The Girl with the Tonton Heart
1. Macoute Blood
Marilise was eighteen in the fall of 1992, when she boarded a boat leaving Haiti. Her boyfriend, Franfrico, was with her. Maybe a third of the 70 passengers were heading out for reasons similar to Marilise's: They were young women who, owing to attacks or harassment by police or armed gangs, had left home, if they still had one. It was about a year after the military coup that toppled newly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a time of violence and revenge-taking on all sides.
Most of Marilise's relatives were Tonton Macoutes, members or supporters of ex-dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier's murderous secret police, or of his son Jean-Claude, called "Baby Doc." The former died in 1971; the latter was forced out of power in 1986 and fled to France. Many Duvalier cronies, supporters, and armed thugs remained in Haiti, though, often facing retribution from the regime's numerous victims and enemies. Marilise's family thus was a natural target in the violent unrest unleashed by Baby Doc's ouster and the increasing breakdown of law and order in the years that followed. Her father, Josène, was a big smiling man, a butcher by trade. Her mother, Solange, worked as a hotel maid. They had expediently allied themselves with the Duvalierists, less from political conviction than to help ensure their physical and economic security.
Shortly after Duvalier's downfall, Marilise and her family lost all their possessions when their house in Delmas, a diverse section of Port-au-Prince, was torched. She was twelve at the time and disappointed at not being able to retrieve her only toy, "my dolly." But at least they were alive, more than Marilise could say for several relatives and family friends whom she watched die by necklacing, the murder method first popularized in South Africa and later adopted in Haiti under the name "Pere Lebrun," after the owner of a big Port-au-Prince tire store. "They put a tire on your neck, pour gas on your body, and set fire," Marilise elaborates in a sad monotone, as if reciting, her English strongly accented. "You keep talking. You can see yourself burning. You die like that. In 1987 some of my family started to get killed. Sometimes I see [Pere Lebrun] four or five times in one day. My cousin died like that. If I stay I get killed too."
Marilise is 27 years old now. In late September she gave birth to her third child. She is tall and broad, with dark golden skin, wide-set, long-lashed eyes, and two gold teeth. She has a shy and obliging manner; when she is relating emotionally disturbing events, she cries. Yet there remains about Marilise a tough, almost threatening aspect. It's hard to tell how much of her personality is the product of the antidepressants she has been taking for the past several years.
Eleven months ago Marilise was released from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's Krome Service Processing Center. After a year at Krome and almost two years in the Broward County Jail before that, she is making a fresh start. The past nine years have battered and broken her. She has survived nearly alone, having lost along the way most of her friends and immediate family; now even her two oldest children are wards of the State of Florida. Marilise vows to write her autobiography someday so her kids can know the truth about her life. Except the truth about her is amorphous, as it is with millions of Haitians who have become other people outside their country. As it is with Haiti itself, a nation where good and evil can be indistinguishable and where truth easily deceives. A Kreyol proverb observes, "Dèyè mon gen mon"-- behind the mountain, another mountain. Thus Marilise's story of degradation, poverty, and fear begins to reveal a person who in some ways has been an innocent victim all her life, except there's really no such thing. It's hardly inspirational. Perhaps it's allegorical, a story not too far removed from that of every other Haitian woman who ever came here on a boat, except in degrees of darkness. She tells it in a stream of consciousness, pouring out vignettes then suddenly skipping to a different incident years removed. It sounds too awful to have happened, but so do too many stories from Haiti ...
Back in the late Eighties, Marilise's parents didn't have the kind of money that would allow them to escape Haiti in style, to jet into exile as Jean-Claude Duvalier and his free-spending wife, Michele, had. As long as the corrupt and repressive Duvalier regime was in place, the family at least enjoyed a measure of protection and privilege, but they were out of luck in the social and political chaos that followed. The post-Duvalier years leading up to the December 1990 election of Aristide as president have been dubbed the dechoukaj, from a Kreyol word meaning to uproot, smash, lay waste. Things got worse in some ways for the Duvalierists after Aristide took over and then seven months later was deposed in a bloody military coup. While paramilitary gangs hunted down and killed Aristide supporters, other pro-Aristide groups killed their opponents as well.
