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Ivan comes home!

- Michael Sloley

Cislyn Graham embraces her long-lost brother, Ivan Nettleford, who was erroneously called "Ivan Barrows" while in prison for 29 years.

Klao Bell, Saff Reporter

AFTER 29 years of an agonising life in prison, and one year on the street and in an under-funded non-governmental organisation, Ivan Nettleford, known to the world as "Ivan Barrows," has been reunited with his family.

The latest curve in the long road that has been Ivan's life, began on Easter Sunday when Cislyn Graham, his younger sister saw his picture in an article that appeared in The Sunday Gleaner.

"We were at home and my mother looked at the picture and just start to cry, when I asked why - she pointed to the picture and said it was her brother," said nephew Hubert Graham.

It wasn't the first time Mr. Graham had seen the picture of his uncle in the papers.

"I read about this man all the time but didn't know he was my uncle because they used the name Barrows. I wouldn't have remembered what he looked like because I was around eight years old when he went to jail," Mr. Graham said. Mrs. Graham had not seen the photos in the paper previously.

Mr. Graham located Nancy Anderson, who was quoted in the article. Ms. Anderson, secretary of the Independent Jamaica Council of Human Rights (IJCHR) has been representing Mr. Nettleford.

"I had more or less given up hope of finding family, we had tried, probation officers had tried and when time passed we thought we wouldn't find anyone," Ms. Anderson said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Graham, his brother Martin Graham, sister Beverley White and their mother journeyed to May Pen where Mr. Nettleford was being housed at the Clarendon Association for Street People (CLASP).

"When Ivan saw his family for the first time last week Wednesday it took about 45 minutes before he warmed up to them. But when he did it was amazing, all the memories came flooding back," said Rae Wilson CLASP co-ordinator.

A human rights activist who has been working with the ICJR on Mr. Nettleford's case witnessed the first meeting with the family.

"When he realised it was his family, it seemed as if it was too much, he turned his back to the wall and shook his hands and said, my sister, my sister," recounted the activist tearfully.

The Sunday Gleaner team went with the family again on Thursday and Mr. Nettleford walked into the room smiling. He greeted everyone with handshakes and a smile.

This reporter asked him if he had a sister and he said, "Yes."

"What's your sister's name?"

He answered "Mi sister name Cislyn."

"Do you know where she is?"

"Yes she live a Aenon Town... wait, see mi sister deh," he said, laughing and pointing to his sister seated across the table.

Aenon Town is a village in Clarendon where the siblings were raised by different family members after their mother died.

The family had brought him a meal of fried chicken which he devoured gleefully, even though he had just completed a large bowl of porridge. He concentrated on the food, but looked up occasionally to smile, poke fun and answer questions. Because his teeth are all gone, his excited speech was sometimes inaudible but he patiently repeated his statements when asked.

"How do you feel about seeing your family again," this reporter asked, "feel betta," he said smiling. But when his sister asked about his health he said, "mi no feel so strong again."

"Uncle Ivan, yu memba the shorts yu mek fi mi before yu go England," Ms. White asked her uncle who is a skilled tailor. When he smiled in the affirmative she laughed gleefully, the way she might have when she was 12 years old - the last time she saw him.

"Him remember everything, even remember our grandaunt Aunt Lou who died 25 years ago, him ask 'bout her yesterday."

When he heard the name, his right eye sparkled "Sister Lou" he said. He lost vision in the left eye over the past year, another tragedy during his years in prison.

Mr. Nettleford told his family that he was mopping up the floor at "GP", (the Tower Street Adult Correctional facility formerly known as the General Penitentiary), when a chemical substance splashed in his eye.

"Mi bredda, mi bredda," Mrs. Graham sighed intermittently.

"Many evenings when mamma eating her dinner she shake her head and say 'I wonda if mi bredda a eat now," Ms. White said.

Before the family left they each hugged their uncle and promised to visit again soon. Mr. Graham said he would visit at least three times per week until they are able to remove him from CLASP.

"My uncle is a hero, to survive so many years in prison and live when so many others have died. I will do anything for him, I still remember when he used to bring paradise plum and mint ball for us when he used to visit us. He was always kind to us, now it's our turn," the nephew said.

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