Comes a time when all illegals must face the journey to an ICE detention centre. The one I was sent to on October 17th 2012, was Irwin County Detention Center which ‘rented’ a few pods to ICE [the DHS immigration enforcement gang].
I arrived around 1.30 am having been told the previous morning to pack up. The Iceman came in a barred security truck, driver and guard which hauled me on the first stage of my journey, to the ICE offices in Atlanta, I spent the day in a cell with an interesting Mexican woman who was doing Federal time, and a number of Hispanic women, wearing a navy uniform, and one Indian girl [Patel, as she was known, later got herself released after virtually starving and finally taking a drastic life-risking leap off a balcony and that’s a whole other story]
Eventually I was handcuffed yet again and shepherded into a transport bus with all the ‘navy’ girls. The back section of the bus was already populated with a bunch of rather desperate looking males in prison orange, Most, of them, I later discovered, had been to Atlanta to see the immigration judge. It was a six hour handcuffed journey along the highway with no rest-break.
When you are a prisoner, you find triumph in the smallest rebellions against authority. During the ride, I managed to slip my handcuffs. I wasn’t going anywhere or planning a break out, but I felt a short sense of freedom, of ‘up yours’ to the authority that had put me here.
October in Georgia, especially as you move into Southern Georgia can be warm. The day they took me it was hot and steamy outside, but inside the bus was A/C cold because the men had been strongly vocal in demanding to turn up the ac. The generously built female deputy, a hillbilly southerner, gave in to their demands. It was freezing and I was glad I’d put on all my sweat stuff, vests etc. That was the only way I could get out all my stuff, by wearing it in layers. When you’ve lost everything including your freedom, what little stuff you can accumulate takes on a disproportionate importance.
Sitting next to me was a Brazilian woman with frizzy greying hair. 20 years younger than me she looked years older. She’d been picked up in the summer wearing a t-shirt and flip flops. Now, being moved to the final destination before deportation, after serving some time in a county jail, as I did, she sat shivering in the van dressed only in the clothes she’d been brought in with.
We ended up in a cell together. I speak minimal Portuguese. She spoke no English. The only person in that particular ‘pod’ who spoke English was a hardened woman who had been in for a year.. and helped me to the minimum. I was in a place where I couldn’t express my feelings..
That first night I lay there in the quiet of ‘count’ feeling total despair. I got out of bed and started cutting myself. I laugh at that. I was such a coward that I only cut my hair.. slicing it with my razor. Yes we were allowed a razor but it had to be accounted for. I started to shave my eyebrows and cut myself accidentally, squawking. My cell mate opened her eyes, saw blood running down my face and started screaming as if I were a madwoman. I don’t blame her.
The officers came and put me in a wheelchair to take me to medical. Once again, perhaps my Englishness and all the fact that I wasna’t ‘just another Mexican’ saved me.[they called the Hispanics Mexicans whether they came from Hondaurus or Venezuala]. I told them that I felt so alone, a stranger in a foreign country and that ALL I wanted was to speak to the only person in the world I truly felt of as family. My man. I managed to convince them that I was not a nutter but had had an episode brought on by isolation. The isolation was about not being able to communicate.
They stopped at the desk in front of the nurses office and let me make the call. That restored my sanity, it saved me.
Sadness was inevitable in the beginning, before I realised that this was not a useful way to ‘do time’ One night I lay in my bunk weeping during count [count takes place twice a day, and we are locked in our cells, the TV is turned off and they let us out 45 mins later. Count was my favorite time of day!] And then I heard angels.
Sweet voices from the cell below echoed up to me’ Miss Sunny we love you’. When count was over Brenda, the young Hispanic girl who had called out to me in that time of despair, appeared in my cell doorway. In her hand was a drawing. It had hearts and butterflies and all over it were written the words ‘Te amo, Miss Sunny’. I was touched beyond measure. I still have it.
Everyone has a story and using my broken Spanish or a translator or signs.. I engaged, experiencing and observing the human interactions..