Thursday, December 17, 2009

O Mary Don't You Weep: 2009 Holy-Day Appeal...and Updates

Last week, I sat in a "segregation cell" (solitary confinement) at the Elizabeth, NJ Detention Center, a minimum security prison. Immigrants without papers, picked up at JFK or off the street, or taken from their families without warning during raids, mark time in cinder-block cells behind bars. They are not criminals. They look like you and me, just replace the suit or the jeans, sweater, and colorful scarf with a standard issue blue jumpsuit. "Everyone is equal here," said our guide, the Homeland Security officer who overseas operations at the prison.

I sat in the segregation cell--the place where women and men are held if they try to steal an extra piece of cake--and I imagined what it would be like to spend the average stay--2 days. I could not. I could not imagine two hours. I looked to my left. On the cot, where the prisoner would lay his head, fingernails or forks had etched evidence of humanity: "Cuba 2007 Habana," "Albania," "Guinea Africa 2003," "Astrit Delaj Bajze," "Cuba 2007."

Across the room, next to the door, was a crude warped mirror. So thin it looked like it was taped to the wall over a simple sink. I stared at my reflection in solitary confinement... then... in front of my face, but hidden from plane view, I looked beyond myself and I found evidence of humanity etched into the mirror.

"It's not finished yet," an nameless immigrant wrote, "Be strong. God love you. You don't believe that this is bad there are things more bad."

Immigrants' Detention, by Lisa Sharon Harper

We passed by the "outdoor recreation facility." It is a cinder-block room with a caged roof. This is the only place the immigrants can breath fresh air and see the color of the sky between the wires of this crude cage.

As we passed by the Property Room, tears filled my eyes. Fully packed suitcases--the kind you see on airport baggage claim conveyor belts--stood upright, lay on their sides, lay face down... abandoned on steel shelves.

As we passed the women, young ladies; white, black, latino, Asian they sat behind glass like fish in a bowl... They looked down, avoiding eye-contact.

As we passed by the exit, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had yesterday's stock price proudly posted on the bulletin board: "20.22." I wept.

The men and women behind detention center walls know something about the season of Advent... they know something about waiting... waiting in darkness... waiting for light...waiting.

The tour was organized by the Interfaith Center of New York and Human Rights First for members of the NY State Interfaith Immigration Reform Network. NY Faith and Justice serves on the Steering Committee of this incredible Network. Get ready for 2010! In February we will join faith leaders across the state and the nation in a massive campaign to reform America's broken immigration system.

We hope you will join us.

In the meantime, don't you weep! Have hope, share faith, give love.

And click on these links or scroll down for practical ways you can be an agent of light in dark days:

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. And don't forget to follow us on
twitter, facebook, the nyfj blog or the nyfj calendar for up to the minute action alerts, program changes, and details.

In Solidarity!

Lisa Sharon Harper
Co-founder and Executive Director
New York Faith & Justice

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