Like most expat islanders, I eagerly consume the headlines from Guam. Every morning it isn’t the local Michigan stories that I look up on my phone when I reach for it first thing; rather it is the late-developing Guam news. Only after this regular review do I even think to look about what’s going on in the area I actually live in.
Now I won’t pretend to understand how crime is affecting the local Guam residents; however, the seemingly unending stream of violence is pretty upsetting to this stateside CHamoru. If someone were to base a quick assumption about life on Guam based solely on the headline news, I’m afraid the feed paints the picture of a dangerous paradise filled with machete fights and sexual predation.
From where I am in the Midwest, it completely breaks my heart, which I fully understand cannot begin to compare to the realities of actually living on the island. I honestly get that to even have an opinion while I am comfortably halfway around the world is kind of preposterous. But bear with me – I need to vent. Know that if I were still living on Guam I would be livid.
Mostly, there is a thought that I can’t get out of my head: We need to reverse our policies of responding to violence. It seems obvious from the news that many of the perpetrators of local crimes are overwhelmingly repeat offenders. I keep asking myself why Guamanians and the Western world, in general, are so lenient to first-time felons. Why are outlaws who take their inaugural plunge into rape and battery so pampered?
Maybe all Guamanians, lawmakers and citizens alike need to seriously think about changing this. In other words, how about making the punishment for the first time offense for rape, statutory rape, domestic violence and extreme battery as severe as cases involving multiple offenses? I have many lawyer friends, some of whom have worked as public defenders; we have shared many happy hour conversations about how easily first-time offenders avoid jail time and any major consequence.
Perhaps an island as small as Guam needs to adjust its policies for the sake of public safety. I propose that maybe we should have severe consequences for first-time offenders. Rape, the first time, is just as bad as rape the sixth time. The island is simply too small a place to have predators of children walking among us simply because they’ve only been caught once or twice. The fragile balance of life here cannot continue to be put at risk because spouse beaters and weapon-wielding culprits are free to roam conveniently because laws allow them to live freely until they’ve been caught five or more times.
The system is yielding backward results.
I clearly know that the criticism for my idea will be that our prisons are overcrowded and we already can’t take care of the prisoners. You know what? I have to be honest here. I don’t really care if the air conditioning budget needs to go to building more cells and paying more guards. Law-abiding citizens aren’t guaranteed AC, why should drug dealers?
Ok, I’m done venting. But I have another quick point to make about going backward. It’s about getting free college tuition on Guam. While I am glad, as an almost-senior citizen for breaks for reaching age 55 and beyond, it really concerns me that young Guamanians who are eager to attend University of Guam and Guam Community College do not get tuition waivers that are offered to people around my age and older. It seems to me that if there is any free college education to go around, it should go to our young people. Senior citizens qualify for social security and Medicare - we get plenty of assistance. From my grey-haired point of view, my college perk can happily take a detour to a deserving high school graduate. They really are the better educational investment.
Dan Ho, a native of Agat, is a writer and teacher and holds a Ph.D. in indigenous studies. Follow his garden adventures on Instagram @HoandGarden.