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Lives in Limbo: A Visit to the Glades County Detention Center

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Mar 11, 2014

Last month I joined immigrant rights partners in Southwest Florida to visit our immigrant neighbors being held at the Glades County Detention Center. We could not bring any cameras inside. All I could do was draw and take notes of what I saw and experienced. When we entered the facility – run by the County Sheriff, who gets federal funding to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a detention center— I found myself smiling to the staff, trying to beam love wherever I went to the county officers, the detention officer, the ICE officials, everyone. The tour of the building still felt abstract- cinderblock walls, fluorescent lights, that really awful processed-food cafeteria grey water smell coming from the kitchen, the glorified sandbox that baked in the Florida sun that provided one hour of outside fresh air for detainees. That sweet, make-nice part of me wanted to believe that this wasn’t so bad.

Then we went up to the control room. Like a Foucaultian nightmare, we saw all the detainees in their “pods.” I turned my head to hide my tears from the ICE and County Officers. Who was I to be up in this room with the freedom to leave at any time when these men and women were trapped in a multi-use space where you ate, slept, used the bathroom and tried to pass the time each day?

Deshawnda Chapparro, Rev Allison Farnum, and Grey Torrico of FL Immigrant Coalition

We were able to sit down with a group of men and listen to their stories and experiences. All of the men were people of color, detained anywhere from 2-4 months. One man corrected us and said, “C’mon, man, we’re not detainees, we are inmates.” The injustice and despair of the men was palpable. All of them were waiting: waiting for a court date; for communication from their lawyers; to discover if their fate would be to be deported to a nation where they never even lived; waiting to be reunited with their spouses and kids. Some came over to the US when they were toddlers. Quite a few were picked up for not coming to a court date as Legal Permanent Residents. They say they never received any notification of the court date. The harassments all men received from county officers each day ranged from having their daily-use cup swiped from them (to replace was $1) to taunting lines like, “Go tell ICE about your human rights!” when detainees would dare complain. Complaints could result in threats of physical harassment. One man said he was living a half-life and that the county officers treated them all like dogs. All the men agreed; they were in limbo.

The officers came into the multi-purpose room where we were talking. After two hours, our time was up. We were supposed to also meet with the women, but for a vague reason the ICE officials told us they did not want to meet with us since we were not legal aid. We wondered what the women might have shared with us. And then, we shook hands with all the detained men and left. I walked out into sunshine and freedom and they walked back into the nightmare of Limbo, waiting.

Set up a tour. Contact your local immigrant ally group. It’s not fun or easy. But it is the right thing to do. The oppression I witnessed is happening in my backyard, a little over an hour from my house. My faith dictates that I shall not ignore it forget it. I am on the side of Love.

In faith,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Allison Farnum
Minister, UU Church of Ft. Myers

In community and denominational life, Allison currently serves on the board of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, an ally organization of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.  Rev. Allison is also co-president of the interfaith congregation-based community organizing group, Lee Interfaith for Empowerment (LIFE).

One Response to “Lives in Limbo: A Visit to the Glades County Detention Center”

  1. Dawn Connelly says:

    I was detained at GCDC in 2011 for one month. I was one of the lucky ones. There are two Pods for female detainees. Most, but not all were women of color. Everyone was afraid and yes, in limbo. It was a very sad and stressful place. Like the men, lots were toddlers when they entered the US. It was confusing because no one knew when they would get out and no one received any answers from ICE. Weekly visits from ICE were a joke. Most women didn’t even bother talking to them. Most women had American children and were unsure as to whether they would see their kids again. I find ICE’s claim that the average stay there is 77 days is false. Lots of the women had been there between 3 and six months. One that I spoke with was there over a year. No one that I spoke with had entered the country illegally. Very few had paid legal representation. What struck me was the absolute uncertainty of their predicament. The only notice one got of their release was that your account was closed – meaning that 24 hours prior to release your commissary money was cut off. Another thing that struck me was that most people had been in the County system for various misdemeanors. All had paid their dues to society and then been turned over to ICE. So in my mind it looked as though ICE just trolled the County Jails. I suppose that’s a viable way to make a quota and fill the jail but it didn’t seem proactive at all. Especially when most people in Glades go through the system at extreme cost to the citizens of Florida and then are released in Florida. Most people there are not deported. It strikes me as ironic. My situation was cut and dried. As a UK citizen (a country I had not been to in over 40 years), I had signed a waver upon entry to the US saying if I overstayed my Visa I would waver legal proceedings and automatically be deported, so once ICE received my passport I was put on a plane out of there. I was in Glades for a month less a day. Oh, I might add that there was a mix-up at Glades and they denied me the money ($300) in my account. I was sent back to a country I didn’t know without a cent, in shorts, in the middle of winter. Nice.

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