IN 2018, 22-year-old Canadian accounting student Sylvie Dzafic (pronounced ja-fic) had everything going for her. She was well on her way to finishing her degree; she had a fulfilling and steady job; and she had a baby on the way making her family which had Polish roots all the more larger and happier.
But everything would change after she came to TT that year.
Dzafic, then five months pregnant, was arrested along with her boyfriend after he was found with illegal narcotics at Piarco Airport.
Now, two years later and 6,000 miles from her ailing mother and two-year-old daughter, the 24-year-old Dzafic is seeking anyone who could help her to get home or survive in TT for a little longer.
Dzafic was doing an associate degree in accounting and payroll management at a community college in Brampton, Canada. While studying, she worked as a customer service representative at a car dealership.
A few months before she left Canada for TT, she found out she was pregnant by her on-again-off-again boyfriend Christopher McLeggon.
He seemed fully invested in their child, and even though he already had a job, she told Newsday he was looking for a second one to support Dzafic during her pregnancy.
She was excited to experience all the things which came with giving birth and being a first-time mother.
McLeggon, who was Jamaican-born but had family in TT, asked her to come to visit his family here. It was an idea that neither she nor her mother, Vesna Dzafic, was comfortable with, but she came anyway.
“I wanted to be in my own environment,” she said. “I was just experiencing being a mother. I was focused on school and work and was just experiencing what it was like to work as a pregnant woman.
"I had responsibilities and I didn’t want to leave them. I was very serious about school. I was always on time and I never missed a day. I was worried about having days deducted from my classes.
"I spoke to my mom about it and she told me not to go. I even told him to go ahead, and I would stay.
"But he didn’t want to leave me alone. He was a stubborn person, and I didn’t want to fight him over it, because I was pregnant. The stress would take away from the experience. So although my mother was saying not to go, I followed him...
"I should have followed my gut. I should have listened to my mother.”
Dzafic and McLeggon flew here in January 2018. Coming from a cold climate, she couldn't bear the heat, so she spent the majority of what was supposed to be just a week here at a hotel in Port of Spain. She only left the hotel room to get fresh air. She said she did not even meet her boyfriend’s parents.
Eventually, she became suspicious after she started asking questions about where McLeggon's family was and what was happening outside the hotel, but wasn't getting answers.
“He kept telling me not to worry about it,” she said. “The more questions I asked, the more upset he got.”
She gave him the benefit of the doubt but that turned out to be a mistake.
On January 24, 2018, they left the hotel and went to the airport. As soon as they got there, two plainclothes police officers approached them.
“They took us into a room and searched the bags.” she said.
The police found about 4.5 kilograms of cocaine in their luggage.
They were both arrested and charged with trafficking in a controlled substance. McLeggon was convicted and sentenced to three years in Golden Grove. He is expected to be released in 2022.
Dzafic’s fate hung in the balance. As she was charged with an indictable offence, and because she could pose a possible flight risk, her passport was seized. Pregnant and with no friends or family, she was remanded to the women’s prison.
“It took a little longer for me to get bail than usual,” she said. “The magistrate said I was a foreigner, so while in remand I would not have to worry about food or a place to sleep.”
Officials from social welfare told her she had limited options. If no one could come and take her child when she was born, the baby would be fostered. She would have to spend years in the system while Dzafic fought the case. Childcare authorities would never allow a baby to be taken to a prison for visits.
Even before the birth, the pregnancy was not what Dzafic had hoped for. There are no baby showers behind bars.
“Pregnancy is supposed to be a beautiful thing. But I didn’t get to experience anything that a pregnant woman would want to while preparing for their child to come.
"I could not even do any activities. I wanted to do yoga or other classes, but because I was pregnant I wasn’t allowed to do anything. They would not even let me participate in sports day. I had to end up walking in a small circle to get exercise.”
She had to force herself to eat because she could barely stomach the food. She ate things she had never heard of before, like ochro and rice.
“I hated it, but people kept telling me it was good food,” she said. “But no matter what, I had to eat, even if it was bread and butter."
It wasn’t recommended, but every prisoner was required to clean their general area while in remand. Besides, it was the only thing that kept her occupied.
She had to call on her mother, Vesna, for help, as she had no one to depend on in TT.
Her boyfriend’s parents, whom she was supposed to meet, still hadn’t contacted her; in fact, throughout the ordeal they would only call a few times to find out about the baby.
Her mother wasn’t in a good financial position, but found the money.
“Putting that kind of burden on my mom didn’t make me feel comfortable at all,” Dzafic said.
“It was a definite, ‘I told you so,’ moment but my mom would never come out and tell me that. She knows me as a person, she knows I would think twice about the situation.”
On the day she was remanded Dzafic met Karen (not her real name), who was also pregnant. They struck up a conversation and became friends. Karen was bailed out, but ended up back in remand about two months later.
When Karen returned, Dzafic still had not gathered the money for her bail. She would need someone to pay it, and possibly use the deed to their family home, as a requirement of the court. But the closest person she knew who could help her in that way was more than 6,000 miles away. Dzafic, seven months pregnant, began worrying about the fate of her child.
Karen offered to put her in contact with a bailiff and a lawyer to post bail. She would visit and bring food, as well as file paperwork for a court date to apply for bail. Dzafic’s mother would send money for the food, and to pay the legal costs, adding extra for gas and other expenses.
But weeks passed and there was no progress with the case.
Dzafic, who is currently out on bail, is grateful for the offers of help she has received from readers so far and does not need any further assistance.
Look out for Part Two of Dzafic's story.