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Jamaican fisherman back from Haitian hell

Published:Tuesday | October 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Fitzroy Linton. - Photo by Gareth Davis

Gareth Davis, Gleaner Writer


WHEN LOCAL fisherman Fitzroy Linton was sentenced to seven months for illegal entry in a Haitian court in 2007, little did he know that he would spend the next three years incarcerated in a cell with 64 other inmates under what he described as inhumane conditions.

The memories of seeing burnt bodies being chopped up and prepared for cooking, and the daily beating of inmates by prison warders are but a few of the painful recollections which continue to haunt the youngster who hung his head, fighting back the tears as he spoke to The Gleaner in Port Antonio yesterday.

"There were a lot of things I was forced to do in order to survive," the 24-year-old fisherman said. "We were crammed in what is probably a 10x10 cell, all 64 of us. We were fed two times per day, at 11 a.m and at 5 p.m. We had no drinking water, and, therefore, had to buy water off the street, which was dirty and smelly."

Linton said he left Jamaica on May 18, 2007 with two other fishermen in a 28-foot fibreglass boat when they suffered engine failure and drifted far away from Jamaica's waters as a result of high winds and rough seas.

He recalled that they drifted for more than five days, and during that time, he fell ill and was severely dehydrated and weak.

According to the fisherman, he awoke one morning to the sound of strange, loud noises and was pulled out of the boat by people whose language he did not understand. Linton said he was transported to a hospital, where he was treated by doctors and taken into custody by the police the following day.

"It was then that I realised that I was in Haiti," he added. "I could not understand what they were saying, however. I was locked up in jail sometime in June of that year, and I appeared in court in December, where I was sentenced to seven months on a charge of illegal entry. As a result, I was placed in a cell with 64 other persons."

Linton is uncertain about what happened to his two colleagues with whom he had left Jamaica.

A chance to escape came during the January 12 earthquake which devastated Haiti and claimed more than 200,000 lives.

"The prison block was rocking to and fro, and there were screams for help from all angles," he said. "We climbed atop the roof of the cell, which was covered with zinc, but two inmates, who were ahead of me, were cut down by bullets from policemen and other armed personnel on the outside. I was forced to jump back inside, and in doing so, I hurt my chest."

Linton explained that following the earthquake, human-rights personnel visited the prison, providing meals and medication. He said on several occasions, soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force, who were on assignment in Haiti, spoke with him, took photographs, and promised to assist.

But while Linton had given up all hope of returning home, it was a Haitian warder who reached out to him in March by illegally lending him a mobile phone to make contact with his mother back in Jamaica.

After receiving a call from her son, who she thought had vanished at sea, Carlene Lyon quickly secured the services of a Haitian attorney in a quest to have Linton released.

"When I learned how he was being treated, I cried," said a dejected Lyon. "Jamaicans are friendly and kind people, and whenever Haitians visit our shores they are well taken care of. They are not ill-treated or abused. And to learn that my son was being beaten and forced to eat human flesh like cannibals is barbaric."

However, it was a stranger, Claudette Gillespie-Daley, who rendered assistance to the youngster who, by then, had given up all hope of ever being released.

"I contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by way of a letter," she said. "They were very supportive, and worked tirelessly after they were made aware of the full story ... ," she told The Gleaner.

Wilton Dyer, director of communications in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, confirmed the incident, noting that consistent efforts by the ministry resulted in Linton's release.

Linton was flown to Jamaica on September 28.

"I want to continue my livelihood as a fisherman," he said "But I am in dire need of a boat and an engine. Life might not be the same, but thank God I made it, despite the nightmare experience. I have survived to tell the tale, but the painful memories will haunt me for a long time to come."