Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer
"Devastating at first," is how Glendale Gordon described the last six months of his life which saw him being arrested, extradited to the United States, and spending two months in jail before being released and returning home, ready to resume his career as entertainer Busy Signal.
Sitting in an office at the Big Yard label on Westminster Road, Busy looked gaunt, having lost more than 30 pounds throughout the course of his court case and incarceration. The food, he said, was for the most part inedible and so, his body was starved of its usual diet. He fainted a few times while in custody and was eventually subjected to medical tests as the authorities tried to determine what ailed him.
Still, as he spoke about the ordeal, the relief of having the stress of the last six months behind him, he looked hopeful, eager even to resume his life and career. He even mentioned how he saw people including immigration officers cry when he returned home and how that encouraged him.
Sporting a New York Yankees baseball cap which shadowed his face, a grey designer T-shirt with blue trim at the neck and sleeves, blue jeans and black loafers, he was reflective as he recapped the series of events that put his life under the public microscope like he never wanted. "It was just so stressful, this happening to me when I least expected. I was just coming off a tour, just dropped an album, but as dem say, tings come around come haunt you but at the end of the day it wasn't a drug conviction. The first part of the last six months was the devastating part, but now is just the redemption. This was the worst best thing that ever happened to me."
The story that began this 10-year cycle of adversity to redemption began in early 2002, when Gordon, then a delivery clerk and resident alien in the United States was charged by law enforcement authorities in Minnesota with one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, three counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and a third charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, charges that to this day he refutes. When he was extradited to the United States in June, Gordon pleaded guilty to removing his ankle bracelet tracking device and fleeing to Jamaica. As for the drug charges, according to his lawyer K.D. Knight, United States authorities do not have the jurisdiction to prosecute on those charges under the existing extradition treaty between the two countries.
While not going into detail, he recalls the circumstances that led to the charges and why he chose to flee to Jamaica. "I have been a prisoner in my own mind for over a decade," he said as he went back in time. "January 12, 2002 there was an alleged conspiracy to distribute narcotics charge. That was just the only charge there. I didn't have narcotics or anything in my possession, it was someone who called my phone and they tapped the phone and listened to the conversation. So I got bailed and the judge read through the transcript and saw that I had nothing to do with that. At the time I had a public defender and I didn't feel like my best interests were being represented so my mother saved up and had someone sort out a personal attorney," he said.
According to Gordon, as far as he was concerned, he was innocent and he just wanted to get the case out of the way so he could get on with his life. In September that year, there was to be a pre-trial hearing, he recalls, but on the day before, his lawyer met him at the hotel he was staying with news that he didn't want to hear. "He presented me with a plea bargain; saying boy, this is the Feds and everything and you ain't gonna win this so the best I can do is present you with this plea to five to seven years," he said. "Just plead guilty and take five to seven. My life, mi cyaan do dat, mi naa tek dis 'cause mi no guilty. How can I help myself in a country that is not my country?"
The attorney, he said, told him his only other option, if he fought the charges, was to spend many years behind bars and that scared him. He said he asked for a little time to think about the plea bargain offer but it didn't take him long to decide what he felt he had to do. "It's the first I was encountering this kind of thing and they are forcing me to sign my life away. Mi can't do that, who can I turn to; nobody. Mi a go back a di country wey me born. So I came back to Jamaica, never approached the USA. I came back to Jamaica and became an artiste. Prior to all of this I was delivering furniture as a Rent-A-Centre clerk and on the weekend play sound as a disc jockey and I paid my taxes."
In fleeing the USA he left his family behind; mother, father, and brothers. "I left all that behind, gave up my green card and everything." Shortly after returning home he began the life that Jamaicans know; that of entertainer Busy Signal, the successful entertainer, his secret unbeknown to most. "It was a very hard 10 years. Now I can say it was one of the reasons why I wasn't talkative and I never went out much. You would see Busy Signal when you see a flyer with Busy Signal on it to do a show that has been confirmed. You never see Busy Signal at parties much 'cause mi a save and mi a prepare fi say one day this a go happen, but at the end of the day I am going to have a career, I am going to have a job, a legal life. I am going to have a clean life with no record. Mi try mi best fi no get myself inna problem and the little mediocre madness that people would typically expect from dancehall. I stepped the other way. I gave different stuff; I gave the unexpected as a Jamaican dancehall artiste."
He reckons that a few of the people who he worked with knew of his troubles but at the end of the day, the dread of being tracked down by the US government was very real. "The US is the US. The US found Bin Laden, the US went for Saddam. I am an artiste. I am on Youtube and everywhere I am booked is on the Internet, you know you can find me at the click of a button so in a way I was doing the work, I wasn't really hiding I was expecting it because I had to take planes I had to go places."
He is philosophical about what running away from the United States really meant for him. The fact that he was young and that he was running from what he believed to be a mistake being made by the US authorities, a mistake that would have seen him give up a huge chunk of his life to spending time behind bars. "Me coming back to Jamaica birthed Busy Signal," he said. "If I had not left, there never would be a Busy Signal if I had signed that plea bargain knowing that I wasn't guilty."
When he was
first extradited, Busy said he was fearful because it meant that his
means of making a living had been taken away and he would no longer be
able to provide for his family. He would also have to invest a
significant part of his savings into hiring good lawyers to take on the
might of the United States government. K.D. Knight and US attorney Bill
Mauzy were the men who battled for him.
Busy, describes Knight as the 'real, real, big man' whom he said understood the case and guided him to the right strategy that eventually led to his freedom. He also expressed deep respect and gratitude to Mauzy whose initiatives also aided his cause. In the days leading up to his sentencing on the charges of absconding, Mauzy travelled to Jamaica and filmed interviews with Jamaican entertainers like reggae icon Marcia Griffiths, Busy's pastor, and teachers of a high school in Brown's Town, St Ann to which he donated computers. Mauzy also acquired footage of Busy giving talks to school children about abstinence from sex and HIV awareness as well as him performing before huge crowds in Gambia. The footage became a 47-minute testimonial of Busy Signal's life over the past decade. That testimonial plus the court's own investigations into his life combined to impress judge Donovan Frank.
"This was a life experience for me and an eye opener saying stay on the track that you are on because you're doing good, because all of my records came up in court. All of my deeds came up in court. They even checked if I owe no promoter money. They even checked if I miss a flight as an artiste. I have never missed a flight as an artiste. I have never been arrested prior to the initial charge or after the initial charge," he said. "And God blessed me with a good judge, who looked into it and understand it."
Help and support
He also said he got help and support from his many friends across the globe, people who knew of his clean living over the past decade. "I got a lot of help. I got a lot of help from real friends who know me, who could help me to the extent of their power. I have performed for governments, people who have met me and my family, they met my team and my musicians," he said.
He plans to use the experience as material for songs that he will be releasing in the days, weeks and months ahead. "It will definitely give me inspiration for songs. It's not like I am going to sit here and throw things in the face of the US. I am going to do things more uplifting. Talk seh God help me through this, talk seh my lawyers Bill Mauzy and K.D. Knight help me through this, talk seh my record that was good and clean help me through this, talk seh my deeds help me through this, throughout the music, throughout the 10 years, the mental prison I was in for more than a decade, and at the end of the day here it is now, the mystery became a history," he said.
It will be two years before he will be able to
apply for a permit to work in the United States, but that will not take
away from the fact that he is now able to spend time with his family,
"touch the faces of my daughters" and move on with his