The Girl with the Tonton Heart

Years after the Haitian diaspora, Papa and Baby Doc's children are still wandering

Krome wasn't exactly like jail. The inmates at the detention center generally enjoyed more freedom, and the food was a lot better. There was also the dating game, the term many Krome alumnae use to describe a sort of sexual marketplace that allegedly existed for the pleasure and entertainment of at least a dozen Krome guards. If an officer took an interest in a female detainee, he (or occasionally she) might give the detainee jewelry and clothes, bring her ice cream and candy, even deliver marijuana or other illicit drugs, if that's what she was into.

A guard would promise to arrange for her release, or to prevent her deportation (on neither of which he had any influence) -- but not just because he liked her. She had to have sex. All sorts of encounters, consensual and non, took place in the women's bathrooms, in the health clinic, even in secluded outdoor spots. For years Krome officers as well as their charges, participants and uninvolved alike, knew what was going on. Some, at various times over the past twelve years, have attempted unsuccessfully to stop it. Currently the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating dozens of complaints of sexual abuse and harassment, including several lodged by Marilise. About nine Krome officers were transferred to desk jobs at INS headquarters in Miami pending the outcome of the investigation. The inquiry, however, is now more than eighteen months old, and just two indictments have resulted.

At first Marilise was happy to go along with just about anything she thought would result in her freedom. Soon after she entered Krome in October 1999, a Lieutenant Clark (a pseudonym), who already had a girlfriend among the detainees, seemed to be increasingly interested in Marilise. Clark claimed to have a close friendship with then-officer in charge Edward Stubbs, and assured Marilise he'd intercede on her behalf. "One day we were talking [about my case]," Marilise recalls, "and he said, “You want me to help you?' I said, “How you gonna help me?'

Steve Satterwhite
Steve Satterwhite

"“I could talk to your officer, tell him you're good people. When you get out, don't worry, I give you a place to stay.' He gave me a pack of gum that night."

Despite Clark's supposedly serious romance with a detainee from Honduras, he continued to pursue Marilise. Several weeks after the gum gift, she and Clark had another conversation in the cafeteria. "I say to him: “You know March 14 is my birthday.' I already had three birthdays in jail, and I was still locked up. So he told me when I'm finished with my food go to [the health clinic], go in the bathroom there. So I go. Everyone else is inside the cafeteria eating. When I get to the bathroom, he tells me everything we do is between us. “You do it, you're gonna get released.'"

Marilise continues her account, frowning with embarrassment. She admits she is still ashamed of what she did, though at the time she believed Clark really was going to help her. "He started kissing me. He sucked my titty, he said pull down my pants, and I did," Marilise confesses. "He sat on the toilet, and he start to touch my vagina. He tried to put a condom on, but I didn't want to do it with a condom. If anything happens I want there to be proof. He tell me if I can't have sex to suck his privacy. So I did."

From then on she waited for her release. "I wanted to tell somebody, but I was scared if I did he would find out and [the release] wouldn't happen," Marilise rationalizes. She preferred not to think of the episode as humiliation, even though she felt flushed with shame. And there in that closed captive world, any unusual attention from the captors was a privilege of sorts. Like the other girls who believed the guards' compulsive boasting, Marilise was cowed by their assertion of power precisely because she felt powerless. To be singled out, even if for abuse, could make the women feel important, chosen for their unique personal attributes instead of being the easiest to use.

Some girls seemed to revel in their complicity in forbidden practices, and some thought they were involved in a genuine romance. Several years ago, according to affidavits furnished to federal investigators, one officer went so far as to accompany a deported detainee on the plane back to her country. Others have visited their deported girlfriends overseas. Most of the time, though, the sexual relationships were crude forms of barter with the women exchanging something for nothing.

One day Marilise was called to another part of Krome to have her picture taken. She was sure that meant her imminent freedom. "I waited for them to tell me to pack my stuff," she adds. But days went by, and she had no word of any change in her status. Later Clark told her she was on a list to be transferred to an INS facility in Chicago but that "he would get [my name] taken off," she recalls. "I was shipped to Chicago the next day. At that point I started to question Lieutenant Clark's power since he didn't have me removed from the list."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets