A lifetime behind bars

published: Sunday | November 20, 2005

Clement Lloyd Beckford, a Jamaican who spent 25 years in a Bahamian prison and who is still in that country trying to get back home.

CLEMENT BECKFORD is a broken man. He is a man without a country; he has no identity.

After 54 years of living, he has nothing to prove that the name by which he calls himself is in fact his.

He spends his days holed up in a mental institution in The Bahamas, a facility that also doubles as a home for elderly people. As he hobbles around on crutches, his tortured thoughts and his past have no trouble keeping up with him.

He has been living at the Sandiland Psychiatric Hospital for one year. Before that, he spent three months at a half-way house, a temporary housing facility for poor people with nowhere else to live.


But conditions at the mental hospital are much better than what he endured for 25 years at Fox Hill, a prison in The Bahamas.

That is the opinion of Dr. James Shearer, brother of the late Hugh Shearer, former prime minister of Jamaica. Dr. Shearer lives in The Bahamas and has been involved in a Christian ministry at the prison for 25 years. He helped to get Clement released from prison last year.

When he was 27 years old, Clement was convicted of manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend. In 1980, he was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the crime.

However, Clement stayed in prison for 25 years, 11 years more than he should have.

A bizarre set of circumstances caused Clement to be returned to prison after he had been released in December 1989 after completing his sentence.

Born in Hanover, he had left Jamaica in 1971 to go to The Bahamas, but when authorities attempted to deport him to Jamaica after he served his sentence, he had no documents to prove to immigration officials at the airport that he was Jamaican.


In a letter dated July 15, 1979, which he wrote to his mother, who lived in Claudwell, Hanover, he confessed that he had destroyed his Jamaican passport.

"I destroyed my passport, which was expired in March 1975, about four months ago ..."

In the letter, he begged his mother to send him a passport or a birth certificate so he could prove to the police that he was Jamaican. He had also been charged with the murder of two other women.

In jail, surrounded by strangers, and facing a triple murder charge and the possibility of a long prison term, Clement reached out across the Caribbean sea to his family in Jamaica, whom he had not seen or spoken to in many years.

The letter, written so many years ago by a man who cared enough to inquire about his grandmother and brothers and sisters, held a tinge of remorse and stopped short of begging for understanding and forgiveness for the crime he had confessed to police that he had committed.

"... Mother, I am in the most serious trouble anyone in life could ask for. The kind of trouble is the murdering of my girlfriend and giving my name as Backford and not Beckford. Mother, I don't see through the word jealousy, but it had taken full control of me at that time ..." Much more: http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/glean...ead/lead7.html