Marilise, the only daughter among her parents' six children, was indulged by her brothers, who tried to keep her away, as much as possible, from the spreading violence. By the fall of 1992, she had been out of school for a couple of years and sometimes worked as a nanny. She was in love with Franfrico, a former classmate who lived on the same block as her family. But the meager stability Marilise enjoyed ended one afternoon when, on her way home from a friend's house, "a lady told me don't go home because a bunch of soldiers had come into my house; some people broke the window, and they were looking for my brother to kill him."
Marilise ended up at the bus station, where after sitting petrified on a bench for three hours, she caught the eye of a woman who camped out at the station most days to sell her homemade bread. "She see me sitting for so long and she asked me what was I doing there," Marilise recalls. "I told her I can't go home, so the lady took me to St. Marc [a city southwest of Port-au-Prince], where she lived. She gave me food, and she told me about the boat going to Miami."
From St. Marc Marilise called Franfrico to join her on the journey. The boat set out in late October 1992. The organizer of the voyage, according to Marilise, was the same Pere Lebrun of tire fame. It is doubtful this was really the man, though. A dozen knowledgeable sources, including a Lebrun in-law, say the real Pere Lebrun is still in Haiti operating his tire business and neither he nor his sons has ever been involved in running boat people to Miami. More likely, the leader of Marilise's expedition called himself by that famous name to disguise his true identity, a practice not unheard of among men involved in trafficking of one kind or another. Marilise, in fact, believes the boat captain "had done some very bad things in Haiti" and was escaping to save his life.
He did more bad things on the boat. Marilise has described the ordeal many times, but she invariably becomes agitated and her words begin to come out in bursts, scenes stumbling into another in no particular order. She shrinks from talking about how "Pere Lebrun" and his group of about three or four other men wasted no time in helping themselves to the young women onboard. "Pere Lebrun," according to Marilise, "tried to get me and another girl." She is vague about what kind of sexual relations they might have had, but she clearly saw no possibility of refusing Lebrun's or anyone else's advances there in the middle of the Caribbean. Underlying her telling of this and later victimizations is an unarticulated acquiescence to an ancient principle that has infused most of the world's cultures and religions: It teaches girls and women to be in every way at the disposal of men. Even so, all the passengers were at the mercy of "Lebrun" to some degree. "I don't have no choice," Marilise insists, the monotone punctuated every now and then by a panicked staccato. "Because he be cursing us out, saying he's going to drop us into the water."
It did her boyfriend no good to resist, either. Marilise asserts Lebrun and his lieutenants resolved in their first few days at sea to offer a human sacrifice to the vodou lwa, or deities, to ensure a safe trip "direk pou miyami," direct to Miami. Two young men were selected. Franfrico was one, and Marilise says Lebrun's daughter's boyfriend was the other. Marilise wanted to intervene, but she did nothing. "I didn't have any power," she explains, almost pleading, repeating the statement another few times. "If I tried I was going to die, too. They threw him over, and he went under the boat, and nobody ever found him again. Then after [Lebrun] killed [Franfrico], he snatch my boyfriend's passport out of my hand, so no one would know what happened."
"That's not the story I heard," says a Haitian living in Miami who was told of the boat crossing but didn't want to speak about it for this article. "I thought what happened was she was having sex with the captain, and when the boyfriend found out, he started a fight and they beat him up and threw him off the boat. There wasn't no vodou. There wasn't no Pere Lebrun."
But there was a voyage lasting eleven days that Marilise's boyfriend did not survive. After four days the passengers ran out of water. They disembarked at one of the Bahamian islands, Marilise recounts, picked up some water and food, and continued on their way to Miami. They were fortunate to get past the Bahamas, where countless Haitian watercraft have run aground or wrecked on sandbars, and where thousands of Haitians have been detained and deported.
