by Chris Nelson; sketch by Erickson Martinez, who was deported to Colombia earlier this year.
As a nurse I know that anecdotal information does not make a truth. I'm so struck by the similarities among the three men I have met at the Yuba County Jail I just want to relate the information because I see truth emerging through the presence of three wonderful cast-away humans that I am proud to have met.
Previously I met a young man from Kenya who faces deportation. As a child he came to the US with his mother to escape from severe unrelenting domestic violence. Another man in his 40s is facing deportation to Vietnam. He had both parents but grew up in a poor neighborhood and was bullied for being different in the schools just like the man from Kenya and the man I met today. This man has a kind face, wears glasses and has a neat graying hairstyle.
He is in his early 50s and his story is intense. His mom left him with his aunt in San Salvador when he was three. He grew up with no rules, pretty much neglected. She took her older children and he only was brought to the US at 10 after being raped by a caregiver, an experience which causes him constant reflection and agony. When he got back in the care of his mother he had a lot of anger and never forgave her for abandoning him, until these long years of reflection.
All three men pushed past their immigrant parents for material things, got into gangs, drugs and crime and all three served long sentences and should have been able to return to build their curtailed lives after paying their debts to society. However, having come to the country as immigrants or illegally, they are now in the pipeline for deportation. What struck me is that each of them have internalized how bad they are (which they are not,) not just for their crimes but for how they had treated their parents.
The mother of the man I met today died in 2014 while he was incarcerated. He never saw her during her illness, nor for her funeral and he aches just to know where she is buried. He yearns to visit her grave and is completely filled with remorse.. so much so that he is in and out of the infirmary for cutting on himself. He does not sleep unless medicated and when he speaks about this pain his face draws in so much he barely looks alive. He can't forgive himself.
All three men have some glimmers of hope and are terrified about both parole and being sent back to a country they do not know and where no one knows them. My new friend today is even more frightened because he is gay and believes he will be killed once someone sees his tattoos or his identity becomes clear. He is going to apply for asylum but has nothing beyond dread and certainty which will not probably help him with the law. His home country is indeed dangerous for him by any reading of the news.
I met all three of these men at the Yuba County Jail through Faithful Friends which organizes and assigns hour long visits for detainees. The man I met with today, who so needs human care, had not had a visitor for a month.
I told him it was good that he has taken responsibility for the crimes he committed but also to look for forgiveness for that child in him... I reminded him what Dr. King said, that poverty is the worst form of violence and told him that his school should have done more to protect him against bullying and to have helped save him from the streets. I believe society failed these three struggling men and indirectly caused whatever havoc they wrecked as teens and young adults... that developmentally they were doing what their environment set them up for... which in the end have been lives of incarceration and fear which they in no way deserved.
Chris Nelson volunteers with Faithful Friends/Amigos Fieles, the Sacramento area visitation group and member organization of Freedom for Immigrants. Faithful Friends visits at the Yuba County Jail in Marysville where detained immigrants are held in punitive conditions, which led to three hunger strikes in the past year. Chris, R.N. Women's Health Care Nurse Practitioner, is the initiator of the Peace and Justice Program at the start of the first Gulf War, is a peace activist and environmentalist. and volunteers as a broadcaster with KZFR Community Radio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.