Dr. Lester CN Simon
I have to tell you about one of the most remarkably effective pieces of advice I have ever heard given to a friend. He was addicted to watching X-rated movies and the advice was delivered very, very slowly one day when he was avidly and actively engaged in watching one of his favourites. It went something like this: Be very careful of admiring all the exciting and enticing things the woman (or women) is doing to the man because excessive and extensive admiration of the woman will one day lead you to want to do precisely what she is doing to the man. The movie came quickly to an abortive end.
Strangely, I recalled this effective advice a few days ago when a radio announcer expressed alarm that thieves tried to rob a man by impersonating policemen in dress and in action, in little Antigua, in broad day light. There are many stories about bad people becoming good after rejecting and fighting against the good and the right. There are also many stories about good people becoming the type of person they despise. We should try to fathom the psychological forces at play and the requirements for this crossing over or transformation. Understanding how these forces and principles work might help us in our attempts to reform criminals and to prevent good people from becoming bad in the first place.
In a few days, the nation will be engaged and engrossed in a half-day holiday set aside for fasting and prayer. The government consented to a request from the religious leaders for the holiday in order to address the issue of crime and violence in the country. I earnestly and honestly hope all of us know what we are getting into because prayer is a very powerful force and we may get what we pray for and what we need.
When we look at the detailed planning and skills many criminals deploy to carry out their activities, we are forced to conclude that the notion that these people are poor in education, spirit and skills and cannot find employment is largely false and even laughable, at least to the criminals themselves. Many are asking what motivates criminals and many easily conclude that they must be on drugs. We seem to ignore that, even though the causes are complex, many criminals are bolstered by the joy from getting something for nothing, like most of us, and the elation from undertaking risk and overcoming fear, like most of us. They simply take these natural urges and pleasures to the extreme, regardless of the consequences to others.
Studies by economist such as Rob Fairlie have shown that the characteristics required to become self-employed in a legitimate business are largely identical to those required for self-employment in an illegitimate business such as crime. In a review of this association between good guys and bad guys, Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies recorded these common business traits to include independence, a willingness to disregard rules and convention and a strong belief that they can own more working for themselves than working for others. This is in keeping with the conclusion from another economist, William Baumol, years earlier, that it is the lack of (“poverty” of) incentives for legal, productive entrepreneurship that drives some people with the entrepreneurial spirit, desire and the talent into crime. I would add to that a ton of greed and the relatively easy entry into the illegal drugs industry.
When we begin to understand the causes of crime, we may begin to understand what to pray for on the holiday ahead. We should start by trying to answer what Jesus would do if he were literally walking the streets of Antigua and Barbuda at this time. We have to be very careful and watchful here because with criminals impersonating policemen they might have no compunction in fooling people into thinking they are Jesus. Whilst their well-placed accomplices are working amongst the crowd, robbing people blind, they will brazenly pretend to perform miracles, especially the one in which Jesus fed a multitude of five thousand with five loaves and two fish. The criminals may try to succeed at this by cutting off the ends of the loaves and the head and tail of the fish and proclaim to all: Look. See. Eat. Endless bread. Endless fish. The danger with this type of blasphemous impersonation is that the hungry mob might rush forward with buckets of nails, piles of wood, gallons of vinegar and, deceived by the fiction, cry out: Endless crucifixion.
When we pray on that fateful day, we may come to understand that we are taking the wrong approach to crime. We may be forced to move away from the present, Old Testament, retributive justice system to a New Testament, restorative, justice system. In the current retributive system we lock up the criminal knowing full well that the prison is a cesspool of criminality, a den of dehumanization, and the home of forced homosexuality. The same righteous and zealous Christians who will engage in prayer on the holiday will blissfully call the radio station a few days after and call for the death penalty (“endless” hanging) for all murderers at any age, including seventeen year olds, as one fine Christian lady recently proclaimed one morning whilst I was driving and could have got be killed as the hanging-Christian contradiction almost commandeered my vehicle off the road.
When we take on the New Testament, restorative justice system, we will finally understand the rights of the victims and hence the pathos and the bathos in the voice of the mother, whose son was killed by a shot to the head, when she said on Observer Radio, “Somebody has to tell me some-thing”. Restorative justice tells us that any crime is a crime against the community, whether the victim is a national, non-national or tourist. Professor Bernard Headley contrasts the two justice systems in his essays on crime and the politics of Jamaica in his book, A Spade is Still a Spade. We move from retributive justice to restorative justice when we move from blame-fixing to problem-solving; from imposition of retributive pain to restoration and reparation; from focus on offender with victim ignored to victim’s need being central; from action by the state to the offender with offender being passive to offender given a role in solution, etc. Incidentally, retributive justice was contributory to the actions of some Africans in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Restorative justice must be overseen by trained and experienced experts. We cannot permit untrained Christians pastors and other untrained professionals to encourage abused women or children to prematurely and foolishly forgive their abusers, even if the abuser is a pastor or a high class professional. Prison will also be part of restorative justice and so the new type of prison will be a reflection of the new type of society, in some regard. We have to take on board the profound statement by professor Headley, in his book The Jamaica Crime Scene: “The cause of all street-level crime and violence must be found in the nature of society itself, not in the mental or emotional states of its citizens”. These societal causes are complex and warrant thorough, scientific studies.
Those Christians who favour the death penalty and other aspects of the Old Testament, retributive, justice system over and above the New Testament, restorative, justice system should probably ignore the admonition of the prime minister, go to the beach instead and not attend the holiday of prayer. After steadfast and earnest praying and fasting we may have an epiphany on the New Testament, restorative way of Jesus.
We may finally start to understand our crime problem, and truly come face to face with the solution to our deep desire and our natural, survival instinct to cleanse the nation of criminals and protect ourselves from harm and danger. The new, Jesus solution will demand that after we pray and fast on the holiday, we deliberately and actively transform the nature and soul of our society, not in some otherworldly, spiritual way, but simply that we truly cross over from one earthly, retributive justice system to the earthly, Jesus system of restorative justice. Beware of the consequences of prayer.