Marilise and other women onboard didn't escape the threats and abuse of the captain and his men, though, until the boat was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard off Miami Beach. The passengers were loaded onto a cutter and once on shore bused to "a big place. I don't know if it was Krome," Marilise remembers. "We could take a shower, and they gave us food. After that they took us to [a refugee processing center]. We filled out a bunch of papers, and they took us and put us in a motel on Biscayne Boulevard." She had made it to Miami, more or less direct, along with tens of thousands more Haitian and Cuban refugees who were part of a major wave of boaters and rafters arriving in 1991 and 1992.
2. Morning in America
During the early Nineties the INS was housing hundreds of immigrants in Miami motels owing to a lack of space at Krome. Those who were claimed by family members usually were promptly released. Marilise knew her half sister lived in South Florida but didn't yet know how to reach her. Cubans, because of their privileged status under U.S. immigration law, could count on minimal time in government custody, an immediate work permit, and virtually guaranteed permanent-residency status after a year. Haitians had no guarantees of any sort; thus Marilise was elated when a woman named Emite Ledice, or Umite Ledice, or Emit Lides (her name is spelled a variety of ways on official documents, but she couldn't be found to verify any version) arrived one morning at Marilise's motel (she thinks it might have been the Bayside Motor Inn at 5101 Biscayne Blvd.). Marilise believes it was a practice among certain Haitian residents in those days to visit places where immigrants were being detained and arrange releases for people who agreed to work for the residents in some capacity.
Ledice, a woman about ten years older than Marilise, lived in North Miami. "She put me in her custody if I would take care of her kids," Marilise relates. "I was paroled [by INS] and went to live at her family's house. Later I got a social security number and permit to work. I thought Emite was going to put me in school, help me learn English. But she said she'd have me deported if I didn't help her." Marilise did work at other jobs during the next few years, including waiting tables at a restaurant owned by Ledice's cousin. She lived at Ledice's home "on and off," she says, also sharing an apartment in Broward County with three other women. One day in April 1993, Marilise splashed bleach in the face of one of her roommates. She contends it was an accident, that she had been cleaning the bathroom and had neglected to screw on the top to the bleach bottle. Nevertheless she was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor and eventually dropped, but Marilise spent 25 days in jail. Soon after that incident, the INS ordered Marilise deported, but the agency apparently never was able to find her to notify her of her precarious situation.
In October 1993, almost a year to the day she left Haiti, Marilise's mother, father, and eldest brother, Davide, were murdered in Port-au-Prince. "They chopped them up and set the house on fire," Marilise recounts, again a dry recitation. Her clenched, ringed fingers rest on her tummy. "I got a cousin here who told me to call Haiti. When I called I talked to the man downstairs, and he told me what happened." She keeps her brother's and parents' death certificates with her, the thick blue papers folded together in a square. They are in French, the names and data filled out in blue ink in large childlike script, and they convey no terror or pain. The causes of the deaths are not listed. "They cut my mother's throat," Marilise repeats breathily, holding back tears. "They killed my brother who loved me. I'll never see them again."
It was after the deaths that Marilise came into contact with her older half sister, who had come to South Florida more than a decade earlier and was living in Broward with her husband and daughter. Marilise and Nadia (a pseudonym) have the same father, and Nadia instantly wanted to protect Marilise and help her succeed in the United States. "She's so much like my dad," Nadia marvels. "She smiles like him, sounds like him; same height, same face."
Nadia spoke with New Times but didn't want her identity revealed and was distressed at the prospect of an article about Marilise's private life. "She's not the only person who got off a boat and don't speak English," Nadia observes indignantly. "A lot of kids had it worse, underage with no family, but they go to school and make something of themselves. She choose not to."
For several weeks after she learned of her parents' and brother's deaths, Marilise felt barely alive herself. She cut her hand while working in the restaurant and spent five days in Jackson Memorial Hospital. "I didn't care what happened to me," she concedes. "I didn't feel nothing."
