Ousman was born in Gambia and moved to the United States with his family when he was six years old.
They settled in the Fordham Heights neighborhood of the Bronx, NY. Ousman worked hard to fit in, learning how to speak English without an accent and play basketball.
Living in a heavily-policed area of New York, Ousman had several interactions with the police during his youth.
One encounter, where he was charged for cell phone theft, landed him in Rikers Island — a jail known for its violent and abusive treatment of people.
Ousman served two and a half years on Rikers over the course of several years. When he was a teenager, he spent around 10 months in solitary confinement. He didn’t see sunlight or go outside for five months because no one informed him about his right to do so.
After he was released in 2014, at age 20, Ousman worked towards a fresh start at life. He attended Getting Out and Staying Out, a Rikers reentry program for young adults.
Then, just months after his release, a neighbor in his parents’ apartment building was robbed of her gold chains. The NYPD labeled Ousman as a person of interest because he was on parole, even though he was attending the reentry program at the time of the incident.
The police searched him, but they weren’t able to find any items that tied him to the crime. However, the victim misidentified him in a police lineup, recognizing him as a resident of the building.
Ousman was charged with multiple offenses and tired from being in and out of jail, he took a plea deal for time served.
Five months later, ICE knocked on the door of Ousman’s parents’ apartment in Kingsbridge.
To gain entry, officers lied about their intentions, claiming they were police with a warrant for someone else in the neighborhood.
Ousman was detained on July 31, 2017. A few days later, his girlfriend found out she was pregnant with their first child.
ICE held Ousman in custody for over three years — longer than any other New Yorker.
After an outpouring of support from his community, local advocates, and elected officials, Ousman was unconditionally pardoned by Governor Cuomo in February 2020.
However, ICE refused to let him go, keeping him in detention for seven more months.
Ousman’s legal team submitted a petition with signatures from over 7,000 people supporting the #FreeOusman campaign.
The pressure worked and an immigration judge ordered Ousman released from immigration detention.
Ousman is now home with his family in the Bronx, enjoying time with his daughter and being active in his community.
However, his fight to remain in the United States continues.