by Steve Babb, written for the men in Stewart Detention Center during the COVID-19 pandemic
When you have read this letter, wash your hands
Lest you’re infected by this contraband
Of smuggled tidings from a bitter man.
When you have read this letter, burn this page
Let flame consume my words of hopeless rage
As we’re consumed by fever in this cage.
When you have read this letter, picture me:
A haunted shade is all there’s left to see
Of the ebullient soul I used to be.
When you receive this, I may well be dead,
Confined to segregation, or to bed,
Each day more distant from the life I led.
When you have read this letter, speak the names
Of all the men here, rounded up, detained,
In quarantine, at risk, and not to blame.
When you have read this letter, say a prayer
Lest we who’re locked up in the lion’s lair
Without a key, should give way to despair.
When you have read this letter, wash your hands,
But not of us; you have to understand:
Our deaths weren’t natural; you can’t forget
What happened here; tell mother I regret
That I was so naïve and desperate
As to place faith in such a faithless land.
Steve Babb is a volunteer at El Refugio, a ministry of hospitality and visitation serving immigrants at Stewart Detention Center and their families and friends.