by Cindy Knoebel
The letter below is from William (Billy), who was recently deported to England after being detained at the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, CA. His letter details his time at Yuba, the lack of hygenic safety protocols, and a hunger strike.
Many of those who are deported find themselves destitute upon arriving in their home country. Despite a last minute scramble by Faithful Friends (the local name for the Freedom for Immigrants' Yuba visitation group) to deliver cash to William at the San Francisco airport before he was deported, William, too, found himself berefit when he landed.
A post-script following the letter by Susan Lange of Faithful Friends talks about the often insurmountable difficulties faced by soon-to-be deported immigrants when they're handed an American check (or even US dollars) before their deportation.
My experience at Yuba was the hardest part of my 5 year sentence. I was taken from Avenal State prison at the end of my sentence by a third party company G4S. They would not tell me where I'm going and they made me throw away all my property. (food & hygiene products, approximately $280). I was told by other inmates that you're allowed to take food & hygiene products from prison to Mesa Verde.
However, due to the virus, I wasn't taken to Mesa Verde. I was taken all the way to Northern California to Yuba County Jail. I was kept shackled the whole time, which was a shock to me, seeing as I had just paid my debt to society. Some of the private contractors at G4S were decent, and some of them were complete assholes, excuse my language.
It wasn't a direct run to Yuba. I was transferred to 3 other facilities on the way to Yuba, and this process took from 6am in the morning until 1am the following morning.
Upon arriving in Yuba County I was booked in fairly quickly. The officer was fair and housed me in isolation for quarantine purposes. I was in a whole block alone with no personal food or hygiene. I was so exhausted I had to sleep. The next day was very strange. I was served 3 meals by the cops which was the only contact I had with anybody. The whole place was empty. I would ask the cops what was going on and none of them would tell me anything. I was able to use the phone and call some friends to send money to my books. I was so hungry and quite confused because I didn't know what was going on.
Anyways, after a few days into my 2 week quarantine they began to bring new people and made my pod the Intake for the jail which made no sense as the virus would be easily spread through conversations at the cell door, the phones and the communal showers. After 2 weeks I began to complain to be moved to another pod because I had cleared the 2 week quarantine mark. That's when I was moved to the same pod as Lawrence.
Lawrence was amazing. He gave me food and hygiene products, he had his girlfriend contact my family, and really gave me all the information that I had been seeking for the last 18 days. From here I was in this pod for the rest of my time. I was able to go to the canteen and do my best to keep mentally focused and try not think of the uncertainties I was facing. I noticed a deterioration of the strict covid protocols while in this pod [by] the cops and everytime we asked ICE for information they were reluctant to give us anything. Anytime the inspectors from the court would be coming the cops would run around making us clean up and get everything ready. Then after the inspection it would go back to the normal laziness. Getting soap was a constant battle and things like paper towels.
Then there was the hunger strike. The cops took all our own personal food and we went 3 days with nothing but I know it was for a good cause.
There was a severe lack of communication by ICE agents and leaving someone with no ability to take cash with them upon being deported is awful. You land in a country after being shackled for 16 hours (which is so embarrassing because they escort you through the airport is shackles), only to be left in an airport with no money, no phone, only the clothes you're wearing. As for me, you helped me out so much by getting that cash to have in the airport. However, due to the virus every currency exchange place was closed so U.S dollars in England mean nothing. I had to walk miles and talk the train conductor into letting me get on the train for free and travel 5 hours to my mother's home.
I will be forever grateful for the hygiene products faithful friends had donated for us in the jail & for the amazing task of getting cash for me from Spain to the SFO office. I really appreciate everything you did for us
William learned about Faithful Friends while in detention there and asked us to help him get cash for his imminent deportation. When people are deported from the Yuba County Jail, they receive a check for any remaining money on their account. An American check for someone without ID or bank account, is useless! Even in Mexico, where the checks can often be cashed, the fees are often half the amount of the check. This means that many people who are deported arrive with nothing. One young man told me that he had to sell his shoes to get a bit of money to help him get a bus ticket.
Friends and family can bring cash to a loved one being deported, but it has to be brought to the Stockton facility (where property is kept), or to San Francisco, on the exact day of their deportation. Many people who are deported from the Yuba County Jail are from southern California. This makes it impossible to get to Stockton in time. Even those who live close, often have work commitments that make a trip to Stockton impossible.
William was being deported to England, so he was going through San Francisco. Our group is in the Sacramento area. As they say, it takes a village. I contacted Freedom for Immigrants who put the word out to find someone in San Francisco who could receive a transfer of money from William’s father, who happened to be in Spain. Crystal stepped forward offering to receive the transfer and bring it to SF on the day William was being deported. I contacted William’s father to give him Crystal’s information. It all went well in spite of all the people involved. Unfortunately, as William notes in his letter, the money did not help in the end, due to the COVID-19 closures that William found when he landed in England.
Something that William talks about is something that I am sure many have experienced connecting with people in immigration detention. William mentions Lawrence, who is from Kenya. People from many countries, many languages, and many cultures all have tremendous solidarity with each other.
William’s experience tells us that people who are deported face unimaginable uncertainty. Our humanity tells us that there must be a better way.
Co-coordinator Faithful Friends at the Yuba County Jail, Marysville, California