Deportees and Moving Back
I was sent the following letter to the editor and felt compelled to publish it:
Until a month ago, I never gave much thought to the problem of deportees. Although a good friend of mine had gone out of her way to reach out to them and to spend a significant amount of her own money to do so, the issue had for some time been tucked away somewhere in the back of my consciousness. That was up until four weeks ago, when one of my best friends arrived in Jamaica to waylay her son who is in the process of being deported
My friend, suffering from acute arthritis, which makes it difficult for her to walk and to use her arms, spent two weeks in my home waiting to see her son whom she had not laid eyes on for over a year. After two anxious weeks, and having incurred the expense of an airline ticket, she packed her bags as I watched, and left for the United States. The last thing she said to me was, "Betty, could you please pray for him to come home safely." She left, without seeing her son. The deportee plane had not come when she thought it would. She was heartbroken, and I could see it.
That was what led to the process of my education about the phenomenon of deportation, and to the access I have been afforded to meet some of the young men we call deportees. I felt compelled to write a part of their story.
It was while my friend was with me that I met John (not his right name). In fact, my reluctance to use the young man's name, even his first name, speaks to the problem deportees experience in having to live "incognito" in order to survive.
When I met John, I knew that I was not looking into the face of a deportee - I was looking into the face of a human being. He was well-dressed, and his handsome looks and lean physique made it impossible for anyone to know that he is a deportee. But it was his gentle voice and kind manner that captured my attention. John was one of eight young men, including my friend's son, who had been convicted for drug trafficking, and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. He was only 19 years old when he was arrested.
"I made a bad mistake as a young man", John admitted to me, "and I understood that I had to pay for it." John served 19 years and a few months of a 20-year sentence. He is now 39 years old. He had migrated to the United States when he was 16 years of age. That meant that when he landed in Jamaica and walked off as a free man, he had only seen the outside world for three years since adolescence.
"I must have moved about 20 times within the US federal prison system," he recalled. "The first one was a maximum security facility, and then over the years, they move you to downgraded prisons. It was when I got to one of the minimum security prisons, where I spent seven years, that I found myself reunited with several of my co-defendants. It became a little easier after that."
"We all bonded and stuck together as Jamaicans. We looked out for each other, and spent every moment we got trying to get information on Jamaica. Although we all learned how to use the computer, we had no access to the Internet of course, so we had to rely on Jamaican newspapers that were sent to us by our families, to get the news of what was happening back home."
One of John's fellow inmates told me that he literally 'studied' the Observer every time he got a copy, so much so that when he arrived in Jamaica, he knew all the current events, including the names of ministers of government. I laughed when he told me that while applying for a job, he helped Jamaicans living here answer questions about Jamaica on their application forms that they didn't know.
"I made up my mind half-way through my imprisonment that I wanted to come back home and contribute to Jamaica," said John. "Not all deportees want to come back home. Some of them stay in the Immigration Detention Centre and fight the legal deportation battle for years. Many of them are afraid to come home because of the crime situation we would read about in the newspapers.
"Everyone of us who decided to come home, talked in prison about starting our own business when we got back to Jamaica. In fact, many deportees now have small businesses already. Mrs Blaine, you would be surprised to know how many deportees are sitting in big positions in this country and doing very well for themselves.
"People think that all deportees are bad people," John continued. "There are basically three types of deportees. One set decides from before they leave prison that they are not staying in Jamaica because it is too hard, and in no time after landing in Jamaica you hear that they are gone to England, Canada or back to the United States. The second set are like me and my friends who decided long ago that we wanted to come home and help build Jamaica. Then, there is the third set who come back and fall into trouble, but those are in the minority, and those are the ones who land back into the communities where they were connected to criminal activities before they left Jamaica.
"The other thing that Jamaicans don't know is that there are middle-class and rich people's children who are also deported. It's not just the poor. In prison, there are Jamaicans from all walks of life - college students, professionals, everybody - and the brilliance and skills they have are amazing."
"What's the most difficult part of being deported?" I asked, "Leaving my family behind," John replied with sadness in his voice. Almost all of the deportees have mothers who live outside of Jamaica, and while the ones I met get help from them, these are men physically separated from their mothers.