Beyond the neon runes


Throw away the key

There was a thing going around the Internet recently, a trend. Bearing the hashtag #confessyourunpopularopinion it offered an agitator like me the perfect opportunity to get a few things off my chest. And once I started there was no stopping me. First, I announced to anyone who might listen that Breaking Bad is the most overrated television show of all time, a trite, clichéd drama which has inexplicably garnered universal acclaim.

With little or no reaction to that carefully aimed projectile, I ratcheted things up a notch; “Katie Taylor is the greatest Irish sportsperson of all time”, I proclaimed, adopting a boxer’s stance as I awaited the backlash. A few jabs were thrown in my direction, the odd haymaker, but nothing significant. I was getting frustrated now, I’d gone into this expecting war, and all I was getting was a few half-hearted comebacks from jaded, dispirited inquisitors.

It was time to bring out my trump card, and no it didn’t involve Trump himself. This unpopular opinion of mine is a bit of misnomer; it’s actually quite a popular opinion, at least in my circles. It goes a little something like this; “Convicted rapists, sex offenders and paedophiles should receive a minimum thirty-year sentence without any possibility of parole”. Furthermore, those guilty of the most heinous crimes, the unspeakable acts which ruin the lives of both victims and their families, should get life, they should be locked away forever, regardless of how rehabilitated they appear or how remorseful they seem.

Suffice to say, the likes came rolling in, every hardliner on my friends’ list offering solidified support in the guise of a big thumbs up. A few went even further, expressing their agreement with some not very carefully chosen words. But then came the intellectuals, the ones who’d studied the data and surmised that harsher sentencing wasn’t the answer, that these people needed specialised assistance, a hand to guide them along the path of redemption. I hate intellectuals, don’t you? Always coming along to expose your argument with facts and figures, embarrassing you in front of everyone.

If only I’d had to hand the statistics recently released by the Irish Prison Service, figures which show that just one out of every fourteen sex offenders in our penal institutions are, at any time, enrolled in a course specially designed to prevent them offending again. Entitled Building Better Lives (BBL) the programme is intensive, consisting of 60-70 sessions of in-depth therapeutic work, “a high degree of challenge”, “family meetings”, and “regular review and monitoring of the participants progress”. But one thing it isn’t is compulsory. If those serving time for sexual offences don’t wish to participate then they don’t have to.

As ever, there are some mitigating factors that go some way towards explaining this frighteningly low statistic; the most stark of these is that in order to enrol, prisoners must first admit their guilt. The laymen among us would insist that any right-minded individual confess to their sins and seek the necessary treatment. But virtue is not an attribute commonly associated with criminals and so, whether guilty or not, many of these people will deny culpability till the day they die, hoping to preserve what little reputation they have left in the process.

In addition, the course, which was established in 2009, is generally only offered to prisoners once they’re approaching the end of their sentence. This may partially explain the current figures. However, the rest of these mitigatory circumstances are not so easy to explain.

As ludicrous as it may sound, one of the reasons for the low turnout is that there are no penalties associated with not enrolling. For example, prisoners will not lose out on valuable remission entitlements if they don’t participate. In other words, refusal to take part doesn’t affect their sentence or any of their day release conditions. But, as barmy as that sounds, it has nothing on one of the other causes cited by those charged with analysing this data.

Maeve Lewis, an expert in this field, offers this explanation: “We have called for incentives to be put in place for prisoners who participate in that programme. That might be an offer of earlier release if they complete the programme which just might incentivise more guys to do it.” Wow. Just. Wow. So mollycoddled are these violent offenders, so pandered to are they, that the only way we can convince them to avail of free treatment, is by dangling a carrot in front of their noses.

Where else would you get it? A rapist, a man who has stolen the dignity, the integrity, the future of an innocent soul, is told that if he undergoes therapy, he will be let out early as a reward? Sure, why bother incarcerating them at all? Just send them off to Rapist’s Anonymous for a few weeks and they’ll be grand. Here’s another statistic for you while I’m at it; according to the most recent figures, 14 per cent of sexual offenders in this country will reoffend within three years of release. Compared to recidivism rates for other crimes this is not particularly high, but then again rape and sexual assault are not like most other crimes. Even if that number was just one per cent, it’s still too high, these people should not be allowed to walk among us, they should not be given the opportunity to reoffend, not be given any opportunities, full stop.

But then the intellectuals return, the ones who point to the cost to the State, the many thousands and millions of euro it would take to house all these people indefinitely, the ones who point to our status as a modern-day nation, one far removed from the Deep South of America, where paedophiles are routinely placed on Death Row for their sins. These people, these intellectuals, argue that no person is inherently evil, that a high number of sex offenders were, at one point, victims themselves, that with the right care and attention, even the most vicious of individuals can be ‘cured’.

And then something happens to a member of one of those intellectual’s family, to a friend, an acquaintance, someone they went to school with. They see the devastating effects of sexual assault for themselves, they see how it ruins lives, how fun-loving, free-spirited souls become frightened and subdued, their every waking moment a living nightmare. Suddenly, those intellectuals have a different point of view, perhaps an unpopular opinion, one which, despite its unpopularity, appears to tally up with what many ordinary Irish people think. Namely, that these monsters deserve no second chances, no preventative treatment. That they must be locked away, and kept there, for the good of humanity.


Men at work, do not disturb

Think of your boss for a moment, how do you feel? Suitably riled? A little anxious? Strangely aroused? Well, whatever your thoughts on the person tasked with overseeing your daily skiving, chances are, at one point, you have fantasised about giving them a good boot up the hole. No? Just me? Okay then. At the very least you must have toyed with the idea of telling them where to go, telling them exactly what you think of them, replying to one of their pithy put-downs with an even pithier hand gesture?

If so, then meet your new hero. This unnamed service engineer struck a blow for overworked, underpaid, unappreciated workers everywhere with a savage act of subordination, a gesture of defiance which has earned him my lifelong respect if nothing else.

Firstly, he managed to doze off during an interminable work-meeting. Round of applause, please. But it’s what happened next that secures him legendary status. Having been rudely awoken by his superior, with a sarcastic intonation to “Wakey, wakey”, the sleepy, persecuted employee responded by briefly opening his eyes, giving his boss the finger (the middle one), and going back to sleep again.

I don’t wish to condone this type of behaviour, not when decent jobs are so hard to come by, but it’s hard not to feel a swell of admiration for this guy. Even if he never works another day in his life, he will always have this beautiful memory to cherish, he will go to his grave knowing that he fulfilled a fantasy that so many can only dream of. Some people have threesomes, others do bungee jumps, but very few so brazenly stick it to the man.

Obviously, he was sacked, but unfortunately his attempt to sue the company for unfair dismissal fell on deaf ears. The Workplace Relations Commission ruled against him despite his claim that he was being disrespected in his job. Ultimately this rebellious act could prove folly, it could hinder his career for the rest of his days, but I bet even now, if you asked him whether he regrets it, he would smile indulgently and ask, “What do you think?”