Karla H. Edwards | March: Tales from the Detention Center

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Detention center visit, March, 2019:

I met first with Emily (not her real name) from Jamaica. We had a spirited conversation – Emily is very knowledgeable about the detention system and the steps necessary to obtain a hearing, the cost of a bond, and the good and bad of dealing with an attorney. She mentioned, and then stressed, that the facility was not built to house people for long periods of time (the woman I met with in my first visit had been detained for five years). There are no areas where a detainee can enter and close the door to have a little time alone and experience privacy. No classes. Limited time outdoors. There are roughly 90 women in one dorm; they are not permitted to meet in groups. 

My second visit was with Jane from Honduras. She spoke no English at all so my meeting with her was painful since my Spanish is limited, to say the least. She was crying and I was crying. However, my very few words of Spanish were helpful and I do feel that we connected. (We are permitted to hug a detainee, if they are agreeable.) Later in the waiting room, a man who spoke Spanish told me he had really wanted to help me out during my meeting with Jane but he was worried about breaking a rule that could be in effect in the meeting room, about walking from one visitor table to another. I could understand, since there are two armed guards, sitting on a raised area, watching all of us. He did tell me one of the things he overheard: Jane has absolutely no family or friends in the United States. I would guess her age to be around 20 years old — truly a brave woman to have undertaken a trip to the United States. 

Interesting tidbit: There are pictures in the waiting room that show scenes that one might assume pertain to the center. For example, a picture of a library that I’ve been told does not exist. I was told by one of the detainees that they are warned about visitors being “evil” and “only there to gather information to make the center look bad.” The staff is often hostile and it seems to me that they prefer that we never visit. As you probably know from my earlier letters, we have to leave every belonging in a locker so taking notes is impossible. We enter via a metal detector and proceed through two locked doors to the meeting room.

If one would like to mail a book to a prisoner, the prisoner must obtain approval of the book title and it must be sent directly from Amazon or a Barnes & Noble (or similar bookstore) warehouse. The address must include the person’s alien number, their location (which even includes whether they are in the upper or lower bunk bed). After sending an approved book last month, I realized that the book seller had not included the location information and I was talking with the officer at the entrance desk about the error and asking that the book not be returned to the seller, when the mail delivery person arrived with the book! We filled in the location information and the book was to be delivered. I don’t expect to hear back from the recipient, unless she has funds to purchase a sheet of paper, a pen, and a postage stamp.

Karla H. Edwards


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