Jamaica has already - literally - lost her mother (she never knew her father), has slept in New York subway tunnels, and now lives in a welfare hospital. Linda Atkins, who volunteers at the hospital, feels especially drawn to the loner Jamaica - "a skinny, tired, raggedy child with red-rimmed, pitch-black eyes that glared out from angry slits" - and begins to take her on outings, at first to neighborhood parks and then for weekend visits at home. There are good times - Linda teaches the determined, enthusiastic ...
Jamaica has already - literally - lost her mother (she never knew her father), has slept in New York subway tunnels, and now lives in a welfare hospital. Linda Atkins, who volunteers at the hospital, feels especially drawn to the loner Jamaica - "a skinny, tired, raggedy child with red-rimmed, pitch-black eyes that glared out from angry slits" - and begins to take her on outings, at first to neighborhood parks and then for weekend visits at home. There are good times - Linda teaches the determined, enthusiastic Jamaica to ride a bike and helps her pick out a Halloween mask - but the bad times threaten to prevail: Jamaica often lies, steals from Linda's house, and has outbursts of violence. "Jamaica and Me", the candid story of Linda Atkins's experiences with a single endangered child in New York City - a story in which she assesses her own actions and motives with as much honesty as she applies to the welfare system - sounds an alarm about the state of children in need all over this country, and it asks us to acknowledge their existence and worth and to respond to their heartbreaking predicaments.
In the mid-1980s, Atkins, a psychoanalyst with two college-aged children, volunteered to work with displaced girls at a New York City hospital. In this involving and deeply moving account, she describes her friendship with Jamaica, an eight-year-old African-American who had been found living in subway tunnels with crack addicts. The child's violent outbursts, lying and stealing alienated her from the staffs at the hospital and the group home to which she was transferred. Finding a buried but receptive spark in Jamaica, Atkins spent considerable time with her, including weekends at the family's beach house. With determination fueled by the conviction that there was no hope for Jamaica at her group home, Atkins placed the girl with a foster mother, who planned to adopt her and take her home to Georgia. The author then lost contact with the girl. Her memoir provides an unsettling commentary on a beleaguered social service system that often fails to help homeless children.
A psychoanalyst who survived polio as a child tries to save one little corner of the world by befriending a troubled black girl.
A tale, told with compassion and affection, of an angry young black girl caught in the child welfare system and the white, middle-class psychoanalyst who became her friend. Jamaica was an eight-year-old refugee from the streets when Atkins first met her at a New York City hospital, where she was living until a home could be found for her. Jamaica had been abandoned by her prostitute mother and sexually abused by one of her mother's johns. Placed in a loving foster home, she had falsely accused her foster mother's boyfriend of sexually abusing her. Jamaica was returned to the hospital, where Atkins found her and formally signed up as Jamaica's Big Sister. Atkins begins her story with a brief overview of her own early life, which included a terrible bout with polio, plus a stint as a child therapist in a residential treatment center similar to the one to which Jamaica was eventually moved. Jamaica was allowed to go on day trips and eventually to spend weekends with Atkins. The girl was defiant, manipulative, a thief, and a liar. Atkins was also disturbed and sometimes embarrassed by Jamaica's overtly sexual behavior almost any time a man was around. Despite all that, Atkins was genuinely fond of the child, admiring her energy, curiosity, and determination. They shared adventures at Coney Island, indulged frequently in Jamaica's favorite meal (Kentucky Fried Chicken), and thrilled together as Jamaica learned to ride a bike, to roller skate, and to compete in a footrace. Atkins was ultimately able to locate Jamaica's previous foster mother, who agreed to take the child back. Once Jamaica moved in with her foster mother, Atkins never saw her again. Disappointed but hopeful, Atkins feels thebrief period when they were friends gave the child "her only shot." Gripping in its simplicity and honesty, a story of a tormented little girl who may have found some solace in the love of a stranger.