Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Mark Wignall | Up the downside of deportee life

Published:Sunday | March 12, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Jermaine Barnaby/Freelance Photographer A Jamaican man strains under the pressure of two heavy bags with his belongings after 32 citizens were deported or removed from the United Kingdom last Wednesday.

I was drawn to Josh immediately in the style of 'mi spirit tek him'. About eight years ago when I first met him, he was working in a small shop in a semi-rural, one-road town and taking home chump change for pay each week.

He had no qualms in opening up to me about his life before his forced deportation to Jamaica. And about his tenuous economic situation since returning.

"Wi used to run tings at our end in Philly. Coke, weed and all of us have guns because wi know di business rough. It hard to move from having thousands of US dollars in yu pocket every day while living in America to earning chicken feed and barely surviving."

The thing about 58-year-old Josh is that he had resigned himself to his severely reduced financial state in Jamaica. "A nice woman pick mi up but she nuh have nothing and mi haffi find rent and food fi mi and she an har two yout dem."

Josh was quite honest with me about his coke habit, which he was struggling with. "Mi nah lie to yu. Mi not looking it, but if mi get any now, mi will smoke it. Is jus di honest truth."

He was married and is convinced that his wife, a Jamaican legal resident, gave him up to the immigration authorities. "Di whole heap a money come wid whole heap a garbage. Woman follow money, and mi did have two girl pon di side. Me believe is she buss pon mi even though she was benefiting from the whole heap a cash she was getting. A jealous woman will mash up har own life jus fi get back at a man who she feel play har too long an wicked."

A few years ago, one morning I entered the shop where he worked. "Missa Wignall, anything you want anywhere here I will get it for you. Breakfast, just tell me. Hot Guinness, tell me. Anything."

I was puzzled and a bit embarrassed. Then he told me. He had won a few hundred thousands of dollars on Pick Four. I told him I would take the breakfast because a lady with an early-morning cook shop at the back of a bar did a great ackee and salt fish breakfast. He reached a spot on the counter and handed me a single $5,000 note.

"I don't understand," I said.

"Nuff time when mi pocket low, is you help mi out. So in my likkle way mi a gi yu dis." Humanity has a way of peeping out from the harsh reality behind the clash of guns, drugs, violence and a reduced economic state. I took the money.

The small one-road town was like a deportee pocket in Jamaica. One Saturday evening, I counted 12 men who were deported. Most were just hanging around talking to each other. Very few were purchasing anything from the shops and bars.

One was constantly muttering some crazy DJ lyrics to himself. A deportee near to me said, "him a get off a him head fi years now. Him nuh have nobody an him build a piece a board house up inna di bush. Di owner come wid nuff man and lick it dung. Him a live all over now like a bushman but him swear sey him soon buss wid a big chune."

 

Most deportees not interested in criminality

 

Cee lived what at the surface appeared to be a normal life. Just below the surface, he was going up and down with his crack addiction. "Mi smoke it but look, mi do mi work, have mi wife and two girl dem."

He was the best mason and steel man around and his professional reputation had brought him constant work since his deportation 12 years before.

Cee was always smiling, and whenever he did work for me he was always undercharging me. 'Come on, man, yu charging mi too likkle,' I said to him in 2011.

'Dat is your price, Mark, yu is gud people.'

A few years later, the sad news came one morning that he was dead. Found trussed up, hands tied at the back and blunt force trauma to the head. A few days before he was threatened by a man who many thought was jealous of him getting too much work. I wasn't sure where the police investigations were and I had my doubts. Cee was not a 'brand-name' person.

I went to the police station and told them what I had heard. I did it on the basis that probably most in the small town would prefer to shut up but also I believe that the police detectives were better off with too much info instead of too little.

It's been four years since his death and it still remains unsolved. The last time my deportee friend Cee spoke with me was when he built a garbage skip for me and telling me the usual, "Is your price dat man." It is quite likely that he was killed by men who had never owned a passport in their lives.

 

Puzzle of Downtown Kingston

 

In the early 1970s when I was courting my wife, we were both working in the same office at Harbour Street in downtown Kingston and we had developed a stupid-love relationship in the evening after work.

She was headed to Harbour View where she lived with her parents. I was headed to the Washington Boulevard area where I lived with mine. I would first walk her to her bus stop. We would stand there for at least half an hour, touching, stealing kisses, then she would walk me to my bus stop.

 

Final farewell

 

Then I would walk her back to her bus stop. We just found it terribly difficult to bear the separation. Sometimes we would be downtown at 10 p.m. where the last trip would be me walking her to her bus stop and waiting until the bus drove away and then me blowing her that final kiss.

I can hardly see that happening now. Recently, there were reports of vendors along Beckford, Princess and West streets complaining about young robbers holding up shoppers along those thoroughfares in broad daylight.

A few months ago when a cruise ship arrived in Kingston, I was on tenterhooks as the visitors disembarked and began their tour. All sensible people wanted it to be incident free, and, luckily for us it was. The organisers are to be congratulated.

The question is, at what stage will we bring back civility to the busy shopping areas of downtown Kingston so as to make it safe for both visitor and citizen? In the pre-May 2010 period when Dudus was able to guarantee the peace in downtown Kingston, it was the acceptance that only the big chief of the underworld could do it while the police could only sit, watch but thank their lucky stars that Dudus was filling that vacuum.

The fact is, in a well-run, normal society, it is the opening up of opportunity that guarantees social peace, civility and cohesion. In a society where too many young people are overdosed on poor education and lack of skills training, and the unemployment rate among young people hovers at 60 per cent, it is only controlled chaos that can keep the peace.

Dudus had an army and they were well armed. He kept court. One man who attended one of these 'hearings' between himself and another businessman said to me years ago while laughing, "Is di first time me ever see di 'prosecution' box a man cross him face while questioning him."

Dudus' extradition to face the music in the mighty United States has exposed the uselessness of the state long after its operations downtown ceded power to the underworld in 1998.

It will take a big fix to restore normality there and make Kingston city a loving, kissing, romantic romp again.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com. observemark@gmail.com