The tale has been told before about my attitudinal change toward Kenny Anthony, from distrust associated with his personal contribution to the ill-fated 1991 meeting of the Regional Constituent Assembly to confident optimism a year or so before the 1997 general elections.
That I am about to revisit at least a truncated version of the particular odyssey has everything to do with Custody Suites and the widely disseminated glowing official endorsement it received this week from the prime minister’s glossy mouthed press secretary, who shares with her boss a much publicized special love for young people—the age group usually blamed for all our troubles, especially gun-related crime and drug trafficking.
I have no way of knowing whom among our best brains to credit with the naming of Custody Suites. I knew not of its existence until last week, when it dominated the local news. As for its actual location, only after several phone calls did I reach someone who vaguely indicated “somewhere in the area of the old prison on Bridge Street,” referred to in an old British document as Saint Lucia’s “black hole of Calcutta, an absolutely God-forsaken place”—a descriptive often cited by the current prime minister when he was campaigning for office in 1996-97.
On the other hand, I experienced absolutely no difficulty obtaining the dictionary definition of “suites,” at any rate “suite”: 1) a number of things forming a series or set; 2) a connected series of rooms to be used together—a hotel suite. 3) a set of furniture, especially a set comprising the basic furniture necessary for one room—a bedroom suite. 4) an ordered series of instrumental dances, in the same or related keys, commonly preceded by a prelude.
As Mr. Peter ‘Ras Ipa’ Isaacs, famously associated with the vendors’ arcade (situated within spitting distance of the Red-zoned steps of the Castries Market), now knows—and has been sharing what he learned—only a mind irrevocably disturbed would associate Custody Suites with bedroom furniture, let alone cool bed sheets. Suffice it to say the last thing Custody Suites would bring to a sane mind is dancing, whether with the stars or, for that matter, prancing on Jeremie Street in let-it-all-hang-out spandex.
By Isaac’s shocking account, Custody Suite bears no relationship to any hotel you’ve ever heard of, not even the flea-bag variety that down-on-their-luck residents of snow-bound New York often are forced to share with bed bugs the size of Saint Lucian makanboos.
But first that promised tale of how I had permitted myself in 1996 to see Kenny Anthony as other than the kind that render service on demand, depending on cash rewards or some self-serving twisted notion of duty. I had been particularly dismayed by his resounding silence at the earlier-mentioned April 1991 RCA meeting at Sandals La Toc, presided over by Sir Telford Georges, to which the prime minister John Compton had invited the populace. He had also strongly encouraged the invited to “speak your mind without fear of reprisal.”
I had taken Compton at his word and unloaded my mind before former Cabinet colleagues of the infamous Eric Gairy and other regional leaders never famous for having protested the former Grenada prime minister’s constant violations of human rights that had contributed so much to the Maurice Bishop-Bernard Coard take-over of his government a short time earlier—and its far-reaching consequences.
I recall having said on the occasion: “When individual despots leave their respective holes and congregate in one place for a united purpose, all we have is a convention of despots—not a gathering of priests intent on saving souls.” My point was that the people of their region should always be suspicious of politicians, especially such as had proved they were not made of what Tom Wolfe referred to as “the right stuff.” I believe I was as much correct about that observation in 1991 as I am today.
From his official residence at Vigie, Compton had been monitoring the televised RCA meeting. I had barely ended my contribution before the “Caribbean’s best brains” when he entered the hotel’s conference room and demanded the opportunity to put me in my place.
He said I had shamed Saint Lucia by my less than hospitable attitude, despite knowing well the meeting was being televised live throughout the OECS—to which I plead guilty even now. I had been inhospitable in the best interests of the people: I wanted to remind the region that our trust in politicians had obviously been misplaced.
But Compton had seen me as “a cancer on the body politic” that had to be excised in the best interest of the OECS. He referred to STAR readers and advertisers as encouragers and endorsers of my “filth and treachery” blah, blah, blah.
I was not surprised that after Compton had spat out his characteristic venom, Derek Knight, one of Gairy’s closest associates, reserved comment on the threats leveled at me in the name of OECS unity. As for the extent of Knight’s love for John Compton, that would later be exposed via my “Jessica” revelations.