By then Marilise was pregnant. The father was her boyfriend, Pierre (a pseudonym), whom she had met at Ledice's house. Shortly before she gave birth to Barbara in January 1994, Marilise moved into an apartment in Fort Lauderdale with Pierre. In September 1994 she was arrested as she stood on her front step. Broward County Sheriff's Office detectives were executing a search warrant, according to the incident report, and saw Marilise drop a Baggie of crack onto the ground as they approached. Marilise claims cocaine had been planted outside her apartment and police tipped off by a drug-dealing neighbor, a woman who wanted her boyfriend. Nevertheless Marilise was charged with possession with intent to distribute, but the case was dismissed several months later.
It was Nadia who put up Marilise's bond money when she was arrested, and it was Nadia who gave her a job at the variety store she owns. For a time, after the birth of her second girl, Vanessa, in 1995, Marilise and her kids lived with Nadia; she and the children's father split up in 1996.
Regardless of whether Marilise used or sold drugs (she adamantly denies she's ever done either and is backed up by her normally straight-talking sister), she clearly was friendly with a lot of people deeply and violently involved in the drug trade. One of them, she alleges, was her benefactor, Emite Ledice. "She didn't work, but she had money," Marilise charges. "And she was always going on trips to Haiti."
By all accounts Marilise and Ledice had become friends over the years; after the birth of Marilise's children, Ledice would visit with food and clothes, and Marilise often spent days and weeks at Ledice's home when the older woman was out of town. Ledice's children called Marilise Tantin, Auntie. The friendship ended in January 1998 with a dramatic event that stripped Marilise of nearly everything she valued, including her children and her freedom. She has yet to recover from the incident, which may yet result in her deportation to Haiti, where she is certain she'll be killed.
Newspaper stories, police reports, and Marilise's own account of the event and its aftermath are convoluted and sometimes contradictory, and truth often is indistinguishable from alibi. The only facts not in dispute are these: A botched drug transaction on January 22, 1998, led to the kidnapping of four of Ledice's children from their North Miami home and the death of one of the kidnappers. Marilise subsequently was arrested and charged with four counts of armed kidnapping and second-degree murder (because her alleged participation in the scheme resulted in the death of an alleged accomplice). In February 1998 a Florida grand jury indicted her and the surviving kidnapper, Inestin Petit-Homme. By the time she went to trial in September 1999, Marilise had spent twenty months in jail.
The last time she'd seen her daughters had been when the police pulled them, her, and four of Ledice's children out of a van parked near the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, a large flea market. "I was happy when the police came," Marilise recollects. "They told us: Everybody out of the van.' And then they put handcuffs on me. They said, You're going to jail for kidnapping.' I said, Who? I've been kidnapped since yesterday.'"
It had begun more than 48 hours earlier at Ledice's house. Marilise was there; she says she had been summoned to look after the kids. A series of visitors dropped by, first two men, then another two men. There were discussions in Ledice's bedroom, Marilise remembers, and comings and goings and phone calls and beepings. It came down to one moment, midafternoon, when one of the visitors ripped open a black purse with a knife. "He stuck the knife inside," Marilise reports, "and he said, Oh no, bitch, you're shorting me. Bitch, you give me dirt for drugs.'
"Emite was really scared, and she said, No, it's not my fault.' And they say, Where's my money? Give me my money,' and she say, The other men took the money and left.' And one of them said, I'm not going to leave if you don't give me $15,000.' She calls the other two who already left. I think they didn't answer, so [the two men at the house, brothers Ignace and Inestin Petit-Homme] they tell her to go get [the money]."
Ledice drove off, ostensibly to find the $15,000, leaving the Petit-Homme brothers, Marilise, and the children at the house. When Ledice hadn't returned by around five, according to Marilise, the men herded her and the children at gunpoint into a van. Inestin Petit-Homme drove north on I-95, finally stopping at a house Marilise had never seen before. "They made us go inside, and there was no furniture so we had to sit on the floor," she recalls. Marilise began receiving beeps from the day-care center where her daughters were; she was late to pick them up. She says she asked the men to let her go to the day-care center, thinking that would be her ticket to freedom. Instead Inestin went to collect the two girls and deposited them back at the hideout, where there were only potato chips to eat, and everyone slept, or tried to sleep, on the floor.
