Many moons ago, as a student pursuing the diploma in Youth Work offered by the Commonwealth Caribbean Youth Centre, a Jamaican lecturer from the University of the West Indies – Miss Loy said to me “It must be exciting being a Guyanese at this time.” With all the economic and social challenges at that time, I thought she must be mad. But her observation stayed with me through the years, and in more recent times I have come to a better appreciation of that observation. I think she was saying, at that time there were numerous opportunities in Guyana for a citizen to make his/her contribution to the national good. Today such opportunities still exist and for those schooled in social science, such opportunities cry out for attention, and the case of Mr. Mark Royden Williams is a prime example.
Mr. Williams is considered a vicious criminal. He was found guilty of being a part of a gang that murdered citizens at Bartica some years ago. As a prisoner he was later involved in the burning down of the Georgetown prison culminating in the death of inmates and staff and the escape of prisoners, including Mr. Williams, from the institution. It is an incident, said to have occurred during the period of his escape, that I want us to focus attention on.
Recently, a gentleman who lives in rural Guyana shared an experience. He told us he encountered a sub group of the convicts who had escaped from the Georgetown Prison, and was taken prisoner. He said, since he was slowing the group down in their attempt to outrun the pursuing security force, one member of the group suggested killing him. He begged for his life, telling the group he is a father. Mark Williams, described as the leader of the group, disagreed with the suggestion to kill him, and kept him with them until they got to a location where the man was given direction to get back to his family and set free. As a student of criminology and criminal justice I could not get this story out of my mind. Why would Mr. Williams, who we were/are led to believe was/is a ruthless killer be the one who showed compassion, humanity?
How do we explain these two seemingly totally opposite characteristics (a kind of animal viciousness and humanity) existing side by side in the same human being? To do so I will isolate and discuss each independently and in the context of crime before attempting to unite them so as to explain their presence in one body.
Today, criminologists tend to consider stress in the home as the single most significant contributing factor for children’s later involvement in crime. Schmalleger tells us this stress is brought about by fathers’ uncaring behaviour (or their absence from the home) that is seen as the deciding factor. Stress that exists in homes in which fathers who drink, cuss and beat out everybody in the home when they had imbibed. Fathers who were usually hostile to their sons, fathers, who would choose to purchase bird seed, when the children are hungry. Fathers who are unemployed and would sit in front of the television all day, smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, while the cupboard door hangs loose on its hinges as he promises every day to fix it tomorrow.
Children growing-up in such an environment; we are told; can develop an uncaring attitude to life and display a lack of feelings for others. Could this have been the home environment that gave us Mark Williams and other criminals of his kind? If so, how does one account for his show of compassion, his humanity in dealing with the stranger his group took prisoner?
Is Williams a case in reverse sublimation? Sigmund Freud gave us the concept of sublimation – the process by which one thing is substituted for another. Freud argued that children are inclined to do this with mothers they hate (in Freud’s time mothers were the ones who closely controlled the lives of children, hence the primary objects of children’s dislike. In another culture it would be fathers). Children, saw their mothers as constantly frustrating their efforts at freedom and acting on their own. The strain created by this condition could not be directly expressed since the mother had authority over rewards and punishment. Hence the need to substitute another female or females generally, for the over bearing/controlling mother. Since, according to Freud, boys pursue and demand freedom more than girls it is they who are affected most and can bear a grudge against women who symbolically, take the place of mothers. In recent times Freudian criminologists have adopted this theory, suggesting that it specifically explains some crimes against women.
Editor, could we not, as thinking beings, creatively use our familiarity with this theory to come-up with a new understanding of human behaviour? Is it possible that unlike Freud’s sublimation theory Williams did not grow to hate all men, but to revere good fathers? Thus, when Mr. Williams, encountering this man; whose only defence in his plea for his life to be spared was, so he can take care of his children; he saw in him the father he desperately wanted but was denied? So, he (Williams), having suffered the absence of a loving father was, unconsciously, not comfortable denying this man’s children what he missed? Noticed, he not only spared the man’s life but ensured he was set on a path that led him back to his family? Thus, in a strange, complex way a bad father’s behaviour led not only to his son being willing to ruthlessly destroy life but also defend and preserve it.
Editor, there are other theories that could offer a different and perhaps better explanation for at least some aspects of Mr. Williams behaviour? For example, his tendency for cruelty? As I understand it psychopathic behaviour can be as a result of a brain abnormality that may be present in a psychopath since birth. In such a case the stress theory I employed to explain Mr. Williams destructive tendency loses all credence.
But it is amazing how little attention we pay to criminals like Mark Williams. We seem to have little curiosity, no desire to find out what conditions – social or biological, made him who he is. Thus, we show no real intent to seriously solve the crime problem by understanding, identifying and at least alleviate the conditions that give rise to his kind. It is as if we are contented with having him and his likes imprisoned, do nothing to prevent another Mark’s arrival, since when he does, we’ll merely create space at the prison for him too.
Today, as I sit and ponder on the complex character of Mr. Williams, I can’t help but smile. I see Miss Loy going thought my research paper and pointing out the number of alternative conclusions I could have drawn. I see her looking at me, sensing my confusion, my discomfort, I see her smile and say “Claudius, it must be exciting being a Guyanese at this time.”