Paul D.


My name is Paul. I was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1963. I came to America in 1969 at age 6. America is the only country I know. I almost lost it. This is my story.


Early Years in America

When I first was brought to America, I lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn where I started first grade. I had a tied tongue and a bad speech problem. I also had a strong Jamaican accent and people had a hard time understanding the dialect I spoke. It was extremely difficult for me to learn and make friends. 

In 1973 in the fourth grade, I moved to East New York, a notoriously dangerous community. This I where all the problems started. Gangs, drugs and violence dominated the neighborhood. Kids in school bullied me and I gave in to peer pressure and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. I felt this was the only way I could survive. I started getting high and skipping school.


My first arrest

I was arrested for the first time for innocently riding an unattended bike that I saw as I was walking down the street. I was young and didn’t think it belonged to anyone because it was on the floor and no one was around. Although I explained this to the police officers, they still arrested me for theft. They didn't believe me. This was the beginning of the downward spiral.


Painful & Damaging Secrets

My school sent me to see a psychologist because they thought something was wrong with me. The psychologist abused me. I was afraid to tell anyone. I kept a secret for a very long time. 

I had another lifelong secret. I was gay. But I was ashamed. I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I didn't want to admit it to myself. I couldn't admit it others. I was closeted for decades. I was in emotional turmoil. My shame made it feel impossible to not to act out. 


The inescapable cycle

1981 2012
I spent most of these years in prison.

From the time I was 18 years old, I spent most of the next 31 years in prison. Arrest after arrest. Conviction after conviction. Every time I came home, I felt so paranoid. I felt so out place. I had enormous social anxiety and felt like every one was judging me. I felt I belonged in jail. I couldn’t handle my own freedom. I was institutionalized. 



When I finally came home, I was 49 years old. I didn’t want to go back to jail, but things had changed so much. I didn’t even know how to use a cell phone. I was determined to do the right thing, but I didn't know how.


Falsely Accused & Reincarcerated

One day I went into a store to pick something up. A guy who worked in the store kept looking at me and following me around. I asked him why he was looking at me. He said that I looked suspicious and I was going to steal something. My anxiety got the best of me. One thing led to another and an argument turned into a fight. I got arrested and falsely accused of attempted robbery, which I wasn’t guilty of. It didn’t matter. Bail was set and I couldn’t afford it. I went right back to Rikers Island.


Then Immigration came for me

While I was in Rikers fighting the case, immigration picked me up and brought me to immigration custody. I was confused because I came to America as a young child with my American Citizen mother, before I turned 18. I was told that both parents have to be citizens to be granted automatic citizenship in cases like mine.



In immigration jail, I was in a yellow jumpsuit. The place was gloomy. The stench was like hell and it smelled like death. The food was disgusting and the officers treated us like we were animals. I had never been so stressed in my life.


A promise

Then I got the worst news ever. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom kept telling me that she needed me to come home and help her. That’s what kept me going. I made her a promise and I was determined to get home and keep it. 


A Turning point: Coming Out

While fighting my case, I was finally able to find my self, my determination, and comfort in who I really was. Although it was initially hard for me to open up and trust my lawyers, I saw that their hearts and intentions were in the right place. My social worker helped me with the process of coming out of the closet to my family. To my surprise, they were really supportive of me. And against all the odds, my lawyers helped me win my case.


I won my case and was released in 2016.



Future reunited

Since I’ve been out, I am happy to say that I have stayed out of trouble. The thing I am most proud of is that I have a full-time job as a caregiver for my mother for the past 18 months. I now feel like I am a deserving member of society.