by Meagan Gross
When I decided to recreate my website and online presence, I didn’t think my first public blog would be about visiting a prison. For a minute I considered not posting this on my blog and sticking to posting my experience on social media, at risk of clients seeing, but we’ve gotten to a point in this country where people need to speak up and show up. This means companies. If there are companies that have a problem withwhat I have to say, after visiting an ICE detention facility today, they’ve lost my interest in working with them.
A friend of mine, Wendy, works with Friends of Miami Dade Detainees. She invited myself and our friend Lindsay to join her for a visitation today at the ICE detention center an hour south of us. We met up at 6am, (yes, those who know me are in for a shock here) and drove down.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Wendy had paired us all with different inmates ahead of time. I was given a sheet that said my inmate’s name and country of origin. That’s it. That’s all I knew. We pulled up and were told we were too early and had to come back. (Yes, I know, I was early to something, another shock.)
So we waited outside until 7:30am. We drove up, they took our IDs, and asked us to pop open the trunk. One guard took a black stick with a mirror and wheels on the end of it and wheeled it all around Wendy’s car. I guess they were making sure we didn’t have anyone else with us.
We came in and went through security. Us three white women stood next to a Mexican woman with her young children. We were all here for the same reason, to visit someone on the inside, yet we were treated differently. Multiple times this woman was asked her immigration status. None of us were. She answered “US Citizen” with her head down.
When they called us in Lindsay and I had pens in our hand. (We were told we could write notes if we needed to) the guards didn’t let us in with them and we were instructed to go to a locker and leave the pens there. We went in and all took our seats in the visitation area and waited for our visitation to begin. Our visitors walked out and sat down. There were walls between us and a sheet of glass in between us and our detainees. The detainees arrived, and my assigned detainee sat down in front of me. He seemed very joyful, and excited to meet me. He sat down and our visitations began.
I’ve never visited a prison before, so to see these people, these human beings, come out in their red jumpsuits, was intense at first. His excitement helped to ease my anxiety. We will call him J. I’ll get back to my visit with J but first I want to share what my friend’s experiences were like.
Lindsay had an inmate that had children of similar age to hers. It was an emotional visit, as the man she was visiting told her his story. He came here from Jamaica and had a visa. He thought he did his paperwork correctly until he applied for a job and was arrested shortly after and detained. His children think he’s traveling for work, because he doesn’t want them to see him in these conditions.
Wendy visited a man from Somalia. He has a visa, is married to a US citizen and was detained for a reason unknown to him, shortly after the travel ban was issued and left for 48 hours in a plane with no air conditioning or bathrooms. He has missed the birth of his child while waiting for his court date.
Going back to J, the inmate I was visiting, he was excited because he was an accepted to a program that will allow him to get back on his feet, if ICE decides he can come out. He moved here from Sierra Leone, in Africa, when he was 12 years old and has never been back. Florida is his home. His family moved here to escape a civil war there. He had no say in the matter. I remember moving from Michigan to Florida at the same age, and making it very clear that it was not my decision. (Seriously, ask my dad, I didn’t speak to him for like a year). J is only a year or two older than me. So we talked a little about that. His family was able to get US citizenship, he was not because he had drug charges as a teenager.
J is locked up in this prison, and they are threatening to deport him to Africa because of weed! A continent where he no longer knows anyone, as his family has all migrated to the states, decades ago. I sat there in my privilege for a minute and it all hit me. I myself, had anxiety last night and took an edible to go to sleep. Never in my life have had the fear that something like that would get me locked up in a prison for years with the threat of being sent to an unknown and unsafe country. All because I was born in a different place than him.
I called my mom on the way home, who carried a green card my entire childhood. She got her citizenship and we both voted in our first election together in 2008. She came here from Ireland when she was 7 years old, for a similar reason to J. The “troubles” in Derry were getting worse and my Granny and Papa packed up and came to the states for a better life for their family. Their story is not much different from J’s, the ending is though.
The detention of immigrants in the United States is wrong and inhumane. We need to continue to share these stories of these people, both adults and children, to help Americans to better understand that these are human beings, living similar to you or I, until ICE comes knocking on their door one day to tear their families apart and ruin their lives. This is not okay.
What can you do to help?
The organization I volunteered for today, FOMDD, is always looking for volunteers. If you are local to the Miami area, you can contact them to be approved to visit detainees. You may be the only human from the “outside world” that person gets to speak to in months. It’s very easy, and these people are happy to tell their stories and chat with you.
If you are not local to South FL, you can support this organization financially by sending a donation. The funds are used to provide legal assistance to detainees, put money in their phone banks so they can call their family and attorney, send books for them to read, and in their commissary so they can purchase food and toiletries.