Meanwhile North Miami police had been called about a "home invasion" at Ledice's address. According to incident reports, Ledice had called her ex-boyfriend on the afternoon of January 22, told him she was in trouble, and hung up. He had driven to her house and found Marilise, the four children, and two unknown men who threatened him with their semiautomatic 9mm pistols. The boyfriend left after learning the children would be kidnapped if $15,000 was not forthcoming. Later some neighbors called 911. The house was empty by the time police arrived, except for a plastic tape-bound package sitting on a sofa. The package was full of "suspected cocaine" which, according to a North Miami incident report, "was not cocaine per field tests indicating that a drug rip may have occurred."
The next day Ledice went to the North Miami police station asking for help finding her children and claiming to have been kidnapped herself and driven aimlessly around Broward the day before. The police beeped Marilise, and when she called back, it was to the cell phone of a man the kidnappers thought was Ledice's friend but who was in fact a Kreyol-speaking North Miami police officer.
North Miami detectives, who by then had enlisted help from the FBI, the Broward Sheriff's Office, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, arranged a ransom drop -- $15,500 in exchange for the children. The kidnappers would meet Ledice's "friend" outside a KFC in a Fort Lauderdale strip center. The brothers again loaded Marilise, and six children this time, into the van. Inestin parked about three blocks from the KFC, and he and Ignace walked to the restaurant.
Unable to convince the brothers to hand over the children before pocketing the money, the "friend" gave the take-down sign five minutes later, and a crowd of officers moved in. Incident reports state Ignace drew his gun and was killed in an ensuing shootout. Waiting in the van, Marilise remembers hearing a helicopter overhead and then a burst of gunshots. Inestin led officers to the van, where the children were extricated and Marilise handcuffed.
Marilise and Petit-Homme were tried together before separate juries in Broward Circuit Court in September 1999. Ever since the incident, news coverage had portrayed Emite Ledice as a churchgoing mom betrayed by a friend -- the image presented by police and prosecutors. Marilise's defense attorney, Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, managed to introduce some testimony and evidence supporting a different view of Ledice and her role in the crime. "The jury believed Marilise and not [Ledice]," Thurston says. "Her story about being kidnapped was bullshit. She was out trying to come up with the money for the drugs. Even [Ledice's] children testified that Marilise had been kidnapped, too. She is completely innocent."
"She's guilty as sin," retorts North Miami police Det. Jerome Brown, lead investigator on the case. "Just because you're not convicted doesn't mean you didn't do it." Brown says today he suspected that Ledice was indeed involved in drug trafficking but that the police never came up with enough evidence to press charges. Instead they targeted Marilise; some witnesses interviewed by investigators accused Marilise of plotting the kidnapping as a way to get money from her friend.
The jury acquitted both defendants of the murder charges; Inestin Petit-Homme was found guilty of all the kidnapping charges and received a life sentence. Marilise, declared innocent on all counts, was not free to go back to whatever life she'd had before. Since she is not a U.S. citizen, she was turned over to the INS, which locked her up at Krome to await deportation.
3. The Krome School for Young Ladies
"Are you cheating on your lover and feel it's time to confess? If so, call Jerry!" Marilise isn't watching Jerry Springer today, but she keeps the TV on most of the time, medium-loud. She shows no interest in the private lives of the lowlifes trading insults and punches, but it's safe, controlled contact with the outside world. She says she hasn't made friends with many of her neighbors. She doesn't trust anyone. She doesn't want her address published, because she is certain that would enable any number of people from Haiti to track her down and kill her. "I don't talk to nobody but my TV," Marilise offers, not joking.
