Tonight, I made the drive back to the detention center again. It’s been a while since I made the trek. My own personal life had made visits almost impossible but things have cleared up a bit. It was raining and the traffic was terrible but I finally made it around 7.
As usual, the lobby and visitors area was full of families and kids. The first person I tried to see, “wasn’t there” anymore. That usually means the person has been deported. So, I decided to pick another person on our list, “E” from Cameroon, Africa.
I missed it when they called his name. But I found him about 5 min later. He was at the very last station in the visitation corridor and slouched against the wall. On the way to the back, I passed a dad cradling a baby, many young women, and a pair of teen boys talking to men through the glass partitions. The end station didn’t have a chair so I found myself standing- looking down at “E”. He had dreadlocks, full sleeve tattoos, deep brown eyes, and looked grumpy. He brightened up when he saw me but was clearly suspicious/curious. “Who are you??” He asked first. You’d never know English wasn’t his first language. I told him I was a volunteer & just there to visit. I told him I was from Kansas. He said I was the first person he’d ever met from Kansas.
He was still a little guarded so I told him a bad joke (what do you call cheese that isn’t yours? Nacho cheese!) and he told me a dumb joke too. “E” relaxed a little and insisted that I pull up a chair. We ended up chatting for about an hour.
I learned that he’d been in this detention center about 18 months after 4 years in prison. They are trying to deport him but he’s sure his asylum status will be upheld and that he’ll get a green card. He’s hoping to get out on Wednesday. I learned that his father had been a politician in Cameroon and was killed in 1997. “E” would have been 7 at the time. He was the youngest of 7 children. 5 boys and 2 girls. The two sisters were making their way as a nurse and a teacher. Another brother was in prison. “E” hopes to get out and go to California and get into music. He lamented how he is “not involved” in life when he’s in the center. He can’t wait to be involved again. “There’s so many good kids in here. They have a lot to offer and they can’t.”
“E” is incredibly bright, politically savvy, and was easy to talk to once he warmed up. I asked about his tattoos. I was honestly a little surprised when he showed me and explained his delicate tattoos of Winnie Mandela, Haile Selassie, Martin Thembisile Hani, and other African political activists. There were tattoos of Mother Mary and a broken chain link near his hand. Every single spot of ink had a specific meaning.
He told me that other people had come to visit him but he was always in a mood and just got up and walked away. But not you, he said. He was convinced we met for a reason.
I really enjoyed talking with him. We talked about the food, the quotas, racism, the privatization of the prison industry- “we are just a commodity once we are in here,” he said. He was pretty impressive for a 28 year old!
“There’s some guys who need to be in here.” He said. “But not me. I’ve got a lot of things to do once I get out of here.”
I don’t doubt it. I promised to pray for him and wished him blessings along the journey of his life.
When I dropped my locker key off with the friendly Nigerian guard, I asked him if he had a good Thanksgiving. He made a face. “Every day is Thanksgiving. You people eat turkey one day and make a big deal out of it. Every morning I wake up, I give thanks to God.” He looked at me intently. “Do you ever think about that?”
Yes. But I should think about that every day too.
I’ll be back.