ACQUITTAL AFTER YEARS IN PRISON
English jurist William Blackstone in his seminal work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in 1760 expressed, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” That of course has been forgotten already although it made sense. One innocent person serving time in prison is one too many. It is a clarion call to our judicial system. It is also the basis, the profound reference in a situation where the State must rethink first before it is to impose the supreme penalty of death.
There are cases of acquittal yearly in the penal system. I know. I have been in the prison service for almost 40 years, including weekends. Actually, I lost count already. For me, work in the penal establishment is no longer devoted to facilitating the rehabilitation of the guilty but rather working for the welfare of the innocent in their midst, wherever they are. I cannot presume guilt, like some criminal justice agencies, upon a person even if the courts have made its decree. I can only presume that there are still innocent whose fault is penury, or failure to sustain a costly litigation. And there are hundreds of accused languishing in congested facilities because of poor defense preparation. In the medical field, you do not get a good doctor, you die.
That is the reality of being, a fact of life as a matter of course. You can escape taxes for a while but never poverty. You can even evade accidents but accusations, if you have nothing, you are exposed to the elements.
This is not a sad commentary on the state of affairs. It is a situation where everyone is enjoined to be at the safe side, whatever that means. To be safe could mean subservience, enslavement, unconditional surrender, submission or plain capitulation. Should there be exploitation, the rule is compliance. In a world where power resides in specific places, one must never transgress anything at all. It is fatal at the most. Anything that spells as ordinance must be adhered, anything that takes the shape of a law must be reckoned. Freedom is restricted only for those with means to understand it.
I have seen up close the face of an innocent man, almost ruined beyond recognition. I am a prison officer who signs releases. And there are instances when I have to hold my breath reading through a judgment declaring innocence and requiring my command to release a prisoner for acquittal. Years of servitude have zapped the man’s figure. Only a silhouette of a human being could be recognized from a distance. How he would be in the mainstream of free society, less those years he was treated as convict, would have permanently damaged anything that makes him a sensible person. Yet he still cherish the moment of truth notwithstanding the fact that his future has been mutilated.
The words of Blackstone would be revisited in my mind. I have dealt severely those who were negligent and remiss in the duties of prison personnel in guarding their ward. I was even unforgiving in resolving; sometimes recommending the highest form of disciplinary sanction against those on whose responsibilities an escape would occur. Careers were broken when escape happens. But when there is acquittal, nothing follows.