July 10, 2009

Deportee Profile: Pamela

I met Pamela at her house in a residential area of Kingston called Richmond Town. It is between Uptown and Downtown Kingston, not the inner-city, but not as fancy as Uptown. Her yard was full of building supplies and pieces of junk. I did not enter her modest home, but could see that it was wanting of repairs. Nevertheless, she is one of the more fortunate deportees I have met. She has a home, a small business, and did not look hungry.

Pamela is in her fifties, and is a fairly large woman. She had her shoulder-length hair blown out when I met her, and was wearing a faded cotton dress with a few tears in the bottom of it. She had flip flops on her feet.

The house Pamela lives in is her family home. Her mother made a decent living selling goods at the market, and Pamela not only finished high school, but also completed three years of Teacher’s College. She worked for a while as a teacher, but found the pay too low and didn’t really enjoy the primary school level. She then found employment as an accountant, but eventually decided to put her skills to use at the market, where her mother had made her living for decades.

Pamela was born in 1957; her first visit to the US was in 1987, when she was 30 years old. At that time, she already had a fairly well established business at the market, and went to the US to bring goods to sell at her stall. Pamela had three children in Kingston, and was working hard to pay their private school tuition. She traveled back and forth from Kingston to the US between 1987 and 1991. In the US, she worked caring for babies and once for an elderly woman. She also enrolled in Bronx Community College, and completed an Associate’s Degree in Sociology.

During these years, Pamela lived a transnational life. She split her time between working and studying in New York and caring for her children and maintaining her market stall in Kingston. One day, at her stall in Kingston, a man she knew pointed out to her that her stall was not as well-stocked as some of the other women in the market. He asked her if she knew how they were able to do so well. He told Pamela that those women carried a little extra baggage with them to America and were well compensated.

Pamela had a trip planned to America, and this man offered her US $1,000 to carry some cocaine in her luggage. He promised her he would conceal it well, and that it would be easy for her to get through customs. Tempted by the offer to make some easy money to pay for her children’s tuition, Pamela agreed to do it. She made it through.

Not too long after, Pamela’s mother fell ill, and needed money to pay her hospital bills. Pamela took the risk of transporting drugs to the US again. This time, she was caught, and sentenced to twenty-one months in prison. Her mother died while she was in prison.

When Pamela was released from prison, she was bitter about her mother’s death and the time she lost with her small children. She decided to re-enter the US illegally and to continue transporting drugs. By this time, Pamela had five children in Jamaica. The youngest had been born just before she went to prison, and the oldest was nearly 18.

Pamela was able to obtain temporary visas for the children, and took them to America on one of her trips. Their father had already moved to America. The oldest enrolled in John Jay College, and the smaller ones returned to Jamaica to continue their schooling. Pamela split her time between Jamaica and the US, traveling frequently to America to purchase goods for her stall.

In 1996, Pamela was caught again for transporting drugs to the US, and for illegal re-entry. She was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. She told her oldest daughter to travel to Jamaica and bring her kids to the US to care for them while she was in prison. The youngest child was five, and the next youngest was seven years old.

Pamela served her time in prison, and was deported to Jamaica, for the second time. That was in 2002, and she has decided not to attempt to return illegally, even though her five children are in America.

Pamela’s oldest daughter is 34. She married a US citizen, and has been able to regularize her status. Now that she has papers, she has come to visit Pamela in Kingston. The other four children are undocumented. The youngest has lived in America since she was five years old. She has graduated from high school, she can’t go to college because she doesn’t have papers. She could come back to Jamaica, but it is a land she does not remember. She hasn’t seen her mother in nearly a decade. Their father is a US citizen, and could apply to legalize the children, but they have lost touch with him. Pamela regrets putting her children in this situation, but there is little she can do at this point. She talks to her children on the phone, but moral support is all she has to provide.

Pamela is able to make ends meet in Kingston by working part time as a teacher in a trade school in Trench Town, and selling rice and beans wholesale. She met a woman through the church who imports foodstuffs, and Pamela sells pallets of rice and beans out of her house. She told me she earns about US$100 a week, which is just enough to feed her family.

She relieves her pain and regret through inner-city ministry. She tells her story to people and encourages them not to make the same mistakes she did, not to destroy their and their family’s lives by getting involved in criminal activity.

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