Awake in a nightmare! The Suzette Morais story
Suzette Morais' life had centred around her children, trying to keep them on the right track as they grew up in a garrison community in southern St Andrew.
But she has had to bury three, who died in a fire after her mentally ill brother set the house ablaze as they slept. Now Morais finds that most of her strength is being used to fight off the frequent urge to take her own life.
Morais is the mother of nine-year-old Abigail Reid, 15-year-old Leonardo Morris and 18-year-old Bebeto Harris, who died last month after their house in Hopeful Village was doused with gasolene and set ablaze. The mother of six is tormented by the fact that she was prevented by the court from being with her children at the time when they needed her most.
That the children were reported in the media to have been doing their schoolwork prior to the attack came as no surprise to the mother, who dropped out of school at 15 years old to assist with caring for her mentally ill mother and because she was pregnant.
According to Morais, she has always insisted that her children see education as their ticket out of the ghetto, and at least two of them had received scholarships to assist with their studies.
But then Morais was arrested last July on suspicion that she had encouraged a woman in her community to douse another with acid. She said she was so desperate for help to deal with her now-22-year-old mentally ill son that she felt she had nothing to lose when a friend offered to take her to a church where she could possibly get help for him.
Midway into the late-evening journey, her friend and another girl got into an altercation and acid was used to douse the other girl.
Morais said she and her daughter voluntarily reported to the police station the following day after she heard a rumour that she was involved in the fracas. She was allowed to go home, but then two weeks after the incident, the police came knocking as the girl who had been attacked said Morais had encouraged her friend to throw the acid.
"They [asked me to go] to the station with them and that's when my whole life changed. They just took me to Duhaney Park and lock me up, then they carried me to court. My lawyer told the girl that she was going to try and get bail for her, so she should come in, because she ran away, and she come in on my first court date and she told them that is lie the girl telling on me and I don't have nothing to do with their argument.
"They put me back in lock-up and had me at Fort Augusta (Adult Correctional Centre) for two months, and during the two months and two weeks of going back and forth at court, they put me on $1 million bail, until they dropped it to $100,000 and restrict me from my home," she explained.
HELL IN PRISON
Morais said prison life was hell and her misery was further compounded by the fact that she could not see her children. However, she asked a friend to look in on them. With the exception of the father for her youngest daughter Abigail, Morais said she had no support from any of her children's fathers, and some of them cannot be located.
"To tell you the truth, I was the mother and the father," she said.
The still-grieving mother recalled her children's reaction the day she finally took up bail and met with them at a popular restaurant in downtown Kingston, which would later become the daily meeting spot for the family.
"They were just all hugging me and kissing me and crying," she said.
The mother coordinated her children's lives from afar, and thankfully, despite the disruption, they continued to excel at school. Her 24-year-old daughter, a graduate of the Immaculate Conception High School, received a scholarship after passing 16 subjects. She matriculated into the University of the West Indies, where she received first-class honours in management studies (accounting).
Based on her under-graduate performance, she was awarded another scholarship and is currently pursuing her master's in economics. Although the 24-year-old moved out of the community last November after she got married, she joined an aunt in assisting with caring for her siblings.
Morais' 15-year-old son, Leonardo, was also on a scholarship at the Excelsior High School. Her 18-year-old son, Bebeto, was touted as being a model student by his teachers at Tarrant High in the aftermath of his death.
Her youngest remaining daughter, now 12, is attending a traditional high school in the Corporate Area, while Abigail, at the time of her death, was a student at the Iris Gelly Primary School, where all her siblings had been educated.
Principal of the school, Veronica Gaynor, finds that mothers such as Morais are a rarity in the Arnett Gardens community where her school is located.
"This mother is very supportive - very, very supportive - of her children. We were aware that she wasn't able financially, but in terms of every other thing, she was there. And financially, you wouldn't even know because she doesn't beg and the children are always at school," Gaynor told The Sunday Gleaner.
"The children were brought up so that even if they didn't have lunch, you wouldn't see them begging. They would come in and take a book and read during lunchtime," added Gaynor.
