A Prisoner in her own Home

Carla Nelson feels like a prisoner in her own home. The single mother's two-bedroom apartment, where she lives with her five children, is just a stone's throw from the Maloney Police Post, but Nelson feels like her life has been taken hostage by a group of drug-users and gamblers who habitually lime in the corridor just outside her door. "When I open my door, I have to cross over them," Nelson said. "They will curse. We'll exchange words. They will tell me I'm not paying rent for in the corridor. They will leave where they living and come right there and do what they have to do." Nelson says she's been complaining to the police "several times a month" since mid-2000, when a group of about "seven or eight" men, most of whom were "in their late twenties," moved from their previous liming spot on the fourth floor of Building Seven to the ground floor, where Nelson lives. Nelson pinned the genesis of the problem on "six people in the building who naturally start it, who condone it, who encourage it. Six people, permanently, that is their life. That is all they know when the day come." "Every time they gamble, they fight. And when they are not gambling, the little children in the building gamble," the 32-year-old woman continued, pointing to her deeper concern. For over three years, Nelson and her three sons-- Kevin, 15, Chris, 14 and Oba, 2--as well as her two daughters, Melisha, 9 and Sharifa, 7, have been subjected daily to the stench of marijuana, the sounds of "wappee," continuous outbursts of profanities and barroom-type brawls and, at times, even threats of physical violence from the thugs who persistently hang out at their doorstep. "I is a woman, you see my children so, I will go all out for them," said a distraught Nelson. "They reach as far as starting to interfere with my children. That is why I know my children and myself is not safe there." Nelson's youngest son, Oba, was already mimicking the vulgar langauge he hears the unwanted elements using continually and that Chris had been involved in physical altercations with the children of the smokers and gamblers who persist in liming right outside her door. As a result of the situtation, Kevin now lives with a family member in Laventille. To compound the situation, the lingering weed smoke presents a health threat to Melisha and Sharifa, both of whom have "traces of asthma," Nelson said, adding that of the building's 250 tenants, she was the only one who habitually lodged complaints at the nearby police post. When persistent phone calls and personal visits to the police station failed to effect any discernible change in her situation, Nelson took her issue straight to the highest authority. Concerned for her five children, Nelson sat down and penned a letter to Prime Minister Patrick Manning. "What is most disheartening to me, a single parent, doing my best to raise my children in a decent, moral and religious manner, is the stark reality that my infant children are becoming versed in the use of obscene language, which assails their ears throughout the entire day and often to early dawn when gambling is rampant," Nelson wrote. It was that letter that opened the door to a private audience with the Prime Minister earlier this year. Nelson seized the opportunity to explain her situation to Manning, indicating that she desperately wanted to move out of the thug-infested building where she now lives, and into a three bedroom apartment in the Port of Spain area, where she will be closer to her extended family. "He (Manning) sent me to the NHA (National Housing Authority)," Nelson recalled, explaining that she left the Prime Minister's office armed with "a special card," signed by Manning, which would ensure a meeting with then acting Minister of Housing Anthony Roberts. "I went into NHA and I tell them they have to get me out of there," Nelson said, shaking her head as if in firm resolution. "I have a choice. Is either I take it and stay, or...I get out by any means necessary."