June 24, 2009

“If only I could cook my children a plate of food”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I had my first rejection yesterday. Evelyn picked me up at 10:30am and took me to Patty’s house in Vineyard Town, a middle class neighborhood in mid-town Kingston. On the way over there, Evelyn told me that Patty was deported from the US twice.

Evelyn said she had warned Patty not to try and go back to the US after she had been deported. But, Patty was desperate to see her children. She couldn’t bear the thought of them growing up without her. Patty has several children born in the US, and lived there for decades. Evelyn told me Patty got herself into an incident where a weapon was involved, was convicted of a gun charge, spent some time in prison, and was sent back to Jamaica.

Evelyn said she told Patty that, as a Christian woman, she shouldn’t do illegal things. Plus, she would have to live in fear if she went back illegally. But, Patty was determined to see her children. She obtained a false passport and made it to the Virgin Islands. However, when she tried to go to the mainland, she was detained, and sentenced to 30 months in prison for using false documents.

When we first arrived at Patty’s house, it was evident Patty didn’t really want to talk to us. Nevertheless, she invited us inside, and we sat down on the couch. Patty explained that this wasn’t her house. She was staying with a woman who is a teacher, and would be moving out as soon as she found a place.

Patty is a tall, heavy, brown-skinned woman. She had her short hair in small braids all over her head. When we began chatting, Patty told me “I hate America. I am so bitter.” I just nodded. Patty kept talking, explaining that she was upset, that she missed her children. Evelyn suggested we begin the interview. I gave Patty the Project Information Sheet that explains my research to interviewees and began to go over it with her.
When I got to the part where I explain that I give interviewees JA$800, Patty exclaimed, “What? Do you know that is only ten dollars?” She stood up and walked to the other side of the room. I told her that I know it is not a lot of money; it is not meant to be. I am not paying for her story; I am just giving her a minor compensation for her time, some lunch money, as a token of my appreciation. I explained that the money was not meant to convince her. I told her that I don’t want to pay a hundred dollars, because I only want her to tell me her story if she wants to. I don’t want her to do it for the money, that I only want her to tell me her story if she wants to.

Patty sat back down, and began to calm down. She began to rub her hands over her face and said she wasn’t sure she wanted to do an interview. I told her that was fine, no problem, that she should only tell me her story if she really wants to.

Patty began to talk to Evelyn about people they knew when they were in prison together. Patty said that when she was in prison in Puerto Rico on the re-entry charge, there was a three-generation family in prison – a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter. That reminded her of a three-generation family that Evelyn and her knew in prison. The women exchanged details about people they knew in prison, about where they were now.

Patty told us that when she was in prison this last time, her children came to visit her. They paid $3000 for a three day package to Puerto Rico, and were only able to see her for 45 minutes – the length of her visitation time. Patty said she wishes she could cook a plate of food for her children, because when she last talked to them, one of them said he yearned for her cooking. I could see Patty was fighting back tears the whole time we were talking. I tried not to ask any questions, and just listened to what she had to say.

Patty finally told us that she couldn’t do the interview. She apologized for telling me earlier that she hated America. She said she couldn’t hate America; that is where her children were born, where her children are from. She just can’t get the bitterness out of her heart. Patty had come back from prison in Puerto Rico only two weeks before. She still needed time to process her feelings.

Patty let us know that she would eventually do the interview, but that she wants to do it when she has the bitterness out of her heart. She told us she was glad we came over, because it allowed her to see the anger she was holding inside. Evelyn told her that she does need to talk about it, to let it out. Evelyn explained that the day before we had interviewed other women who cried their hearts out after the interview, because they were letting out feelings that were bottled up inside. Patty agreed, and said that she would like to do the interview, but that it was still too early. I told her that I appreciated her honesty, and that there was no problem with that.

When it came time for us to leave, Evelyn, Patty and I held hands and Evelyn said a prayer for Patty. Evelyn prayed for Patty, her children, and the lady who let Patty stay with her. When we finished, tears were streaming down Patty’s face.

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