October 28, 2009

Deportee finds faith and a cure for his disease in Guatemala

I met “Freddy” in the cafeteria where he works. He is a short, heavy-set man in his late thirties. He had on a white polo shirt with a three button collar, and jeans. He had tattoos on his neck and arms. The one on his neck was a green Chinese character. Throughout the interview, he joked and laughed. It is amazing that he has kept his good humor through all he has been through: he was abused as a child, was teased in school, and was a homeless alcoholic for some time in New York and in Boston. Today, he is a transformed man, thanks to rehabilitation centers and his faith.

Freddy was born in 1971 in Guatemala City. He and his grandmother lived in zone 1. His mother abandoned him as a baby, and his father went to the United States. Freddy grew up in poverty, with barely enough to eat. When he was twelve years old, his dream finally came true: his father sent for him to come to the United States. He and his four brothers and sisters arrived in Spanish Harlem, with his father, his stepmother, and his half-brother and half-sister.

Things did not turn out as he expected. His father was an alcoholic and was abusive. At school, kids teased Freddy because of how he dressed. He resented his father for not buying him clothes so he could fit in; he had to wear his slacks and shirts from Guatemala. As Freddy got older and his older brothers left the house, they began to take care of him, buying him new clothes, shoes, and a winter coat – things his father did not provide for him.

When Freddy finished high school, his girlfriend became pregnant, and they decided to move to Boston. In Boston, Freddy met Dominican men who introduced him to the world of selling cocaine. Anxious to provide for his new family, Freddy began to sell cocaine. In 1992, he was arrested on a conspiracy charge. While he was out on bail, he continued to sell cocaine, and, in 1993, was arrested for selling three grams of cocaine to an undercover agent. Freddy never went to court. Instead, he moved back to New York and started over.

In New York, Freddy worked as a salesperson at a variety of stores, and lived in the Bronx. Things were going well for him, and he was able to make ends meet. However, Freddy developed a drinking problem, and eventually lost his job because of his drinking. Freddy decided to return to Boston around 2001. In Boston, he ended up homeless, and his alcoholism got the better of him. He was in and out of treatment programs and the hospital.

In 2002, Freddy was arrested for public intoxication in Boston. Because of this, the police realized that he had a warrant for his arrest since 1993. Freddy had never gone back to court for the drug charges. Freddy pleaded guilty to those charges, and was sentenced to nine months in prison. He served eight for good behavior, and looked forward to getting out to get his life back together again.

However, things did not work out as he expected. Freddy’s two drug charges resulted in an order of deportation. He spent eleven months in immigration detention. He did not have a lawyer to fight his case, and ended up being deported back to Guatemala.

I asked Freddy why the statute of limitations had not expired on his 1992 and 1993 charges. He told me it was because he had left the state of Massachusetts. I asked him why he was deported if his crimes were in 1992, before the passage of IIRAIRA. He told me it was because he pled guilty in 2002. I asked him why he was deported if his sentence was only for nine months, and it was a fairly minor drug offense. He said he did not know the answer, and could not afford a lawyer to help him out.

Back in Guatemala in 2005, Freddy found his grandmother’s house. He fell back into alcoholism for several months before he sought treatment. In Guatemala, Freddy found the Nicky Cruz Alcohol Rehabilitation Center, which converted him to Evangelism and got him out of his alcoholism. He spent over a year there until he was able to live on his own without alcohol. He has had a couple of relapses, but tells me he is now alcohol free.

When we spoke, Freddy was working at a Call Center, making decent money. He lived with his girlfriend in Villa Nueva. I asked him if people look at him badly because of his tattoos. He told me they initially do, but that when they see that he always has a smile on his face and is respectful, people lose their fear.

I asked Freddy if he planned to go back to the US. He told me that he is better off here in Guatemala than he was in the US. In the US, he was homeless and an alcoholic. Here, he has made a life for himself and he found God. He would love to be able to visit, to see his son and daughter. His son is seventeen, and his daughter is fifteen. He has not seen them in years, and would love to see them and to ask for forgiveness for not being a good father.

At the end of the interview, he asked me what I thought of him. That kind of caught me off guard, as I wasn’t there to judge him. I told him that I was impressed with how far he has come, and that he comes across as a pleasant, funny person. Admittedly, I did not say that when he told me he had been a drunk asking for money in the street, an image came to mind that I did not approve of.

It touched me when Freddy told me that he invites kids over to his house to have a bowl of cereal. He remembers what it was like to grow up without enough food, and reaches out to kids in his neighborhood by offering them a bowl of cereal. That struck me as a very generous and thoughtful act.

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