I don’t believe in jail for juvenile offenders. And there were people before me who did not believe in the practice and who substituted lashes with the tamarind rod for jail-time.
In only a few cases did the lashes, which ranged from six to a dozen strokes, have any positive effect on the teenage boys on whom they were administered. I look back over the years at the boys who graduated from repeated strokes with the tamarind rod to residence in the prison.
These boys were prone to petty badness. They used to be caught stealing mangoes from the rich people’s mango trees; they used to break cane to satisfy their hunger, they used to run away from school and wander about the town, ending up on the Nevis Bay where they waited until an adult drained his coconut of its water, to break open the shell and eat the meat.
Sometimes they did other things, like swear where a policeman could hear them, or interfere with somebody big, call them nicknames and run and even throw stones at one another in public.
I always reflect on the case of Dudley de Fraitas, alias Dodo Bim. He was a very bright boy in his early teens and his teachers and others who knew him expected him to win a scholarship to the Grammar School.
Dudley was a prankster and this did not endear him to adult folk including his teachers. This set him back from gaining entrance by scholarship to the exclusive St. Kitts-Nevis Grammar School.
He came close however, when he was 15, but failed the interview for a Prospective Teachers Scholarship because the socialites who used to decide whether a boy was sufficiently deportable to attend the elitist secondary school denied him a place.
One day in his later teens, he joined a game of marbles in the Square. One of the players in the game was Teddy McLean, the son of an eminent medical doctor. As the game progressed, Teddy produced a shilling (a quarter now) of which Dudley contrived to relieve him.
Dudley used to play magician, so he entertained the small group of boys with sleight of hand tricks with Teddy’s shilling. Teddy lost his patience and went for a policeman.
Dudley was arrested and taken at once before Antiguan Magistrate Harney. Harney was a kind-of-a-white man and in those classy days was also a friend of Doctor McLean.
The sight of the broad-shouldered Dudley standing before him and that of red-faced Teddy McLean crying in front of him was enough for Harney to send the teenage Dudley to jail for 6 months, for a shilling.
That jail was the defining experience for Dudley who by now had acquired the nickname Dodo Bim. From then he was always before the court for some offence. He went to jail for almost everything expect murder, although he came close when he knocked Tony Hanley unconscious with a heavy rock.
In spite of his growing criminal record, Dudley was a real extrovert and was also very sociable. He would try to join in conversations in bars where his presence was often not appreciated.
At one of these encounters, he got into an altercation with Hanley, which ended with Hanley being knocked unconscious. By the time the report reached the station that Hanley was believed to have been dead, Dudley entered the door and surrendered himself. He thought he was in the right. According to his testimony in court, “He (Hanley) took a long run off and deliberately kicked me in the balls.”
He was charged on another occasion with attempted murder when he tossed an iron ball at Prison Officer Williams. Williams was a rough personality who used be a sergeant-major in the Defense Force. He probably found Dodo Bim too cocky for a jail-bird, and decided to humble him. The iron ball just missed him and ensured for Dudley an extended period behind the prison bars.
The only time Dudley was not in prison was when he travelled abroad. Because of this mental agility, wherever he went overseas he did well. Once, he landed a good job with an oil company in Trinidad, but he could not escape the ghost of his Kittitian past.
A fellow Kittitian, who knew him quite well, ran into him in Trinidad and was amazed at how well he seemed to be doing. This was a fateful encounter. Soon Dudley was back in the St. Kitts environment.
Prison is not a nice place to be and what happened to Dudley and Williams was replayed some years later when a prisoner with a heavy hammer in his hand reacted to his tormenting jailer with some well aimed blows to the head. The jailer died.
Prison is a rough place and although it is nothing close to the old time dungeons, it is still not an experience designed to make better people out of wrong-doers.
Caging wrong-doers in an overcrowded compound seems to increase their capacity for wrongdoing by a multiplier effect so that when they eventually rejoin society, they come back with deviant tricks and attitudes which they did not go to jail with at first.
That is why it is so wrong to send young first offenders to jail. For them the alternative to jail should be a well designed probationary program, not a juvenile jail.
This program should be focused on enabling the youngsters to acquire discipline and a sense of responsibility. This program should be free from temptation so any plan to locate bad boys and bad girls in the same vicinity is wrong from the start.
Further-more, the probation should be used to help the youngsters to develop one of many skills which adults use to make a livelihood.
The probation period should be tightly monitored, seven days a week, twenty four hours a day until the probationer gets the message about discipline and responsibility.
The probation period should be long enough to leave a lasting impact on the attitude and behaviour of the probationer so that when he/she reassumes a normal social life, he/she will conform to the rules of our society.
As for the prison, it is desperately in need of reform. In some future article I will give my views on how prison may be reformed to lift men from degeneracy to good citizenship.