She keeps the curtains and blinds closed over the two windows at the front of her apartment. In the dim light the oversize black-vinyl sectional sofa pieces that take up most of the living room loom like the backs of animals herded into a corral. There's a giant stuffed gorilla sitting on one sofa cushion and an even larger stuffed dog standing on the burgundy carpet, facing the front door. The toys, bigger than Marilise's own children, are waiting for the two girls to return, she explains with a hopeful grin. Before the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) will allow her to reclaim the children, she has been required to complete three parenting classes. She is still attending classes, for which her half sister is paying the cost -- $60 each. Nadia is tired of bailing her out but doesn't see any alternative as long as Marilise continues to want for wisdom in her choice of friends and lovers. "If you go right, things go right," Nadia declares. "If you hang out with losers, you're a loser. I've spent all my money, I borrowed money from the bank, to stop her from being deported, to get her out of jail, to try to get her kids back. I'm doing it for her daughters; they've gone through too much."
In a corner of the living room, displayed on an étagère, are several framed photographs of Barbara and Vanessa. The latest portrait, a colorful eight-by-ten with the girls sporting frills and bows against a backdrop of blue sky and powder-puff clouds, was made shortly before Marilise went to jail. Since January 1998 she's seen her daughters twice, most recently this past August at a DCF office in Fort Lauderdale. Taped to the wall just above the étagère is a certificate she received upon graduation from a parenting class. Next to that is a grainy black-and-white snapshot, about three-by-five inches, of Marilise at Krome, in a jail uniform. Her hair is swept up in an elegant coif, and she's bending toward the camera, hands on her hips. She looks amused.
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?'
"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."
Marilise became ill en route to Chicago and was admitted to a hospital in St. Louis after the plane landed for a stopover. "I stayed in St. Louis for one day, where they found a kidney infection. Then they sent me back to Miami, and I was taken to Windmoor [Hospital]."
That was where Marilise re-encountered an INS officer named Ronald (another pseudonym), who had been transferred from Krome to guard the detainees (principally with psychiatric disorders) at the hospital. A few months earlier at the detention center, Marilise had asked Ronald to mail a letter for her. "Afterward he asked me am I going to pay him for doing that," Marilise recounts. "I told him I don't have no money now, but when I get a job I pay. He says, No, I want you to give me some pussy.'"
That was one of the earlier sexual exchanges in what would become a long-running affair. Marilise says Ronald assured her he'd swing her release, and she trusted him. Although the INS had ordered her deported long ago, her immigration attorney had filed a routine motion requesting the service to reconsider its order. If the INS accepted the petition (something immigration attorneys say almost never happens), her case would be reviewed. Marilise told Ronald she was awaiting a decision, and he promised, never offering specifics, to make sure she'd get the review.
"One day early I was sleeping," Marilise goes on, "and [Ronald] came in and snatched the covers off me and started kissing me. He sucked my titty, put his hand inside my underwear, inside my vagina. He took out a condom, and I said I'm not gonna have sex with a condom. If we get caught, I wanted there to be evidence. Then he went out. Next time, on a Saturday, I was in the bathtub naked. Somebody opened the bathroom door. We started kissing and he asked me to have sex. I told him not with a condom."
Apparently a sexual relationship continued, albeit without unprotected sexual intercourse. "Sometimes [Ronald] brought me gum [at Windmoor]," Marilise says. "I wanted some tennis shoes, and he said if I stick with him, he'd bring me tennis shoes." She was feeling more upbeat than she had in months, enjoying the romantic attention and expecting a prompt release. Then the immigration service denied her request to review the deportation order. Edward Stubbs, Krome's officer in charge, decided Marilise continued to be a danger to society. She was crushed. Suddenly she was back to where she started, except she'd given up a lot to get there. "I found out everybody was lying to me," Marilise laments. "After that I was so depressed. The week after I was denied, I started to tell everybody about [the relationship with Ronald]."
She unburdened herself to low-level INS employees, who couldn't really make a difference in her situation, and she tried to tell her story to authorities who could. Around that time, spring 2000, other INS detainees at Krome were beginning to band together and report to attorneys and law enforcers their own experiences of sexual abuse and harassment by other officers. But Marilise didn't know about that. She might as well have been a street-corner mendicant mumbling to herself. Her decision to contact the top authority at Krome, Stubbs, quickly backfired. "When I called his office," Marilise relates, "the man on the phone asked me: Is there an officer with you?' I said yes. He says, Let me talk to him,' so I handed the phone to the officer, and the officer hung up the phone. I asked him: Why did you do that?' And he said, You're not allowed to talk to Stubbs.'"
