A Jamaican man, who claims he was locked up in the maximum security section of Her Majesty’s Prison in Barbados for two years without being brought before a court, says he is suing that state for false imprisonment, wrongful arrest and pain and suffering.
Fifty-year-old Jahnoy Cassells said the xenophobia of an immigration officer resulted in him being arrested and thrown into prison despite committing no crime or breaching any immigration law. Cassells said he was living in Guyana and travelled to Barbados at the invitation of the Barbadian parents of his girlfriend, who was born in Guyana.
“I got no hassle at the airport and was in Barbados for a couple weeks before I decided to access a work permit so I could organise a reggae concert featuring Sugar Minott, who fathered four children with my sister,” Cassells told the Jamaica Observer.
It was when he went to the immigration department in Barbados in January 2010, Cassells said, that his ordeal began.
He said after an immigration officer began perusing his application, the officer told him that Jamaicans were not wanted in that eastern Caribbean state. “He just said ‘we don’t want you here’. I asked why and said what he was doing was wrong but he took my documents and arranged for me to be taken to the (Grantley Adams) airport.
They locked me in a cell and tried to deport me the next day,” he said. Cassells claimed that the immigration official, upon learning that he was in the country with his Guyanese girlfriend, sent for the woman and ordered her to bring his belongings.
“When she arrived with my things, them lock her up too, and send her out of the country. Dem tell her say she should never deh with no Jamaican, is a Barbadian she should have and she wouldn’t get that treatment,” he said. According to Cassells, his Jamaican passport had expired and he was given special documents with which to travel by the Guyanese Government.
The authenticity of the documents were not challenged by the Barbadian authorities at the airport, he said, and he even made efforts to collect the passport, for which he had previously applied, from the Jamaican consulate in Barbados as the consulate in Guyana had recently shut down operations.
“The next day they came for me and attempted to deport me, but I refused, all the time telling them that I did not commit myself criminally so I can’t be deported and what they were doing was wrong,” he said. “The immigration officer attempted to give my documents to an air hostess and I objected strongly because she was not qualified to handle my documents.
They handed the boarding pass and the documents to me and I tore them up. The pilot then stepped in and said he was not flying with me,” he said. But Cassells’s actions only seemed to infuriate the Barbadian authorities more and soon he was carted off to prison, he alleged.
“They came for me in plainclothes and took me to Her Majesty’s Prison. There I was placed in the maximum security section with convicted murderers and all kinds of hardened criminals when I never committed a crime,” he said, while fighting back tears. He claimed to have endured a life of hell for two years inside the penal facility which is located at St Phillips and houses male, female and juvenile detainees and convicts.
“I was only let out to bathe. It was constant lock-down. I don’t eat meat and they carried pork for me. I went on a hunger strike and they stripped me of my clothes and locked me down in a cell with just four walls for weeks. I had to sleep on bare concrete naked.
I endured hell and all the while I was thinking that I never committed a crime to deserve such inhumane treatment,” he said. Cassells claimed to have witnessed an inmate on the R block where he was housed commit suicide. “The man had months to go to finish his sentence and his mother came to look for him regularly.
I watched as he tore up a sheet and hung himself in his cell. That is how hard the prison conditions are. His sentence would soon be over and he still killed himself,” Cassells said. He said after a while he began contemplating suicide himself, when it seemed that he had no hope of attaining freedom.
“The warders kept telling the other prisoners that I was withholding information from customs. I was never taken to court and every letter I wrote to the Jamaican consulate, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and my relatives were torn up by the guards. No one knew where I was,” he said. The obviously broken man told the Sunday Observer that after he had spent one year and eight months incarcerated, a guard overheard him planning to kill himself and had him taken to a psychiatrist.
“I told the psychiatrist I was not crazy but had been kidnapped and locked in the prison for almost two years without being taken to court or committing any crime. He was very shocked and told me to keep it to myself as he was going to assist me. The doctor got in touch with the Jamaican consulate and efforts started to be made to get me out,” he said.
With tears in his eyes, Cassells claimed that it was only then that he was allowed to contact his relatives. “I called my son’s mother in Canada and immediately she started asking me how I treat her so and how my son was wondering if I was dead. I told her what happened to me and she grew very upset and demanded to speak to the prison authorities.
I put them on the phone, but I am not sure what they said,” he claimed. The Sunday Observer has since contacted the woman in Canada who confirmed that she had written him off and was shocked to know of his ordeal. “I wasn’t sure if he was still alive. They did not give me any good explanation why they treated him like that and locked him up for nothing.
It was a terrible time for my son, who kept asking for his father,” the woman said. Cassells is the father of four more children. When the details of his tribulation at the hands of the Barbadian authorities came to light, the Jamaican Government started making efforts to get him out of prison. In three months, exactly two years to the date when he was flung into a maximum security cell, he was released.
“I never even knew that Michael Jackson died. I never saw daylight for a long time. There were Africans in the prison who overstayed their time and they were held in the minimum security section where they could play cards and watch TV, but because I was Jamaican they treated me like a dog,” Cassells charged.“I did not deserve that treatment, as I am an honest man who has never been in trouble with the law.
They robbed me of two years of my life for nothing,” he said. Cassells was full of praise for the bravery of Shanique Myrie, who was recently awarded damages by the Caribbean Court of Justice against Barbados for inhumane treatment at the hands of a female Barbadian immigration official who subjected her to a degrading body cavity search, and accused her of coming to Barbados to steal their men and being a drug mule.
Myrie was locked in a filthy cell before being deported back to Jamaica the following day. “I am proud of what she has done because I, too, have felt it at the hands of the Barbadians and it is no lie that they hate Jamaicans and Guyanese people,” he said. Repeated attempts over the past three weeks by the Sunday Observer to contact Barbadian attorney Alair Shepherd, who Cassells says is representing him, have not been successful.