But I was blown away by Kenny Anthony’s silence. How could I have so over-estimated him, I later mused. Small wonder that when Julian Hunte, now Sir Julian, was left little choice but to resign the leadership of the St. Lucia Labour Party, I was not among those rooting for Kenny Anthony as his replacement.
He soon talked me to his side, however, at an arranged meeting at Tom Walcott’s Marisule home when he asked me straight out why I was not supportive of his leadership. I told him in no uncertain terms that I quit trusting him right after the La Toc episode.
Indeed, at any earlier unplanned confrontation outside the Central Library in Castries, I had taken the opportunity to tell him how disappointed I had been by his reticence on the recalled occasion. After all, the whole idea of the RCA get-together was to create something new and constructive, beginning with official transparency and accountability and free speech—never synonymous with Compton’s style of governance.
At Walcott’s residence, Kenny’s reaction was as it had been outside the library. He said he had attended the RCA meeting as Compton’s special advisor, so how could he have shown support for what I’d said? But we chose finally to look at the larger picture. I was a serious supporter of the Labour Party that was then in such disarray that the UWP could easily have won an election hands down, had the day’s prime minister been sufficiently savvy and courageous to take advantage of the situation. I agreed to hear Kenny out.
We’ve come all this way, dear reader, so I might tell you what had led me in 1996 to believe I may have been unfair, no, wrong, in my estimation of Kenny Anthony.
“Look,” he said, with just the two of us in Tom’s study, “we have more in common than you realize. For instance, my number one priority, should I be elected, will be to do something about your pet peeve, which also happens to be mine.”
“And what’s that?” I asked.
“That horrible prison,” said Kenny Anthony. “No civilized, let alone Christian country, should subject its citizens to what goes on in that hell hole.” We talked about other things at Tom’s place, but it was Kenny Anthony’s evident social conscience, his concern for the poor, his humanity, that did it for me. I left Tom’s house walking on air. At long last, I thought, as I drove to the gym for my day’s workout, a Saint Lucian politician with a social conscience. For that, I was ready to go to war, if that is what it would take to get Kenny Anthony elected.
Let me add that the man proved true to his word. In no time at all, following his unprecedented 16-1 election victory, Kenny Anthony—with at least half the country dissenting on the premise that law breakers deserved only inhumane treatment—went to work at replacing “the black hole of Calcutta” with a “correctional center.” And so arrived Bordelais.
The irony is that the SLP government has never discovered the courage to boast, yes, boast, about what I still consider one of its greatest achievements for Saint Lucia. Too many of us need to be reminded of our own fallibility and the possibility of landing in the kind of troubles synonymous with prison sentences. For anyone, let alone a whole government, to suggest a fellow human being, regardless of what he may have done, deserves what was regularly dished out at the old prison—day after day, month after month, for countless years—is to openly acknowledge being bereft of what separates man from beast.
Lord alone knows how many young citizens were rendered insane after enduring, for more than a few days, conditions at the old prison. For all I know, we may still be paying for the treatment dished out in our name to so many young men who finally left prison with poisoned hearts overflowing with hatred . . . hatred that one way or another was passed on to their children and their children’s children. Hatred for authority . . . Hatred for life itself!
And so we come to Ras Ipa, who was arrested one day after he and a vendors’ arcade security guard were involved in a mindless minor altercation, during which Ipa admittedly had threatened him. I really am not interested in Ipa’s acknowledged stupidity, except to say that the law is clear as to what is an arrestable offence: “An offence for which there is a fixed mandatory penalty or which carries a sentence of at least five years’ imprisonment; for example theft.”
Even then, there is the matter of bail. In Ipa’s case, he was taken away by a police officer, transferred to a police vehicle and taken to the now familiar place called Custody Suites—on the specific instructions of the arresting office upon his own disembarking in William Peter Boulevard.
In other words, Ipa was delivered to the now notorious police secret hell hole as if indeed he were no more than a basket of mangoes or a piece of pork.
He was never charged. Never required to make a statement. Never read his rights. Never asked if he needed a lawyer. The arresting officer and his cohorts obviously never considered Ras Ipa more than just another basket of mangoes or dead meat. I can think of several people of a certain class who were arrested on serious charges yet were treated almost with reverence.
