I was going to write this myself, but now there's no need to

Published: October 2, 2011 at 8:59am

The Sunday Times, today
by Mark-Anthony Falzon

Heavy investment, little dividend

Last Tuesday, a 23 year-old Dominican woman was found guilty of importing heroin and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment. Sugeidy Castillo is the mother of two small children, one of whom was born in Malta.

That child, whose first year of life was spent in prison with her mother, is now living with her grandmother in Spain.

How sane is it to keep stocking prisons with drug-related convictions?

Castillo’s sentence came a week after that handed down to Paco Carmona Alvez, a 20-year-old Portuguese who will be spending the next 10 years in prison and paying a fine of €30,000 for importing heroin and cocaine.

To say that the two stories are tragic is to put it very mildly. What we have here are two people just past their teens whose life prospects have likely been nipped in the bud.

We also have two families whose serenity is gone forever. (Who would manage a sound night’s sleep knowing that one’s son or daughter is in prison far away from home?)

Add to that a massive bill for police time and resources, the cost of the court proceedings, and that of keeping two more people in secure discomfort for many, many years.

Perhaps most seriously, in Castillo’s case we also have two young children who have been robbed of their mother’s care and affection by circumstances they cannot understand. As for the feelings of the mother herself, let’s not go there.

There are two easy options here: one is to talk tough and perhaps post cavalier online comments about drugs killing our children and such. I was shocked to see the dreaded ‘LOL’ reaction to Castillo’s story.

‘LOL’ at what? At the thought of a young woman giving birth in prison?

The second is to spare a moment’s mixed-bag sympathy and proceed to forget all about it. Prison is very good at making people invisible, as I’m reminded every time a Corradino van with darkened windows overtakes me in the Marsa traffic.

Neither of the two works for me. Rather, I find myself deeply moved and troubled at the thought of these two cruel outcomes. I don’t mean unfair judgments.

I well understand Mr Justice Quintano’s words about “a difficult night ahead of him” following the guilty verdict for Castillo.


18 Comments Comment

    • rob says:

      If it weren’t for the mules, hard drugs are not around, so she’s guilty.

      And why all of a sudden when convenient, we get the ‘poor mother’ thing? Would we say the same if it was a father? Of course not.

      If she’s was prepared to smuggle heroin (not sweets) she must pay the consequences, mother or not.

  1. il-Ginger says:

    If only she were a Maltese chief justice who had taken a bribe. Then she would have got two years and spent them in relative comfort at Mount Carmel Mental Hospital.

    • 'Angus Black says:

      Taking a bribe fades into insignificance when compared to importing a kilo of cocaine which can fry hundreds of brains of our own children, especially for monetary gain.

      The two sentences cannot be compared to each other.

  2. The chemist says:

    It’s not the sentence itself which is wrong. Sugeidy Castillo knew she was importing something illegal and is now facing the consequences of her actions.

    What is wrong is the way she will spend her time at Corradino and that means doing very little in constructive terms.

  3. cat says:

    I worked in Italy as a volunteer in a prison for women. The mothers are given the opportunity to bring up the children under three years of age in jail themselves.

    When the chidren turned three they are taken away from the mothers. Everybody could imagine the rest of the story.

    Another solution should be found in these situations.

    But definately no law should protect the importers of drugs in Malta. Children have no fault. Unfortunately they are the ones who suffer more in such situations.

    The first people to protect their children are the parents and not the state.

  4. Jozef says:

    He’s right when he says that prison makes people invisible.

    May I add that the system also makes the problem invisible. It’s preposterous to think these couriers don’t have a contact to get hold of when in Malta, and that these won’t have the names of those coordinating the trafficking. And yet, it does seem that investigations and the subsequent charges concentrate on the couriers alone.

    Do we actually believe this to be an external problem? Something to be intercepted at customs?

    If we’re committed to tackle this problem, perhaps a witness protection programme and/or the provision of legal instruments to investigators could be introduced, which intention would be that of tracing the organisational structure of these syndicates.

    Surely a mule who decides to risk by cooperating is already paying a price.

    There have been concerns to what happens to drugs seized by the police, what the process within the courts is, and with whom the responsibility lies.

  5. Dee says:

    Today, Super One radio is collecting more ‘ftit mil hafna’.