Immediately after that, Marilise was transferred to a detention facility in South Carolina, where she stayed for two weeks. "They think I'm crazy; I'm complaining to everybody, and nobody is listening to me," Marilise admits. "When I came back from South Carolina, I said I want to talk to the FBI, but I couldn't find anybody to give me a number. Then my deportation officer said they were sending me back to Haiti. That's when I tried to commit suicide."
On a Saturday night in late July, Marilise remembers, she attempted to strangle herself in a snack room with an electrical cord from a microwave oven. An officer stopped her, so she went to the health clinic and tried again with the cord on a blood-pressure machine. That time a nurse grabbed the line from her. The next morning Marilise gulped down 45 pills she had been given for her kidney infection. Her stomach was pumped at Larkin Hospital, and then she was driven back to Windmoor. "There I found out Stubbs was no longer at Krome, so I tried to call whoever had replaced him," Marilise continues. Again, she got nowhere. Finally she called her half sister Nadia, who connected her with a Sun-Sentinel reporter via conference call. In an August 3, 2000, story headlined "Krome Detainee Says She Was Promised Freedom in Exchange for Sex," Jody Benjamin wrote that Marilise "is speaking out now ... because she feels betrayed." The article cites two incidents in which Marilise alleges she "let [the guards] do whatever they want to do because I thought they were going to help me."
The day before the story was published, Carlo Jean-Joseph, Marilise's immigration attorney at the time, wrote to the INS asking for an investigation of his client's allegations. Marilise's case was added to the other sexual-abuse claims made by women at Krome, and eventually FBI and Justice Department investigators did interview her. Her relationship with Ronald wasn't over, though. "Even after [the sex-abuse allegations] were under investigation," Nadia contends, "he was buying my sister a raincoat; my sister be showing me what the guard be giving -- all this jewelry, nice underwear." Marilise insists she rebuffed the officer's advances from the day she realized he'd been lying about his capacity to get her released; she didn't want to offend him too badly, however, out of fear he might harm her. For example, while being transferred from the hospital back to Krome, Marilise asserts, "He put shackles on my wrists and my [ankles], real tight, and they were hurting," she asserts. "I asked him please could you make them looser, and he said no."
It appeared the authorities were beginning to listen to Marilise. But she was still on a fast track for deportation. Less than a month after she went public, she was on her way to the airport. "When they put me in processing [at Krome] to deport me," she recalls, "another girl at Krome heard my story and she said, They can't do that to you. Call Cheryl Little.'" Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), is the high-profile Miami immigration attorney whose office was representing, and still represents, several detainees who had made sexual-abuse charges against Krome officers. Like Marilise, all those detainees had been ordered deported, but Little thus far has been able to keep most of them in the United States under the auspices of a new law that makes aliens who cooperate in criminal investigations eligible for a special visa.
In October 2000 Marilise was released from Krome. The immigration service remains committed to deporting her after the federal investigation is completed. However, her FIAC lawyers are optimistic another new law, the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1998, will come to her rescue: Thousands of Haitian immigrants who have lived in the United States for the past six years or longer now can apply for permanent residency.
Thus for the first time since she boarded that boat captained by the man she calls Pere Lebrun, Marilise is truly free to start putting her life back together. No one, least of all herself, can be sure how much progress she'll make against the formidable obstacles she still faces: no job or skills, three young children, her depression, and her past. Marilise adores her newborn son, but she knows it's too soon for another child. "Get out of jail and get pregnant?" she muses. "That's no life. I want to get a job."
She should have thought of that ten months ago, opines Nadia, whose own daughter is almost as old as Marilise. "She's my sister and I love her," Nadia says with angry affection. "She's a good sister. When she has a dollar it's my dollar; when she has a dime it's my dime. But she's not the same person she used to be. She lose her mind. When she was outside [of jail and detention] she had financial problems. Now she has mental and financial problems. Sometimes I wonder what's going to happen next."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.