As if all of that were not bad enough, as if already our police were not universally considered egregious violators of human rights and therefore unworthy of public trust, they’ve now further enhanced their reputation.
It gets worse. Consider the heart-rending following: “I want to thank Ras Ipa for bringing the conditions at the Custody Suites to the attention of the public. Continue to spread the word. Let them know that this is no hotel with a 3-course meal served in fancy ware. It was about time someone let the public know Lubeco [a mattress manufacturer] has not made any generous donation to the Suites of late and that the crisp air that is taken for granted is not packaged and delivered to the Suites daily. There is no housekeeping [sic] bell either.
“For too long people have felt comfortable spending deux jour Bordelais. Tell them, Ras Ipa, how they must survive at least 72 hours at Custody Suites before their transfer. Keep educating us about the uncomfortable conditions. Go unto the highways and byways. Into the schools and churches.
Into the government offices and political offices to tell them what to expect if they are on the other side of the law.
“All most of us know of is the hotel on the hill, fixed with state-of-the-art amenities. It is about time you reminded us of Custody Suites. It may not change all hearts but one life saved is more than enough. Hopefully at least one son or daughter will be disgusted enough to respect the law. There is no better deterrent than advocacy.
“By all accounts, the Suites handle more traffic than the Castries/Gros Islet highway daily. That disclosure is sadder than the conditions there. In the meantime, with our limited resources, I hope we can assess the situation to ensure we are providing the basic human rights to the staff of the unit and the guests who are checked into the Suites daily.”
The above had been precisely the thinking that had kept in place for close to a century the house of horrors known as Her Majesty’s Prison, and which had brought immeasurable pain to the Kenny Anthony of 1996-97.
The quoted language is reminiscent of the harangues that had discouraged Kenny Anthony from taking pride in his government’s demonstrated compassion, manifested in the estab-lishment of Bordelais (at a cost of $49 million) with the following Mission Statement: “To protect society by providing a controlled, secure, safe, humane, productive and rehabilitative environment for those assigned to its custody.”
Shortly after Bordelais opened for business in 2003, one particular radio personality with obvious Neanderthal genes took to referring to the “correctional facility” (with good reason Kenny Anthony sought to discourage use of the word “prison”) as a 5-star hotel.
Enough members of this still ignorant, bestial, vengeful, Old Testament-oriented society readily bought into the broadcast callous stupidity. Which is why Kenny & Company have never found the courage, even now, to stand by their leader’s conviction that not only are we what we eat, but we are also what is forced down our throats—the vulnerable and defenseless in particular. We are what our environment made us!
What makes the above shout-out to Ras Ipa especially remarkable is its author, whose job is to not only echo the prime minister’s statements and policies—but also to defend them at every turn. For that, citizens of this country pay Jadia JnPierre a monthly salary a few dollars short of the prime minister’s. And for the most part, she does a good job, certainly works harder than most ministers for her money.
Was she speaking for the prime minister when she referred to Bordelais, over-crowded now by some 200 inmates, more than a few mentally ill, as “the hotel on the hill fixed with state-of-the-art amenities?”
Does the prime minister’s press secretary have a special relationship with Juk Bois? Is her piece, disseminated via her favorite medium Facebook, indicative of her understanding of tough love? Has she no idea why her boss, despite wall-to-wall criticism, replaced the “black hole of Calcutta” with the more humane and more secure “hotel on the hill?”
Is the prime minister’s mouthpiece unaware of our Constitution that demands citizens, though charged with law-breaking, be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Is she aware the rock-and-a-hard place that confronts her boss over the allegations against our police now under investigation? Has she forgotten about the young boy who was roasted like a Christmas turkey while in a locked cell of a government facility?
And what about the consequences of time spent in the Jadia-endorsed Heartbreak Hotel across the Bridge? Has she given any thought to them?
Seems to me, someone owes the nation an explanation for Mrs. Jn Pierre-Emmanuel’s absolutely inhumane, counter-productive and contradictory outburst—presuming, of course, she wasn’t simply doing what she was hired to do, as was her boss back in 1991 at the Regional Constituent Assembly!