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Madrush MC: They're still trying to deport me - so I launched a record label

Manchester drum 'n' bass MC twice saved from deportation launches Stand Up Speak Out – a record label giving a voice to the voiceless

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 29th Jan 2020

For most people Friday signifies the start of the weekend. For Manchester’s Owen Haisley, it brings the fear of potentially being deported to Jamaica and separated from his children, his friends and his vocation as a renowned drum ‘n’ bass MC.

Every week, 46-year-old Owen, who’s lived in the UK since he was four years old and hasn’t been back to Jamaica since, packs a bag of clothes to report to an immigration detention centre. He has to keep doing so until his case, ongoing for nearly four years, is resolved. 

Otherwise known as Madrush MC, Owen is a victim of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, whereby people without leave to remain in the UK are denied their basic needs, such as housing and healthcare. For Owen, who did have leave to remain after legally settling in the UK with his mother in 1977, the policy came into effect due to his brief period of incarceration following a domestic incident with his former partner.

Remanded in prison after his twelve month sentence came to an end, he was eventually released on immigration bail – meaning he couldn’t seek employment, claim benefits or even drive – only to be remanded again, for immediate deportation. 

Owen, who’s hosted sets for the likes of Chase & Status, Goldie and DJ Marky, in fact twice came close to being escorted onto a plane to return to a country where he has no family or friends. His plight reached national news when he was named as one of 50 people detained at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, who were told they’d be deported on 6 February 2019.

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“The way they made it seem through the media, calling it the ‘convict flight’, I feared for my life,” Owen recalls when we meet up in a pub in Manchester’s Salford Quays, not far from where he’s now living with family in the suburb of Stretford. 

Indeed, with the deportees initially described by the Home Office as predominantly rapists and murderers, Owen’s fear for his life upon landing in Jamaica was a very real concern, especially as the country has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world.

Others were similarly frightened, with one deportee attempting suicide by hanging, as campaigners and lawyers decried the decision to deport people who’d lived in the UK since they were children as a cruel double punishment.

Owen came to his fellow inmate’s rescue, but the incident left him traumatised: “You hear about people doing things like that, see it on movies, but live, face to face, actually happening, it was a proper shock to the system. And then it happened a second time,” Owen recalls. “A guy was up on the roof and he had slashes in his arms, slashes in his wrists. I just said to the officers, ‘let me go up and speak to him,’ and I said to him, ‘this ain’t going to help.’”

Shaken also by having to break the news of his deportation to his children: “I had to say, ‘daddy’s going away for a long time, I don’t know how long,’” Owen asked for psychological support, but was denied help. “I’m only human and everything started hitting me,” he remembers, whilst describing the rollercoaster of last minute calls to his lawyer, and finally having his removal cancelled, to once again be released on immigration bail in March 2019.

It was during these dark moments that Owen, who’d spent thirteen years helping over 2,000 young people as a youth worker prior to his incarceration, came up with the idea for Stand Up Speak Out, a not-for-profit record label, to give a voice to the voiceless in society. 

“At first, not a lot of people knew I was going through immigration problems, or was going to be deported,” he says. “I didn’t want them to – I was a bit embarrassed. How do you turn around and say to someone, ‘they’re trying to remove me out of the country,’?” But if I didn’t stand up and speak out about what was going on, I wouldn’t be here now,” he asserts.

“So I’m letting others know, and not just those going through immigration issues, but people who go through mental health, addiction and anything people might keep to themselves – you can speak about it. It might not resolve it, but speaking about it helps; it can help get the support that you need.”

The project, which launched in December with the support of Manchester-based music industry adviser Mike Burgess and distribution service Labelworx, has four releases planned so far, with the first, ‘Everyday Bluesy’, a song by Owen himself, produced by longtime friend Diligent Fingers.

As Owen tells it, the label idea was also born out of a personal frustration with not being able to reintegrate back into society and get on with his life after his release from the detention centre.

“Immigration bail is basically something that’s been set up to make people fail and do something bad, do something wrong because they’ve got no choice but to,” Owen says, but tells me that, “music is the only thing the Home Office can’t mess with me about. They can’t stop me writing songs.” 

But what more such a platform could achieve, was made clear to Owen when he experienced firsthand the impact social media can have on raising awareness about situations such as his. A petition started to support his stay garnered over 100,000 signatures, and as a result, his plight was raised in Parliament by MP Lucy Powell.

“When you put something out there and it gets shared and shared and shared, it’s such a powerful thing,” he says, his eyes sparkling with excitement as he describes his hopes for the platform. While initially it will help participants write and produce songs, make videos and distribute their music, Owen wants Stand Up Speak Out to grow into a charity whose work will be continued by his children: “I say to them they have to keep it going, to help others like people have helped daddy.”

Still, with his life on hold as he awaits a decision from the Home Office, who haven’t been in touch since March 2019, Owen says there are times he contemplates caving in: “I’ve been in that process of, ‘yeah, send me back then,’ but then it’s like, ‘no, it’s not just me.’ I’m not just fighting for me, I’m fighting for my children, I’m fighting for my family, I’m fighting for my friends who’ve been here since I was four years old. Why should I just give in?” he says, his voice rising. 

The day of our meeting falls on the morning of the General Election result, and so I ask Owen if he has a message for the new Tory government. “Don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush,” he says. “I think if people make a mistake and they keep repeating it, I get it, but because I made a mistake you’re trying to say that’s how my life is? No. What about all the good things that I’ve done?”

Despite the fact he can’t resume his job as a youth worker, Owen wants those deciding his fate to know he continues making a positive impact with Stand Up Speak Out. Most of all though, he hopes for a return to normality: “Not to have to get up every morning worrying about going to a reporting centre every Friday; to be able to get on with my life – that’s all I want,” he says.

For more info on Stand Up Speak Out click here.

Words: Kamila Rymajdo