Neatly lined on a wooden shelf near the front door to the squatter house of convicted purse thief Michelle Cudjoe are several pairs of school shoes belonging to her two children.
Leaning against a post of the single-room house surrounded by a wall of bush are the children’s bicycles, and a stroller used by Cudjoe’s third child, a one-year-old.
None of these things the children will need anytime soon.
When their mother was arrested last Saturday, the children were taken away by an elderly relative to another part of Trinidad.
Cudjoe, a single mother, went to court on Monday and was sentenced to seven months in jail.
At Friendship Village, near Ste Madeleine where Cudjoe lived, neighbours said yesterday they were confused and angry that Cudjoe, at the age of 24, and as a first-time offender, could be sent away to jail despite her courtroom appeal for mercy.
Cudjoe, together with an alleged accomplice, had grabbed a woman’s purse out of a PH taxi taking her home last Saturday night, and ran off.
Police solved the crime that very night and when Cudjoe was held by police, she apologised and gave up the stolen bag containing a cell phone and some documents.
Cudjoe had no lawyer when she pleaded guilty before San Fernando senior magistrate Indra Ramoo-Haynes on Monday.
“At the time of the incident, I was in a desperate situation. My kids had nothing to eat...I was going to try to get some money borrowed from a friend,” she said.
Cudjoe asked Ramoo-Haynes for mercy and said she had asked the arresting officer to send her apology to the victim.
Ramoo-Haynes said having considered the guilty plea and that Cudjoe was a first-time offender, a seven-month jail term was appropriate, since the victim would have felt violated and afraid.
Much of what Cudjoe said in court was corroborated by people who know her.
They said she had no job and lived off State grants, enough to feed the children and send the older two to school.
A sister of Cudjoe said, “I don’t know why she did it. She probably didn’t have money. And I know she couldn’t pay for a lawyer. But I do know she is a real good mother. The day before she was arrested, she spent the night in the hospital with her big daughter who has bad asthma.”
The sister added, “She made sure her children were getting education. The big one, six years old, was in primary school.
“The younger boy (four years old) is in kindergarten. Both have to drop out now.”
Cudjoe’s aunt said, “Whatever she did wrong she has to pay, but she was devoted to her children. Why did they have to send her to jail one time?
“The court people should have found out if she was talking the truth. These children love their mother. The smallest one is just a baby. They can’t do without her. Is them who will suffer now.”
Neighbours said Cudjoe kept her home clean, and did not work because it would mean not being able to keep an eye on her children, whose father is not involved in their lives.
Cudjoe’s father, a skilled worker employed on another island, had planned to pay the fine imposed on Cudjoe. Instead, she was sent to prison.
A criminal defence attorney said Cudjoe has 14 days in which to appeal her sentence, and it would cost about $10,000 in legal fees to mount a defence against conviction.