By Daisey X. Martinez
JACKSON – I went to a detention center in Louisiana to visit a Mississippian who has been there since Aug. 7th. Honestly, I was hesitant about going inside and thought about backing out. Then, I thought about all of the times that I heard Matthew 25:34-40 growing up and made up my mind to go inside.
While I was waiting for the guards to bring in my potential new friend, I looked around the bare room. There were men in beige-colored uniforms sitting with women and children. I saw many smiles and happy tears, but the sadness of the situation lingered. The young man to my left was making a flower out of candy wrappers for his little sister. When he was finished, he turned around and called to one of his block mates; the young man introduced him to his mother and two sisters. The older man smiled and told the young man’s mother that her son was a good kid.
As I felt tears gathering in my eyes, a man with a curious look on his face approached me. It was the person that God wanted me to visit. I immediately apologized to him in case he had hopes that it would be his wife and daughter sitting at the plastic table and then asked him if it was okay that I had come. He turned down my apology and thanked me instead. Visitors are rare, but when he does get a visitor, it helps him escape from his current reality and he’s thankful for that.
I learned that he loves scary movies, enjoys playing video games (so much that his daughter’s middle name is the name of a character from one of his favorite games), adores playing soccer and that his wife basically rejected him when they first met. We laughed about that last part. He is from the same state in Mexico that my father is from, so we talked about the traditions and foods from that beautiful place. He told me that his daughter just had a birthday and has been asking when he will be coming home. He tells her he is on vacation because the truth would be harder for his young daughter to understand.
I was so happy that this man was starting to open up to me because I was worried about him. He was in the same detention center where just a few weeks before, a prisoner of ICE had committed suicide. I wanted to let him know that there are so many people outside of this place that cared about him and all of the others who are in this situation. I told him that not everyone sees him as a criminal. Some people understand the reasons he had to come into this country. I’m not sure if he believed me.
He told me that he understands that he broke some rules, but has been living a quiet life for the past two decades. He was hard at work when ICE showed up and took him away. He knows of others who would get arrested for a DUI or some other crime and then let go. He doesn’t understand why people who were working were separated from their families.
I wanted to keep talking to him, but time was running low. I looked at him and asked him if I could pray for him right then and there. He nodded and we conversed with God. We then stood up and I asked if I could hug him. My brother in Christ hugged me back and I pray that he knows that God loves him and hasn’t abandoned him. With a promise that I would return, I said goodbye.
I really wish that there wasn’t a language barrier so that we could all hear the struggles and stories of the immigrants in our state. People can argue about the methods used to get here, however, for a brief moment, I wish we could live the words of Matthew 25 “…When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”
(Daisey X. Martinez is the Associate for Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the diocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry. She is part of a network of volunteer drivers who pick up released people from the ICE detention centers and work together to get them home to their families in Mississippi. If you would like more information on how to be a volunteer driver, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.)