October 16, 2009

Homeless in Kingston, Jamaica

Hakim was born in 1954. Before he turned ten years old, his mother traveled to the US, leaving him with his aunt. As a young man, Hakim went to Kingston College, a good public school in Kingston. As he was doing well in school, his mother decided to leave him behind when she came for his brother two years after she migrated.

In his mother’s absence, Hakim became involved in the Rastafarian movement at the age of 12. By age 14, he was fully committed to the movement. This got him into trouble at school, as Rastafarians were persecuted in Jamaica at the time. Hakim told the principal of his school that he wanted to become the first Rastafarian doctor. The principal demanded a meeting with his parents. Hakim told him they were in the United States. His aunt refused to meet with the principal, as she was displeased with him for becoming a Rastafarian as well. As a consequence, Hakim left school and went to live in the hills with the other Rastas.

He lived there for three years before deciding to join his mother in Cleveland, Ohio. His mother thought that she would be able to dissuade Hakim from his Rastafarian tendencies. One of her tactics was to cook pork everyday, in the hope that, out of hunger, he would give up his beliefs. When she was unsuccessful, there was quite a bit of conflict, and Hakim decided to move out on his own. He ended up in New York, where he found a Rastafarian community.

He worked in a grocery store for a while, but wasn’t able to make ends meet. So, Hakim got a little creative. As he put it, he took money out of the bank without a bank account. He handed the bank teller a note letting her know that he wanted her to fill up a bag with money. She did. He got caught, and charged with bank robbery. He was sentenced to six years in prison, and served three. In 1979, Hakim was released from prison. Once out, he moved around a bit, and ended up in Connecticut.

In 1987, he found himself in trouble with the law again. Hakim was outside with his friends, and some officers approached them. Hakim saw the officer pulling out his handcuffs and asked why he planned to handcuff him if he was not doing anything. Hakim told me the officer began to beat him. This scene caused his neighbors to come out of their houses and to tell the police officer to leave him alone. In court, Hakim was charged with obstructing justice and inciting a riot. He was found guilty of obstructing justice, and given the maximum sentence of two years. Hakim told me he studied the law books in jail, and found that he was the first person in Connecticut to serve the maximum sentence for that.

In 1994, Hakim was picked up twice for marijuana possession. He did not serve any time for this, but had to pay a fine, and do community service.

Hakim had eight children in the US. The oldest is 31 now, and the youngest is 12 years old. He had the children with different women, but maintained ties with all of them, through phone calls, visits, and child support. His greatest regret is not spending more time with his children before he left, as he cannot see them now.

After 1995, Hakim did not get into trouble with the law again. He worked in a grocery store, and tried his best to make ends meet and to support his family.

In 2005, he was picked up on the job. He had a deportation order, based on his two charges of marijuana possession in 1994. Hakim had no idea that he might be deported when he pled guilty to those two charges. The laws that made his crimes deportable offenses were passed in 1996, after he had pled guilty to these crimes. He spent over a year in immigration detention, fighting his case.

Hakim did not want to return to Jamaica. After 34 years in the United States, and with no ties to Jamaica, he was worried about surviving in Jamaica. When I met him in June 2009, Hakim was homeless. He had lost his job due to layoffs, and had nowhere to go. A friend was letting him stay with him for a few days. When we met, he was well-dressed and clean. He told me his greatest fear was that he would end up without a place to take a shower and iron his clothes.

His mother and brother in the US send him money occasionally. However, it is not enough to rent an apartment or even to eat regularly. In Jamaica, Hakim has to depend on the good will of others to survive.

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