Friday, January 23, 2009


Concerning the handling of convicts, Australia is no doubt one of the most experienced nations in the world, because that's a fundamental dimension of the cultural heritage of those of us who are proud to descend from 19th-century British and Irish immigrants.

In each case, the offender's personal path could move through three successive phases:

-- Initially, he was condemned in his native Old World for a crime that may or may not have been particularly wicked, and he got transported to the Antipodes as a convict.

-- Little by little, in the land that would later be called Australia, his status evolved into that of an ex-convict, and he acquired a certain degree of liberty. During this phase, the ex-convict was assigned to, and placed under the responsibility of, an honorable citizen—normally a landowner needing employees to develop his property—designated as an overseer.

-- Finally, if all went well, he became a totally free and enterprising citizen of the vast new country into which he had been thrown... more or less by accident.

The coveted document that started the ball rolling along the path from hard labor to liberty was the so-called ticket of leave. My Irish great-great-great-grandfather Patrick Hickey [1786-1858] was transported from Tipperary to Botany Bay in 1828 for cattle stealing. Assigned to a prosperous English pioneer in Braidwood named John Coghill, he was awarded this ticket of leave in 1837:

Even after the arrival of his wife and children, my ancestor was incapable of leading an honest life, and he was condemned for stealing and transported to the notorious hell-on-earth island of Norfolk. In 1846, a broken 60-year-old convict, Patrick Hickey had the rare privilege of receiving a second ticket of leave:

[Click on the images to display larger versions of the documents.
Click here to access my genealogical website.]

Now, why did I decide to start talking about convicts and their assimilation—not always easy—into free society? Well, thanks to a former US president, George W Bush, aided and abetted by a pair of acolytes, Tony Bush and John Howard, a terrible detainment camp was created at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Last Wednesday, on his first day as US president, Barack Obama announced that this camp would be shut down within a year. The problem that now exists is: What can be done with the former convicts?

I think it would be a great idea to give tickets of leave to some of these men and assign them, as it were (Down Under convict concept), to Bush, Blair and Howard, who would look after them personally on a daily basis, making sure they are adequately housed, clothed (in something more fashionable and less conspicuous than orange jumpsuits), fed, educated, entertained, etc. Our former leaders would be charged with the moral responsibility of catering for their new friends (employees?) in every possible way, so that latter can appreciate all the subtle aspects of life in a free society.

There are quite a few other excellent candidates for this exciting role as moral overseers of former Guantanamo inmates. I'm thinking in particular of some of those filthy rich financial tycoons who have dragged the world into a state of economic mess. Each condemned banker or crooked businessman should be assigned, automatically, at least two or three Guantanamo individuals, with the obligation to take care of them personally.

My suggestion, I feel, is utterly ingenious. I hope that somebody can get my ideas up to Obama as rapidly as possible.

1 comment:

  1. obama's white house "contact us" page...

    good luck!