Stigma of living as a criminal Deportee

“It’s five years but I still feel I am in a strange country; I am yet to meet the right people to help in the transition from life in the United States to life in this country,” is the emotional plea of a Grenadian who left this country at the tender age of two and was deported in his forties.

Despite knowing some of his relatives here, his settling down has been made difficult because of the fact that he served time in prison for a drug related offense. “And without finding out the truth about the offence I committed, some have disregarded me as thief,” said the young man who prefers to not use his real name for fear of further discrimination. For this reason, the name Mark will be used when referring to him.

Back in the 70s when his mother moved to the United States, she failed to do the necessary paper work that would entitle him to United States citizenship, although he was there since he was 24 months of age. When he was convicted for the offence of marijuana possession, he was sentenced to serve an 18 month imprisonment, and then realised that the deportation law for criminal acts would apply to him.

He spent his time in prison plus three years, as he the necessary paper work had to be done for him to return to Grenada — a place where life is different culturally, economically and politically to what he knew before prison. “The only person I knew as family was my grandmother and she did not welcome me, and I ended up by strangers,” said Mark who admits that his only vocational skill was painting.

“Even with that skill, it was difficult to get a job to adjust to life here. You see because of my accent, people always felt that I was here on vacation and had money, so it become more and more difficult for me who doesn’t even know the first thing about farming,” he said.

He in hopelessness, soon discovered that there is a network of persons in the society who are waiting for people like him. “There are lots of deportees here and most are not accepted by families, so we become target for persons who approach us in our vulnerable states, with what looks like a real job, but there is always a hidden component of illegal activity” he said.

“They are abusing the fact that you are a deportee and in need, so they literally set you up for further discrimination; because in my case, I was provided with a job at a bar, but the hidden conditions were unbelievable” he said.

“Firstly the salary promised did not work out from the first pay day. I received less and he reminded me that I was a deportee. Secondly my employer insisted that I became the third party to supply marijuana joints to his many loaded clients.”

“So there I was, put in a position of choosing to leave a job and suffer, or continue to work and comply with the other conditions, especially the supplying of the marijuana joints to the clients. It was not an easy decision but I decided to remain.Eventually, I was caught by police, charged and convicted and had a pay a fine of almost a thousand to the court.”

Elaborating further: “You may think that my employer would come to my rescue! Well all he did was took my bail and fired me! It was as if I had served my purpose and getting caught by the police meant I was no longer needed.”

“You see the dons comes in different forms, and there are business people involved in the scheme towards deportees who are from less influential families in this country,” he said. “The stigma of a deportee doesn’t only affect one’s ability to have a job, but also other basic needs which are fundamental to living, and these are food, clothing and shelter,” he said.

“I am willing to work, I am willing to learn new things, but when I answer yes to the question on any form or in person when asked if you were ever arrested, that is the end! The interview immediately completes, or the form is taken away and I am asked to leave; that is how rough deportees are treated,” he said.

Describing the US deportation rule as one that is bent on breaking up families, Mark has since lost his wife who has remarried and has had little communication with his 12 and 13 year old daughters.

He believes that the best way to assist those in transition from criminal deportee to average Joe or Susan, is for Governments in the region to establish a system whereby deportees, especially those who left the region as a baby, can adjust to the system here.

“Prison life is punishment for doing wrongs, and we should not be made to continue to feel the effect of an offence after serving the time. Sometimes all we need, as in my case, is a better understanding of life here, and a job to integrate into island life. I don’t even know how to hold a cutlass properly, much less to do farming. Maybe if I knew how I will be different today in terms of survivability,” he said. “Second chance means a second chance, and not condemned for life.”

Mark is of the opinion that the system can be in the form of a foundation which can provide support, and also act as a monitoring and reporting system for deportees.

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