June 2006 Note on Our Work
Date: June 27, 2006
Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ
Self-help peer counseling program for Criminal Deportees in Haiti
Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ was founded in 1996 to help Criminal Deportees assimilate into Haiti as productive members of society and to be active players in helping Haiti move forward as a democratic nation building democratic institutions. The premise of AC/CA is that Criminal Deportees already did their time in the US and should be given a chance to turn their lives around with the proper support and resources. AC/CA was founded by Michelle Karshan, an American woman with an extensive background in the U.S. working with people in prison, former prisoners, and their families. Together with a small group of Criminal Deportees and one young adult forced to return to Haiti by his parents, they opened Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ in March 1996. The program revolves primarily around self-help and peer counseling, with outside professionals providing additional resources and training.
At the same time AC/CA recognized the injustices under the U.S.’s 1996 Anti-Terrorist Act which stripped judges of judicial discretion which originally allowed them to evaluate each case individually before deciding whether the person merited deportation.
Orientation, Screening, Counseling, Support System, Job Training and Job Readiness are the core of our program. The core aspect of our program has always been to provide Orientation sessions and materials on Haiti, do individual screening for special needs such as mental or physical illnesses or a history of substance abuse, provide educational and vocational assessments and individual and group counseling, provide resources and referrals, provide regular job training seminars, intervene during detention (when first arriving in Haiti) to advocate for their release, and provide health care, mental health assistance, and food when necessary during their detention. Also, our extensive English library has been an important resource for the participants because a large percent of Criminal Deportees in Haiti cannot speak or read French or read Creole.
We also act as a liaison with the families of the Criminal Deportees, have in the past provided initial housing to Criminal Deportees who have no families in Haiti or the U.S. to provide financial resources to them, have provided hospitality to families visiting their loved ones in Haiti, and have received numerous volunteers from the United States and Canada who provide job training or other training to our participants.
In addition to job training, we have in the past -- with the help of foreign volunteers -- provided extensive training in Alternatives to Violence, human rights advocacy, and peer counseling. These skills are critical to becoming a counselor with AC/CA and to also help each participant learn new behaviors and skills that will help them in their personal and professional lives. The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) training addresses feelings of anger and teaches new ways to interact through listening, role-playing, empathizing, and other exercises. This program, originally created by Quakers at the request of prisoners at Greenhaven prison in New York, has been very successful in prisons in the U.S. and Canada and now is used internationally in prisons and the community. (Ms. Karshan is one of the co-authors of the AVP Basic manual.)
AC/CA has also worked widely with attorneys in the United States who represent persons facing deportation because of a criminal conviction. We provide the attorneys with testimony on conditions of Criminal Deportees in Haiti, particularly where their clients are suffering from serious physical or mental illnesses, or fear discrimination in Haiti.
AC/CA has partnered with several reputable organizations over the past ten years including APAAC (Haitian program for substance abusers), Alternatives to Violence Project (USA and international), Health through Walls (prison health care).
Another critical aspect of our program is community education. We have regularly engaged Haitian society, government agencies, local and international not-for-profits and the local and international press in discussions on the subject of Criminal Deportees in Haiti.
Some of the types of job training we have provided in the past include learning how to teach English, Internet and instant messaging, Web Design and Graphic Art, Word Processing, Alternatives to Violence Training for Trainers, Photography, Computers, Peer Counseling, Human Rights Advocacy, Marketing, and so on. This summer we hope to restart our job training seminars and job readiness classes.
While we have our share of tragic stories of participants involving themselves in crime, or dying from grave illnesses or being murdered or taking to the high seas, many of our participants have gone on to lead successful lives and currently work as teachers, art buyers, translators, photographers, computer technicians, technical consultants, drivers, artists, small business owners, are students in Haiti or in the Dominican Republic, work for international agencies or NGOs. A few, with the intervention of dedicated attorneys, have been able to prove that they are U.S. citizens or wrongfully deported and were returned to the U.S.
Several factors have acted to counter our efforts such as the Government of Haiti’s decision in the late 90s to start incarcerating Criminal Deportees when they arrive in Haiti. While we appreciate the Haitian government’s concern for security, we have observed how detention inadvertently serves to introduce Criminal Deportees to criminal networks and gangs. Extortion and corruption in the judicial and police sectors, who in the past released Criminal Deportees with the promise of future payments, led many Criminal Deportees to commit crimes to make the payoffs or suffer the consequences. Another factor has been the intense discrimination against and fear of Criminal Deportees in Haiti resulting from a disinformation campaign demonizing all Criminal Deportees in an effort to lay the blame for the nation’s complex security problems at their feet. Additionally, the lack of sufficient medical and mental health care and food while incarcerated upon arrival in turn works to destroy people’s health and mental and emotional state, and creates anger and resentment for such treatment. Finally the increasing availability of street drugs over the past 15 years in Haiti is a serious hurdle for Criminal Deportees to steer away from.
After our last job training seminars in July 2004, Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ limited its work to its partnership with Health through Walls focusing primarily on the health care of Criminal Deportees and others in the National Penitentiary. Additionally, AC/CA visited Archaie, where a special prison for Criminal Deportees was opened under the Interim Government. We have provided testimony in numerous cases in the United States and many of those cases had positive outcomes in which the person was not deported to Haiti. We did limited counseling with Criminal Deportees and their families both in Haiti and the US and received communications from some Criminal Deportees who fled Haiti to other countries other than the U.S. over the last two years. Additionally, we have continued to provide information on job training through our website which has links to several sites where people can learn a skill online. Until recently AC/CA had a Coordinator in Haiti and hopes to have another shortly.
More recently, on behalf of Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ, Michelle Karshan has participated in the following:
Guest speaker at Conference on Criminal Deportation at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and addressed the question of the impact of Criminal Deportation on Receiving Countries
National campaign in the U.S. to Stop All Deportations to Haiti
Guest speaker at Conference on Haitian Crisis, U.S. Policy examining U.S. policy towards Haitians in the United States and the Caribbean, including interdiction, refugees, temporary protected status, detention, resettlement, human rights, and asylum. Sponsored by Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, National Council of Churches USA, TransAfrica Forum, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, World Relief and endorsed by several congressional members.
Was interviewed for various radio, television and print media and regularly provides testimony on conditions of Criminal Deportees in Haiti.
AC/CA is an unfunded program and is in great need of financial donations right now as we restart our job training programs, and provide necessary services that require finances to carry out. Unfortunately every single intervention we make costs money. For example, even when we can persuade the authorities to transfer a seriously mentally-ill Criminal Deportee to the State Mental Hospital, it is AC/CA that will have to pay for the evaluation, the medicine, the rubber gloves, the hypodermics, and provide the daily meals! Of course, when they have families in the U..S or in Haiti who are able to provide financial help for their loved one, we look to that source first. But many of the Criminal Deportees are without families, were originally refugees in the U.S. or were born in the Bahamas -- so money is often not available for them, and the burden is left on AC/CA.
Of great concern to us, amongst our many concerns for Criminal Deportees in Haiti, is the care of those Criminal Deportees with histories of serious psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia, persons with HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, or TB, and the creation of an annual visitation program to reunite children in the United States with their deported parent in Haiti in a structured supervised summer-camp-like setting. The great majority of Criminal Deportees (men and women) in Haiti do not have the opportunity to see their children once they are deported, and this is a tragedy for not only the deported person but for their children. The depression, despair, and hopelessness that Criminal Deportees feel when banished for life and apart from their loved ones often causes them to feel detached from their spouses and children. These feelings often lead them to involve themselves in activities that they otherwise may not engage in if they had hope of work and the continued responsibility of parenting.