Diaspora

NJ Haiti prisoners freed after suffering deplorable conditions – NorthJersey.com

Two New Jersey men have been freed from prison in Haiti, where they were among more than 30 deportees held in brutal conditions after they arrived in the Caribbean nation.
Patrick Julney and Billy Balisage, both from Elizabeth, were released this week amid pressure from families and activists and media coverage about their illegal detention. Several other deportees were also freed, while a campaign continues for the release of those who remain in the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.
For months, the men grappled with extreme overcrowding, lack of food and clean water and, most recently, a cholera outbreak that killed a Florida man who was deported in April. Julney, who was freed on Monday, said he was learning to adjust to new surroundings. He left Haiti at age 1, and his wife and stepchildren remain in New Jersey.
“I’m giving it my best to adjust,” Julney said. “I’m able to turn the key into the door. I’m able to go to bed when I feel like it. I’m able to sleep on a queen-sized bed and do something decent. I feel decent, almost human again.”
Haitian officials have not provided an official count of deportees in prison. Eleni Bakst, Julney’s attorney, said at least 17 remain, but the total could be higher because more deportees have arrived.
Bakst said she did not know why some of the men were released at this time, but she said family members in Haiti were fighting for their freedom. Activists also rallied at the Haitian Embassy and Consulate in the U.S., and members of Congress worked behind the scenes to help, said Bakst, a managing attorney at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition clinic.
The CAIR Coalition, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Movimiento Cosecha and Quixote Center were among the groups calling for their release. Alternative Chance, a support program for criminal deportees in Haiti, also assisted the men.
During their imprisonment, Haitian police officials contacted American families demanding thousands of dollars for the men’s release. Activists said it amounted to “ransom,” but payments do not appear to have been a factor in their release. Relatives of two released men said they did not pay.
The Record and the USA TODAY Network uncovered the detention of deportees in a series of stories since July. After the articles about Julney’s case, other families reached out to say their relatives had also been detained.
Balisage and Bergson Morin, of Philadelphia, were among four men released Wednesday.
“Right now, I’m just thanking God that I went through this situation safely,” Balisage said. “I got deported with Roody Fogg, the guy that died. I cried. It really hurt he had to go out like that. It really hurt, especially with the condition of the jail.”
Family members in the U.S. agonized over the plight of their loved ones. They sent money for food and clean water, not provided by the prison, but felt U.S. officials ignored their pleas for help as they continued deportation flights to Haiti.
Morin’s sister-in-law Keren Tripodi said she cried when she heard the news of his release. “I was emotional,” she said. “I didn’t want him to die in there.”
The men were deported amid a crackdown by the U.S. on non-citizens who had committed a broad range of crimes in this country. Balisage served 180 days for a drug conviction when he was 18. Now 42 and a father of three, he was detained and deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this year.
Julney, who served time for drug and robbery convictions and later was held in immigration detention, said he’s been jailed since age 23.
Now 38, Julney is haunted by his time in prison in Haiti. He saw people stabbed and killed, shot in the face by police and dying of cholera, he said. He shared a packed, sweltering cell with dozens of men.
But his fears are not over. He worries that police will detain him again. Haiti is rife with political instability and gang violence, and he fears they will target him as a deportee. He is staying with a family friend and said the road to his aunt, two hours away from the capital, is riddled with gang checkpoints that pose a risk. Conditions are so dire that human rights groups have called for the U.S. to end all deportations to the Caribbean nation.
Ultimately, Julney hopes to be reunited with his family in New Jersey. For now, he is advocating for the other men who are still detained to be freed. “I don’t want them to go unheard or be just another lost person,” he said.
“People that do care in the States, thank you for fighting for us,” Julney said. “Keep fighting for us. Even if you don’t care, find a place in your heart to understand this prison is death.”
Balisage also worries that gangs will target him as a deportee, believing they can extort money from him or his family. He is staying with a family friend, but afraid to go out, he said.
“I don’t really know what is next now,” he said. “I know this country is not good for me.”

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