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Stabroek News

Still 'imprisoned' - Ivan Barrows battling verbal abuse, mental, physical illnesses
published: Sunday | November 20, 2005

But for the taunts of some mean-spirited persons, 80-year-old Ivan 'Alfred' Barrows is a happy man.

Claude Mills, Senior Staff Reporter

THE PERSECUTION of 80-year-old Ivan 'Alfred' Barrows continues, even today, four years after he was released from prison.

People still shout wildly and voice offensive expletives and homosexual jibes when they pass the paw-paw-coloured house in Aenon Town, Clarendon.

"Most people reject him. Is only one side of the family even attempt to look after him, and we are persecuted for it. People pass in vans and shout 'B___man', and when we go to Spaldings, a number of people who know us them drop dem word, and say things like 'dem can gwaan, dem have b___man money fi spend'," Beverley White, Barrows' niece, said.

While the abuse hinges on envy at the $9 million award from the Government, there is a deeper malaise at work here.

"These people just want to be nasty. They think that this sort of illness cannot happen to someone in their family and they are wrong," Ms. White said.


Barrows, who calls himself Ferdi Nettleford, was charged in 1972 for malicious destruction of property for breaking the glass pannelling of a bank in Chapleton, Clarendon.

He was taken to court in May Pen but was deemed unfit to plead and remanded him in custody until he was well enough to plead.

But he was instead sent to the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre and was never brought back to court.

"They abused him in prison; they did bad things to him there," Ms. White said.

Barrows maintains that he was raped by a warder, and his anal cavity was slit with a knife so the waste his body produces constantly leaks out.

"He has to wear pampers every day of his life. He even got syphillis. He also has the occasional asthma attack. He attends a health clinic in Spaldings once every two months, and has an inhaler. He takes pills for the pain in his side, and sometimes he haemorrhages," she said.

Barrows is also visually impaired because while in prison, "someone threw disinfectant in his left eye".


He was released from prison without trial in April 2001 after the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) intervened in the matter. In April 2001, the May Pen Infirmary refused to accept him but eventually his family took him in, and he has been receiving excellent care since then.

In the loving fold of his family, he is the portrait of contentment. His beard has been touched by a white frost.

Dressed in his socks and slippers, a blue shirt, and grey pants, he leans forward and speaks in a garbled run of words, his hands clasped serenely in his lap, but rocking backward and forward, in perpetual motion.

"Each February, we have a birthday for Uncle Ferdie, and we dance, and entertain him," Rochelle, a precocious, talkative teenager and Barrows' grandniece, said.


The family is happy that he is no longer lost in the system.

"I am just glad that he is here. I can't stop thanking the Lord daily for getting him back. He was lost in the system for 29 years. I couldn't enjoy my Sunday dinners knowing that I had a brother who was alive, but whom I had not seen for so long .... It was a murderous thing that they did to my brother, something I can never forget," Cislyn Graham, Barrows' half sister, said.

Barrows was locked up when Cislyn was only 12 years old.

Under Jamaica's legal system, anyone accused of a crime who is deemed mentally ill can be held in jail until they are well enough to stand trial.

In theory, officials are supposed to make periodic evaluations of the prisoner's mental state, but there may be hundreds of others like Barrows ­ people who have apparently slipped through the cracks of a notoriously over-burdened prison system.

'Alfred' and Cislyn's mother died when both were very young, but they formed a close bond.

"We always wanted to be together, I used to cry almost every day. There were many Sunday dinners that I could not enjoy because I would bawl and wonder: 'Where is my brother? Is he all right? What kind of Sunday dinner was he having? You know, that kind of always questioning," she said.

Over 30 years ago, 'Alfred' had returned from England already afflicted with the disease schizophrenia.

He used the money he earned overseas to buy a plot of land and built a house. But the disease began to dig its claws deeper and deeper into his mind, and he would have numerous episodes where he would behave in an unruly manner. It was during one of these episodes that he broke the glass plate of a bank in Chapelton.


But for the verbal jarring by unsympathetic persons, 'Alfred' is a happier man today as a result of the settlement and loving family members.

"My elder brother and I are trustees. We do the withdrawals. We got $9 million from the Government, and we paid the lawyer $150,000," Ms. White said.

The family has used the money to construct additional rooms to the family home, and to pay his medical expenses.

The family periodically paints his room in different colours to make his living experience as pleasant as possible.

"It can happen to anyone of us. Taking care of 'Alfred' has changed our whole outlook on the disease because we know it can happen to anyone of us, anytime, and if you don't have anyone to care for you, dog nyam yu supper. Look at Uncle Ferdie, him simply bruk a bank glass and spend 29 years in prison. How can somebody get lost in the system that way? No bail, no sentence, just detained," Ms. White asked.


Barrows' situation was first made known by a newly-appointed prison psychiatrist, George Leveridge, who examined him in 1998.

After finding him fit to stand trial, Leveridge tried to contact the court that originally placed him in jail. Frustrated by the courts, Leveridge contacted a civil rights group that took up the cause.

Barrows' 28 years in jail is a record in Jamaica for unjust punishment of a non-political nature. Today, he appears to be a portrait of quiet contentment.

"Just happy to be here with my family. They take good care of me, man, read to me, I watch TV. Things okay, man," he said.

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