June 22, 2009

Mothers, Higglers, and Mules

Monday, June 22, 2009 – 6:26pm – 7pm

Today, Evelyn introduced me to four women who had been deported from the US for smuggling drugs. These women are often referred to as “mules,” as their primary job is transporting goods. Some of these women transported the drugs in their luggage, others on their person, and one inside her body. At the end of the interview, one of the woman told me a friend of hers recently died when drugs she had swallowed exploded inside her body.

All four of these women grew up in the inner city in Kingston, had children by the age of 16, and were single mothers. Faced with the economic pressures of child rearing, they each decided to take a chance in order to provide more for their children.

Two of the women had been higglers, women who sell goods in the downtown market. At the market, they learned that many other women were making extra money by transporting drugs to the US, and they succumbed to the temptation to earn extra money. Wanda grew up in downtown Kingston. Like many of the girls in her neighborhood, she got pregnant at the age of 14, and dropped out of high school. At that point, she joined her mother at the downtown market. Eventually, Wanda was able to start a buying and selling business of her own, importing goods from the US.

Wanda secured a visa to go to the United States in 1987. She traveled back and forth, bringing goods from New York to Kingston to sell at the market. Sometime in 1998, a friend of Wanda’s told her of a way she could earn a bit of extra money - $1,000 in a single trip to the US. This was twice what she normally earned in a month, and it was a tempting offer. Wanda became a drug trafficker, and continued occasionally carrying cocaine in her luggage until 2001, when she was caught at the airport in the United States.

Wanda was charged with drug trafficking and sentenced to 36 months in prison. She left four children in Jamaica, aged from 7 to 22. When she came back to the US, nearly three years later, she wasn’t able to get back on her feet very easily. No longer able to travel back and forth to the US, she couldn’t start back up her importing business. She had to resort to domestic work. She occasionally finds temporary work ironing or doing laundry for other women. When she works a full week, she earns about US$50 a week, barely enough to feed the family. Wanda says she doesn’t look back, although regrets what she put her children through when she was locked up in the States. She can’t take her children out to eat as she used to, but at least they are together now.

Pamela, another deportee, was also born in the inner city. She was able to finish high school, and attend Teacher’s College in Kingston, where she completed the three years of school, even though she also had a child while she was in high school. Pamela taught primary school for a little while in Kingston, but found the pay too low and the stress too high, so she got a job as an accountant. She worked there for a few years, and eventually decided to travel to the US. She wanted to provide more for her children. She didn’t find the local public school suitable, and had the children in private school. Her pay barely allowed her to make ends meet.

Pamela was able to get a temporary visa, and traveled to the US in 1987, when she was thirty years old. She enrolled in Bronx Community College, where she completed an Associate’s Degree in Sociology. She also worked as a housekeeper, a babysitter, and cared for elderly people, while she lived in the US. For several years, Pamela traveled frequently back and forth from Jamaica to the United States. In the US, she worked, and in Jamaica, she visited her children she had left behind. At some point, she decided to carry drugs with her on those frequent trips back and forth to the United States. When she was caught, she had her two oldest children in America, and the youngest three back in Jamaica.

When Pamela was convicted and sentenced to jail, her oldest daughter went to Jamaica to pick up her youngest three children, and took them to America. They remain there today. Only one of her five children has been able to obtain legalization, as she is married to a US citizen. The other four are undocumented. Their father is a US citizen, but he has not stepped forward to help them legalize. With them undocumented in America, and Pamela deported in Jamaica, she hasn’t seen her children in over a decade.

All of these women did something many people would view as dishonorable – they trafficked drugs into the US. They also did something many would view as honorable – they took a big risk to put their children through school. Each of them was caught and punished for their crimes. While in prison, their children suffered a great deal.

No comments:

Post a Comment