stay in the custody suite until Monday. I won’t bore you with details, Dear Reader, but nobody f-cks around with my friends. With the considerable help of my lawyer friend’s even more-lawyerly brother, my young friend was released later that day, but anyone else, without such well-placed intervention, would have remained there through the whole weekend. Such is the travesty that passes for justice and fair treatment in this country.
But on the other hand, the justice minister has reassured us that the Custody Suite is perfectly fine place to spend a weekend, for the guilty and well as the innocent.