Ishmael dropped in to see me last week.
“Washie, you hear bout the Nevis woman who they send jail for bad word?”
I had heard about the case. Another friend had called me from down town and said she had seen a woman being taken into jail. She had also said something about a child but she hung up before I could ask her about that.
Later I read about it in Sknvibes. The report did not say how many bad words she swore are what they were. It just said that the magistrate sent her to jail for 14days. And when she pleaded on her baby’s behalf the magistrate said something about some Government Department will take care of that.
“But Washie, this is a sucking child, 8months old. How could any magistrate be so hard to ignore the welfare of a baby?”
I noted that the magistrate was a female and also a mom.
“Me pantfoot! she is some hard woman, Boss.”
He did not really say “pant foot” but I can’t write the bad word he used to express how he felt.
I told him he was facing jail for that expression. We both laughed at the incongruity.
“But Washie, you mean to say, in this day and age people still could go jail for Bad Word? When these people goin get real? Since I know me-self every body does swear bad words.”
I reminded him that the legal term was indecent language and that since colonial times it was unlawful to use them in public. I also told him that she was alleged to have used them to a policeman who had gone to search her house.
“He find anything? The police find anything?”
I replied that from what I had read, nothing was found.
“You see there, Washie? They aint find nothing. That get the woman vex, to see that Police could just come search she house for nothing. So she get vex and she use some bad word. Everybody does use bad word when they vex.”
I disagreed with him. It isn’t really everybody who uses indecent language although I know that many people do.
I remember during my growing up days a chap from Bakers’ Corner named Blaze. When he spoke every other word was a bad word. The lads with whom he played used to have fun counting how many bad words he poured out in one breath.
When I was a boy big people used to call them “sailor words” because, when the sailors from the battle ships came ashore, they would get drunk and stagger all over the place and they used to buss the bad words. No police used to meddle with them, maybe because they were using their own sailor language.
“But Washie, is them white people from England teach us to use bad words and is the same white people from England tun round and make it a crime to use them. Maybe only the white people must use them. And you know Washie, I spend some time in England and one of the first thing I notice was how free the Englishman them does buss the bad word them and nobody does interfere with them.”
I thought that was somewhat ironic.
“Washie, is time to stop lock up and summons people for swearing. Is time for us to understand that swearing is just a bad habit, like smoking cigarettes and drinking rum. Nobody does get lock up for smoking cigarettes and puffin the bad smoke in other people face, so why send people to jail for swearing. Swearing doesen do anybody nutten, it doesn’t cause them pain so what is the problem with swearing?”
I had to agree. Swearing is widespread among the youth of the Federation. They swear for no reason. Girls as well as boys, when they reach teenage they use foul language as a rite of passage.
They don’t make up the bad words. They copy them from the big people. All through their growing up they hear big people using them to express anger, frustration delight and even love. Some parents swear at their children and in some very bad homes children swear at each other in the presence of their elders.
I asked Ishmael what he thought should be done about profane language.
“Just don’t send people to jail for them. If a man swear in your shop or on your bus and you don’t like it order him out. Suppose all who does swear bad words went to jail. The jail would fill up with everybody from the top right down to the bottom. Only the Christians would escape.
“Don’t swear in front your children and tell your children not to use the bad words for they don’t sound good. But stop giving people criminal record for bad words.”
“But Washie, how could a magistrate send a young woman to jail with a sucking child for bad word Washie this is stupidness. Wickedness!”
I was inclined to agree.
“The one reason why this woman in jail aint for no bad word, you know, Washie. It is because the Magistrate look down on her like she is a dungabetty. If it was one a them white people they got in Nevis and police come search they house and aint find nothing and they buss a couple, the magistrate would not send the white man/woman to jail like how she send the poor woman.”
I thought Ishmael was assuming too much.
“But Washie, you know dat is only poor dungabetty people does pay money and go jail for bad word.”
I reminded him again that the legal term was indecent language.
“You ain see what happen. The police ketch a man with drugs and money. They take way the money because they believe he was trafficking in drugs. He get a fine and out on the street where he could make back the money. Another man cut somebody with a knife. He get a fine too. You don’t think that strange? This happen on the same day in front of the same magistrate.”
I thought it was strange, indeed.
I remember a case years ago when Clement Arrindell was young lawyer. He represented a defendant in a bad word case before a Dominica magistrate, James.
Arrindell tried to argue that expletives were in such common use that they had become acceptable. He cited a book Lady Chatterley’s Lovers as the cornerstone of his defense. For a moment he cornered the magistrate who put off the case pending Arrindell’s further research. When the case came back for trail he convicted the defendant.
I have always remembered Arrindell’s bold attempt. He had raised a good point but had failed to follow through with effective evidence. Had he produced the evidence, this stupidness about the criminality of expedites would have been laid to rest 50 years ago.
“But Washie, these two crimes is what mashing up the Community. Anywhere you go you hear people complaining bout drugs and violence. Drugs and violence worse than bad word, all the way. So how this woman could be in jail for she bad word and these other two drugs and violence man, at large. Explain this to me, Washie!”
I did not. But I remembered a line from the great Shakespeare, which goes: O, judgment thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason.