June 20, 2009

Homeless in Jamaica

Saturday, June 20, 2009

On Friday afternoon, I went downtown with Evelyn, my research assistant, to meet more deportees. On the way there, I explained to Evelyn that I wanted my sample of interviewees to look as much like the overall deportee population as possible. About a third of people deported to Jamaica are deported for being undocumented, and the other two-thirds are deported for criminal activity. More than half of people deported from Jamaica on criminal grounds are deported for their first conviction in the US. I don’t have data on how long the average stay in prison was, but I told her I wanted more variation in that as well. Many of the people I interviewed on Thursday had spent a long time in prison.

A person who spends over a decade in prison loses much of their social support and ties with people who are not in prison before being deported. So, they present a different case. One of the people I interviewed on Friday had spent a decade in prison, but the others had spent much less time. One person only spent eight months in jail at Rikers Island before being deported.

Chris, who I interviewed on Friday, was deported for assault. Chris was living in an apartment building in New York City. One of his neighbors, a crack addict, stole some goods from his apartment. Chris confronted him about the theft, and they got into an altercation. The addict pulled out a knife. Chris wrestled the knife from him, and stabbed him. Chris was convicted of assault, and was sentenced to one year in jail. He served eight months of his sentence. Since Chris had been convicted of a violent crime that carried a sentence of one year, he faced deportation. Once released from Riker’s Island, he was taken directly to immigration detention. He spent five months in a detention facility in Texas and was deported.

This was Chris’s first time in jail. He had been charged with marijuana possession before, and had been on probation for that, but he was not on probation at the time of the fight. Chris had arrived in the US at age 14, had gone to high school in New York City, and had worked a series of low-skill jobs since finishing high school. When he was deported, Chris had been in the United States for 38 years, was married to a US citizen, and had three US-born children.

Chris had not been back to visit Jamaica the entire time he was in the US. He did not maintain ties with anyone. His mother lives in Jamaica, but Chris had been raised by his aunt, and had rarely been in touch with his mother.

Chris’s mother lives in the countryside in Jamaica, and he went there when he first came back. Used to working every day, and living in New York City, it was hard for him to adjust to life in a small village, with no work and nothing to do. He recently moved back to Kingston, where he found a room to share with an old friend in the inner-city neighborhood where he grew up. He has not been able to find work, and depends on the benevolence of others for his survival.

Many of the men I have interviewed are homeless here in Jamaica. The only ones who have a stable place to live are those who live in houses they or their families built before they came back. The lucky ones are those whose families built houses in Jamaica with the intention of returning, and have left those houses for their children. None of these men were wealthy in America – most would be considered the working poor. But, all of them had somewhere to live, and family they could count on. Back in Jamaica, many have none of that.

No comments:

Post a Comment