Columns

Drop those stones! Should we punish

Kerensia
Morrison

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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There is no disputing the fact that the consequence of a criminal offence can be far-reaching. This a deterrent that our youth, in particular, ought to be mindful of. More than a post or a tweet on social media that may resurface and cause ridicule is a criminal offence that, when refreshed years later, becomes condemnatory. It is the risk we take and the price that we pay for breaking the law.

The stormy debate in the public domain regarding the call to fire Carolyn Warren from NESOL because of a suspended sentence that she received 25 years ago — and that speculation supposedly would deem her “unfit” despite an admirable professional record — is a timely reminder to impressionable youths that our past does affect our future.

However, arising from this matter are issues that we need to confront and significant of which is the question: Should we prejudice individuals who have done wrong but whom have also changed their lives to the extent where they can be called model citizens?

More impactful than the ostentatious whisperings about a person who “did bad” is the position that leadership needs to embrace if we hope to reshape our thinking as a society that is now increasingly encouraged towards empathy. A logical approach informs us that we should not punish people in perpetuity; opportunities have to be furnished in order to action the “second chance” mantra that forms the scaffolding in our motivational speeches.

Nobody is arguing for a child molester to work in child welfare, or for the scammer to serve as teller in a bank. We can agree that individuals possessed with a range of talent, skill and potential should be given the chance to pursue same to the benefit of themselves and society without fear that their past will be used against them. In fact, the ideal recovery in such circumstances is for individuals to become positive influencers for change. Failing this approach, we may be inadvertently telling our men and women who are incarcerated or who may be in trouble with the law that there is little chance for them to thrive even if they change.

There are hundreds of Jamaicans, including ministers of religion, who speak of a “wretched” past and how they have changed their lives. Today, many operate their own businesses and are playing their part in building strong communities, including pointing youths in the right direction. Was the intention, then, to embarrass Warren and many who may be in her position? I am of the view that there is no shaming her without destroying the life she has admirably and painstakingly built.

Beyond this issue, let us “talk truth”: How many companies do you believe would employ someone whose application reveals that they have been incarcerated or were charged? Shall I offer and answer? Probably not many.

The spectrum of leadership in our country likes to extol the redemptive effects of reform, rehabilitation and “becoming citizens of consequence who are fit to live and fit to live with” yet, there is a grey area when it is time to action these sentiments. Aren't we therefore hypocrites, back-stabbers of the message that we preach and saboteurs of the millions of dollars' worth of resources spent on the numerous programmes that are geared towards reforming the individual?

Why eschew the efforts of a person who has made a transitional shift in changing his or her life? Why should we close the door of possibilities on their growth ad infinitum? Yet, every one of us would like a second chance for our children and loved ones who “buck dem toe”.

It is the fear of stigma and abuse that drives many of our citizens to supply incorrect addresses because their chances of getting a job with an inner-city address are slim. If firing Carolyn Warren is being demanded now — some 25 years after her infraction — how would she have fared had this information been widely known? How many of our Jamaican people are suffering because they were deported (many of whom for overstaying) and are viewed with suspicion?

Many of us are bludgeoned by the temerity of individuals who seek to tear down others — including Warren — while they themselves are still cramming misery into Pandora's box. Were we to have a zero-tolerance approach to second chances the very chamber of Parliament may end up missing a number of seats to become hollow with haunted whisperings of the ghosts of scandals past.

I applaud Jamaicans who have not allowed their mistakes to become the total of their lives but whom have seen the error of their ways and have set things to right. That is courage, that is resilience, that is triumph. Our cracks, scars and imperfections do not have to sentence us, they are an opportunity for us to tell our unique stories; it is what makes us beautifully human.

So the crowd gathered, some as far as from Damascus Road, each man exuberantly brandishing a stone. It was an interesting assortment: Among them were the tax evader, the one who “mismanaged” millions of dollars, the one who enriched himself from a deal, the one who had a traitorous pen. Their noise was deafening, perhaps to distract from their own indiscretions? Drop those stones!

Guess what? The target represents each of us in a curious way.

Kerensia Morrison is a Government senator.

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