HAVE MERCY ON THEM

16

Last week I saw Wendell whom I had not seen in many years, dressed in his prison clothes doing prison chores.  From that might 25 years ago when I saw him for the last time in Tabernacle he has changed.

Seeing him reminded me of the incident which landed him in jail.  It happened twenty-five years ago but it seemed like yesterday.

There was a dance at Nicco’s building one Saturday night.  On Saturday night the villagers of Tabernacle would either be preparing for church on Sunday morning, having fun at the village dancehall or regaling at one of the liquor joints in the small village.

Wendell was at the disco, at the entrance.  He greeted me, I answered.  He was playing with a knife, running his fingers over the blade as he chatted with a friend.  He must have been saying something funny for he and his friend punctuated their conversation with laughter.

He did not bother to enter the dancehall but strolled away towards the village.

Not very long afterwards a young woman rushed to the door of the dancehall, out of breath.

She stuttered, “Allyuh ain hear wha happen?  Wendell kill Vincy.”

Those who were within earshot, gasped with disbelief. Wendell and Vincy were first cousins, two sisters’ children.  They had grown up together in the same family; they got along well together.  Everybody asked the logical question.  What could cause such a tragedy to happen.  It was even more troubling when the report circulated that the two young men were not in any dispute.

My own interpretation of the event was that Wendell found himself with this sharp knife, took in a couple of beers, got blinded by the spirit and driven by the devil to fatally hurt his cousin and cause grief to his family.

I counted the years since that horrible night.  It’s been twenty-five years, a quarter of a century since Wendell has been in Her Majesty’s Prison, twenty-five years for him to reflect upon his youthful stupidity while he lives within the confines of the overcrowded prison.

Twenty-five years is a long time for a young man to spend confined to the limited space of the jail house, and although Wendell has got the just reward for his stupid crime, I believe that I should appeal for clemency on his behalf.

There are others like Wendell serving long jail sentences. For them also I appeal for clemency.

I know it would seem presumptuous to be asking for clemency for a man who has wantonly dispatched his fellowman to Hades.  In the view of the law and in the interest of justice, any man who willfully sends another person to eternity must either be dispatched likewise via the gallows or at least spend an eternity behind prison bars.

I cannot even criticize this position, in view of the pain of the victims and the blight on our society.  Yet I must ask for mercy on behalf of these sad men whose artless deeds of the quarter of a century ago has laden them with years of guilt and remorse.

As the great William Shakespeare said:

The quality of mercy is not strained;

It droppeth like a gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath.

It is twice blessed;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

This might be a good year to extend mercy to these hapless men and I appeal to the Prime Minister in this twenty-fifth year of Independence, to offer these long incarcerated inmates some kind of parole under his prerogative of mercy.

I appeal on behalf of Wendell and his fellow inmates for the curtailment of their prison time.  I believe that the reprieve of these convicts will do them good.  It will offer them a new lease on life and a chance to lead sober lives in their twilight years.

I expect many people to disagree with my sentiments but I urge the Prime Minister to consider my proposal and to ponder the thoughts of the great thinker Shakespeare who said about mercy:

It becomes the enthroned monarch better than his crown,

There is, however, a practical benefit which would flow from a jubilee reprieve of these long term prisoners.

This could be a first positive more towards the easing of the congestion in the prison.  The Basseterre Prison was built to hold about 60 wrongdoers in the good old days when wrongdoing was characterized by a few law-breakers and an assortment of debtors.

Now that the same space holds nearly 300 inmates, it is obvious that something needs to be done to correct this state of affairs.

The longer term strategy must be to build a new facility outside the town equipped to guarantee correction in the conduct and behaviour of the breakers of the law.

In the meantime, I plead for the release of Wendell and his fellow long term inmates and pray for them as they readjust to normal life.

In the time I have lived in St Kitts I have witnessed the reprieve of at least four men originally condemned to die for murder. Each of them spent about 20 years and returned to civilization where they lived the rest of their lives in peace and productivity. Others whose acts of killing deserved a manslaughter verdict spent their time and returned to the world, chastened and reformed.

I have faith that Wendell and his fellow life-prisoners will do like wise.

Have mercy on them and may God have mercy on us.