In my most recent A-Musing I reflected upon the state of remand prisoners – they are prisoners after all, not inmates free to roam at will – in our lone correctional facility. Today, I would like to relate to you an experience I had some 35 years ago when I was still living in Sweden. You see, the trouble is, no matter how much I love this country, I must never fall into the trap of believing that we have the resources, including the financial capacity, social conscience, cooperative awareness and political will to keep up with the rest of the world. Everything we do is cosmetic. There is seldom the depth that is required to implement and secure sustainable change. If this sounds arty-farty, let me explain:
Way back when, I had a friend who managed my printery. His wife also worked for me. We were a good team; I taught them both to fly (learning to fly was an occupational hazard for my employees). There was just one rather large, unpleasant fly – excuse the pun – in the ointment that I did not discover until it was almost too late. Alfred, the husband, was a drinker, not your usual drinker you understand; he was a drunkard of Scandinavian proportions! Vodka was his tonic.
I recall one trip to Holland to visit a publisher; I took Alfred along for the ride; the excuse was that he could check out the equipment that the publisher had in his printery. Despite the popular misconception, publishers are seldom printers. Alfred was incredibly shy. Once we got back to the hotel and had had a couple of drinks with our hosts, he disappeared into his room not to appear again for two days. He reappeared on the day of our departure looking pale, wan and disoriented. His stomach had been acting up. Yeah, right. The flight home was unadventurous, though somewhat demanding because we had to take off just within acceptable limits due to fog and the en route weather was peppered with embedded thunderstorms; the last thing I wanted was a hung-over passenger. I had a serious chat with him when we got home.
Had things remained so, there would have been no further problems, but Alfred, it turned out, was a lousy drunk; he became violent. Suddenly the tired, worn out face of his wife, her occasional bruises, all began to make sense. Alfred was a wife-beater, and for those men I have no sympathy. It did not help, however, that his wife refused to admit any of this. She was simply accident-prone. Things came to a head when, one weekend, a late Saturday evening it was, I received a frantic phone call for help from the wife. When I arrived at their home, Alfred was basically unconscious and certainly incoherent with booze; something was wrong with his wife but he did not know what. I got her to hospital; it wasn’t far away and they took care of her. The law in Sweden requires that all such incidents be photographed, recorded by the hospital and reported to the police who take such matters very seriously. Later that evening, Alfred was questioned, arrested and taken off to the station for the night. It turned out that Alfred had hit his wife with a glass ashtray, which in turn constituted a weapon. He was charged with grievous bodily assault with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to jail time despite the fact that for 99% of his daily life he was a model citizen.
Now let’s return to Bordelais and its 136% occupancy and its 58% of prisoners who have never even been put on trial but simply shunted off to oblivion behind bars. Our magistrates may be very clever people; fair-minded and just, but when it comes to packing a suitcase or a bag they seem not to understand that you cannot get two pints of milk into a one pint carton. Despite my mixed metaphors, the message is clear: Something is amiss! It doesn’t work that way in Sweden. Alfred was tried, convicted and sentenced. Unfortunately, all the prison places were occupied so he, like many others, was given a delayed sentence and told to report to the assigned prison several months later to start serving his sentence, which he duly did. Meanwhile he was on unsupervised probation.
When the appointed date arrived, we located a grass airstrip not too far from the prison, which would otherwise have been several hours’ drive away, called a taxi to meet us, and Alfred, his wife and I flew up to deliver him. The taxi was there as we landed; we said goodbye, and off Alfred went to sign on at the prison to begin serving his term. Several months later, the wife and I repeated the trip and picked Alfred up at the same airstrip to bring him home after he had served his time and undergone serious therapy. Now that is what I call civilized behaviour!
I know this pie-in-the-sky idea would not work in St Lucia, but there has to be a better way than the canned-sardine one we have now!