Morais had to make huge sacrifices so her children could excel. She admitted that she was with multiple men at times to ensure their survival and their continued success. She also did clean-up duties for a construction company when jobs were available.
The scores of trophies, commendations from teachers, certificates of merit and scholar-ships the children received encouraged Morais to earn her keep by any means necessary.
Unfortunately, the proof of their hard work and years of personal sacrifices disappeared with three of them in the fire.
"I went to HEART Trust/
NTA and I did housekeeping level one and level two, but don't get anywhere with any job," she said. "I am not a perfect mother, but I love my children," she asserted.
Morais said her children were not only humble; they were smart. In fact, Abigail's quick thinking saved her from being raped by her uncle just a few days before he set their house on fire.
"She was inside trying to take out her clothes for Jamaica Day and she said 'Mommy, him come in and slap me on my bottom and said I must kiss him and I said no, and he went and lock the door and took out his penis and lotion it, and I said, 'Wait, I am going to give my auntie my clothes to press.' That's how Abigail got out of the house and went and call somebody big," Morais recounted.
The nine-year-old went and got her aunt next door, who took her to the police station to file a report.
"The police them say because him mess up himself, they cannot hold on to him, so they let him go and tell her (aunt) that when she see the police again, she must make them arrest him, which I think was stupid," the mother charged.
With not much help from the police, the mother said she went to the Bellevue Hospital to seek assistance, based on advice from her lawyer.
"I went to my lawyer, asking her to ask the judge if I can change my address, because my father have a little space in his yard and I want to take my kids them, because I am very worried about everything that is happening," said Morais, who found out that her mentally ill son had also stabbed her 18-year-old while she was in prison.
Morais' lawyer told her she would file the request immediately, but asked her to try and get a report from Bellevue regarding her brother's mental state. Her brother had only started to display violent tendencies after their mother was shot multiple times while at her house, which is next door to the one where Morais' children met their untimely death.
He received treatment at Bellevue several times following the gruesome attack. But instead of a report, Morais was given a number to call someone from the mental health team.
"I called them and a girl answered and I give her the names, address and everything, and she said they are going to go over there right away. I was waiting and I didn't hear anybody call me. So I called them back, no answer. The next day I was calling and no answer," the mother recounted.
Two days after, she received a call but it was not the expected one from the health worker. It was from her sister informing her that her house was on fire. Morais said she immediately ran to the police station in her community to get clearance to go to her house. This was predawn on a Friday morning.
"I said, 'My kids! I need to save my kids!', and the policeman said, 'Well, you cannot go over there. You need to go back to your yaad' Ö ," said the mother, who was in tears as she spoke to The Sunday Gleaner.
"I run to the Admiral Town station where the gully is, to jump in the gully, but my brother hold me, so I just kept on running down Slipe Pen Road and go to Public (Kingston Public Hospital) and ask them if any fire victim come in and them say 'no'. So in my thought, I was saying probably them rush with Abigail at Children (Bustamante Hospital for Children)," she said.
"Then I got a call saying they don't find any of them, all of them died, and then I don't know nothing else," the mother cried.
When Morais revived, she found herself in the emergency room at the Kingston Public Hospital. She was ordered by the doctors to sit and try to calm down while they tried to source information on her children.
"But I just could not sit, so I started walking up and down, and I had on a sweater, so I took off the sweater and go around the corner and was looking somewhere to tie the sweater. But I could not find anywhere to tie the sweater, so I put it around my neck and tried to pull it as tight as I can. I was blocking out and then I felt somebody grab me and it was the nurse pulling it off my neck," she said.
She said she was taken to another section of the hospital and she vividly remembers the doctors bounding her hands to prevent her from harming herself. But at that point, her mentally ill brother was wheeled in, and on seeing her, he blurted out, "Gyal, Suzette! A mi kill your pickney dem!"
Morais said she blocked out again.
"I felt a boop in my heart and when it hit me, I fly up, and when I fly up, I see a man over me and realise it was the doctor, and then they carried me on the ward and tied me down. They tied down my hands and my feet because they said I am trying to kill myself," she said.
See tomorrow's Gleaner for Part 2 of Suzette's story.