Justice and Penal Issues · Local Issues

Almost A Criminal

I have a friend that I’m only allowed to call ‘Mug’ in public. It was the very first rule the man laid down when I asked him his name. He couldn’t tell me what that name was, because there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. I still have no idea what that crime was.
About two weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t seen him in a while. I thought about calling him, but starting my new job had made that slightly less than possible. But I saw him, quite surprisingly, last night. And again I saw him this morning, just 15 minutes before starting this post.
Turns out he was in jail. That’s why I didn’t see him.
He lost a decent job in Port of Spain, probably won’t get another for a while, because of a petty robbery. Most wouldn’t feel sorry for a big man like that, but I do. I know how hard the man looked around for a job that would make ends meet, and the times he asked me if I knew of a place hiring even though I was unemployed and struggling myself. In fact, now I’m slightly aware of that struggle. So the idea of a young man fighting for some money to make ends meet and stealing a phone or something to sell sounds completely rational. Not acceptable, but definitely rational.
When I first got my new official job at CAISO and negotiated my payment, I got an email about my salary expectations. Now, I tried to be reasonable about the whole thing and not look money hungry, so I asked for what I thought was the average entry-level salary. The email I got from my boss didn’t say that what I was asking for was okay – he said it was too low. But it’s the average salary, for 60% of Trinbagonians – $4000. My boss said at the end of the email “No wonder crime is so high…”
It gets worse. I get double the salary that my single mother of two gets. She’s been getting that salary, and keeping a house over our heads with it, for 10 years now. She’s been told she loses her job in December.
It’s a grossly uneven economy like this that Trinbagonians try to survive in. And then we tell men like ‘Mug’ that robbery is their fault. Not quite. Not that I believe that he should go around stealing from people. I do believe, though, that we can’t blame him for not having money. The system doesn’t give him money.
What I work for is fine considering I’m not paying for a roof over my head or food in my belly or…anything, really. But there’ll be a time when I have to worry about that. And my salary won’t cut it. And what am I expected to do? Figure out a way to make it cut it anyway, or risk going to jail for trying to survive. And our justice system thrives on stories like this, and on blaming people for being victims of an uneven system. People like me, who are almost criminals simply for the side of the stick that capitalism gave me…


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