“His wife died while he’s been in prison.” Immigration Detention 2/27/16

Tonight we had a group of 7 volunteers. Me, T. & S. a lovely couple from my church, R. the kind Spanish-speaking pastor, K. -a male seminary student who came with R., and J. and W. a man and woman who both work for non-profits.

We met at the center and introduced ourselves and then I set about figuring out how to organize everyone and arrange our visits with my favorite kindly guard. He knows me by now, and what we need, so everything went pretty smoothly.

J. had arrived before the rest of us and had already put his name in to visit his person. He was called early and returned before the rest of us had been assigned. I hadn’t met J. before, but I could tell he was just a decent kind of guy. Probably in his 50s, broad shoulders, sandy blond hair. He was wearing a sport coat. He walked over to our group. He looked like he was about to cry.

“How was your visit?” I asked.

“Hard.” he said.

He described his visit with a 21 year old young woman from Guatemala. J. was clearly shaken as he told us about the bad situation she’d been in… She didn’t have anyone to help her. He described her as very strong.  He didn’t look well. I stood up and hugged this man I didn’t know. He hugged me back. I held him close for a minute. Sometimes, it’s all you can do.

“Thank you” he said quietly into my hair as I held him tight.

I sat back down and he told us more details as S. and K. were called for their visits over the speaker. After about 30 minutes, K. returned to our little circle. His face looked stricken.

“What happened?” I asked.

K. was in a suit. He was a seminarian in his 50s. A new volunteer.  He had been talking with O., a man also in his 50s from the islands of Turks and Caicos.

O. was an “extra” on my list and I’d assigned him to K. who was also something of an “extra”- a last-minute volunteer. Unbeknownst to me when I was making assignments, K. had actually been to Turks and Caicos, so he was able to talk with O. about that. He explained that O. has been in the United States since he was in high school. Then K’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“His wife died while he’s been in prison.” He said.

The group collectively gasped.

“That’s awful!” I said. Then it got worse.

“Yes. His wife couldn’t handle him being locked up in here and she killed herself.”

A pause.

“Oh my God.” I said, finally. “How long has he been in here??”

“6 months. She was a US citizen. He’s going to be deported. He has three children.”

We all stood there stunned. Taking this in. I didn’t even bother to fight my own tears. K. looked shell shocked.  I stepped across the circle and hugged this man too.

“What will happen to the children?” I asked.

“They are all older; in college.” He said.

“Still.” I said.

“What can I do for him?” He asked.

“You can write to him. We can pray for him. Let me get you the address and his ID #.” I said, thankful for something to do. I left him with our group and walked over to the guard desk to get O.’s number and as I did so, I overheard S. in the visitors area talking to our Nigerian immigrant friend that we’ve visited multiple times, the one with the “me against the world tattoos.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you looking so down…” She was saying.

I stopped what I was doing and popped in behind her to grin at our friend behind the glass. S. handed me the phone. “I can’t believe you’re still in here!” I said. “I hear you’re feeling down.” He nodded. I was basically running on fumes at this point in the day but whatever. I started  dancing, still holding the phone in one hand.  S. got up off her stool and joined me. Two white ladies, doing a perfectly ridiculous jig right in the middle of the detention center. Entirely for his amusement. He started laughing. Really laughing. “Ok. Ok. You can stop now. That was a good laugh.” He was smiling. Shaking his head at us. I spoke to him for another minute before I was called back to the guard desk.

They were bringing our four ladies down. I helped the guard with this task and returned to the group.

K. was still reeling as I walked back over to him with the information to write to O.

“I just lost my brother. So, I could talk to him about that. It was good for me to talk to him too.” In my exhausted and saddened state, all I could do was stare at K..  So much suffering.  “The Holy Spirit moves in amazing  ways,” he said.

No disagreement from me.

We will be back.




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