cover of book

Scammer's Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica
by Jovan Scott Lewis
University of Minnesota Press, 2020
Cloth: 978-1-5179-0997-0 | Paper: 978-1-5179-0998-7
Library of Congress Classification F1896.N4L49 2020
Dewey Decimal Classification 364.163097292


Tells the story of Jamaican “scammers” who use crime to gain autonomy, opportunity, and repair

There is romance in stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but how does that change when those perceived rich are elderly white North Americans and the poor are young Black Jamaicans? In this innovative ethnography, Jovan Scott Lewis tells the story of Omar, Junior, and Dwayne. Young and poor, they strive to make a living in Montego Bay, where call centers and tourism are the two main industries in the struggling economy. Their experience of grinding poverty and drastically limited opportunity leads them to conclude that scamming is the best means of gaining wealth and advancement. Otherwise, they are doomed to live in “sufferation”—an inescapable poverty that breeds misery, frustration, and vexation. 

In the Jamaican lottery scam run by these men, targets are told they have qualified for a large loan or award if they pay taxes or transfer fees. When the fees are paid, the award never arrives, netting the scammers tens of thousands of U.S. dollars. Through interviews, historical sources, song lyrics, and court testimonies, Lewis examines how these scammers justify their deceit, discovering an ethical narrative that reformulates ideas of crime and transgression and their relationship to race, justice, and debt. 

Scammer’s Yard describes how these young men, seeking to overcome inequality and achieve autonomy, come to view crime as a form of liberation. Their logic raises unsettling questions about a world economy that relegates postcolonial populations to deprivation even while expecting them to follow the rules of capitalism that exacerbate their dispossession. In this groundbreaking account, Lewis asks whether true reparation for the legacy of colonialism is to be found only through radical—even criminal—means.   

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