    This time it is a sort of ‘ring-us-up’ marathon with donations given when their favorite band marches are played.

    And they then complain that it is the church that is always collecting money from the faithful.

    Tghid ha jkun hemm requests ghal ”Ma taghmlu xejn mal Perit Mintoff” Korean version?

  6. Matt says:

    It’s ever more disgraceful considered alongside Noel Arrigo’s non-sentence and even the probability that the woman’s contact for delivery was him/herself a member of our police force or army.

    But the judge’s lack of logic is just appalling, regardless of that.

    It only takes a second to work out for yourself that heroin addicts are damned from the word go. The woman’s crime is not going to change the inevitable for them, so what’s the point of adding three lives – Ms Castillo’s and her children’s – to that pile of misery other than a kind of blind revenge?

    I don’t think the judge is cruel – just misguided in a very dangerous way.

    “Pour encourager les autres” is a valid argument for harsh convictions for high-level crimes like Noel Arrigo’s, but this sentence is no deterrent to its target market of people driven to such desperation that they can’t see the risks in what they’re doing.

    This is the question that we need to ask: would the net effect on humanity have been greater or worse if we just confiscated the heroin and helped Ms Castillo escape the situation that drove her to do this? Probably greater.

  7. Sağmalcılar says:

    Careful. Someone may decide to make a movie with a catchy soundtrack about Malta’s absurd, barbaric jail sentences in such cases. Now there’s a well thought out tourism campaign for you.

  8. Steve says:

    For me what is absorbed is not the sentence itself but the mechanism that produced the sentence.

    I think that we are not combating the drug problem, we are simply combating supply without eliminating demand.

    I very much agree with Mr. George Soros and his view on how to tackle drug problems.

    In a nutshell it goes like this. Make drugs legal and let the government be the supplier.

    In this way you are granting a secure supply of drugs that have the necessary standards and not mixed with chemicals that may be more dangerous then the drug itself.

    Also if the drug is supplied by the government prices will go down because there won’t be the need for a special premium on the price for the danger in importing and trafficking it. The legal age should be over 21 so that one is mature enough to make a wise decision.

    If the drug is legalized there wont be the need for the police to have so many unit on drug trafficking.

    All drug suppliers will be eliminated cause no one will buy from them due to higher prices and lack of quality-they can buy it cheaper from someone else.

    This will make it possible to eliminate access to the drugs to the young people and those who are legal able to get it will do it at a better price and higher quality.

    George Soros continues by saying that with the current system only a handful gain which are the drug lords and the many have to pay-the ordinary people by paying taxes to finance the police and the rehabilitation centers.

  9. carlos says:

    As it always happens we have all the pity and excuses for the culprit and forget all about the victims or would be victims in this case.

  10. Harry Purdie says:

    Thailand has its own solution to eliminate the long years of couriers suffering in prison. Execution. It’s printed on your boarding pass.

  11. John Schembri says:

    If Ms Castillo was acquitted we would have been invaded by pregnant single mothers carrying more cocaine to our islands.

    Ms Castillo is suffering the consequences of her actions.

    She tried to make some easy money, but her plan went haywire.

    Her children will ‘suffer’ because their mother was irresponsible.

    In prison you rarely meet someone who admits his/her guilt.

  12. Jack says:

    Sorry, but I beg to differ.

    If we do not stock prisons with drug-related convictions, then what are we supposed to stock them with?

    Drug importation is a criminal offence of a most despicable and heinous nature, amoral individuals thriving on the misery of others. It serves as a catalyst for further crime (addicts to fund their addiction) and destroys the very fabric of society.

    Let us spare a thought to the young man, who in a drug-driven depression, jumped to his death just a few weeks ago… or the young woman left to die of an overdose and dumped in the countryside. All this spiral of pain and misery, beggars belief.

    Tersely put – drug addicts should not be in jail, but drug importers should bloody well be. If the prison population has reached saturation point, then spare the former, not the latter.

    I find no joy in seeing this young woman rot being bars, or her young children deprived of a mother. However, I find it her crime too ghastly to garner any sympathy from my end – she is also grossly unsuitable to be a parent. One may only hope that her children are raised in a stable and healthy environment, in the care and dedication of responsible adults. Anything but, would be another tragic waste.

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