An American asylee in the COVID 19 era

Writing someone else’s story is a privilege. Writing an asylum seeker’s story during Caronavirus is an honor.

Not many people know that on any given day there are up to 34,000 immigrants in detention facilities across the U.S. Up to 1,000 immigrants are held in detention facilities in Orange County, California alone. I know, because I was one of them.

I spent a year and two weeks inside immigration detention to be exact. I was released in 2017. I came to the US due to extreme domestic violence I experienced in my small island. I came to the U.S. in hope of freedom and a peaceful life. My experience inside immigration detention was one of the most rewarding times of my life. This may sound crazy since I was in jail, but I was able to find ways to find joy and satisfaction through serving others behind bars. I started by teaching basic English classes to small groups of women who never attended school. I sought further opportunities to serve, and that is when I started a new dream. A dream of a life that was no longer about me, but about helping others who desperately needed someone because they did not have anybody.

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My 379th night in jail was the hardest night. It was the last time we would make fun of each other, talk about our families, friends or nothing at all before returning to the block. It was my final night. I began realizing how much I would miss this place. Here, I met courageous women. Each endured great pain and hardship to earn a better future. It was the last time I would hear “goodnight” in so many different languages. I was so blessed to know these amazing women who together mustered bits of joy in our fight for freedom.

The next morning felt like every other morning until I remembered it was my last day. With every feeling on the emotional spectrum, I waited for deputies to call for my last count time. I would change into my bright green jail-issued suit, fix my bed, and stand for inspection. My messy hair made the deputy giggle as she passed.

I walked on clouds the whole day. Was tonight going to happen? Would I never sleep in my block again? Would I never be surrounded by these 50 sisters again? Deputies asked what I would do once out. I had no clue, I’d been here for so long I stopped thinking about leaving.

After dinner, friends asked me to dance one last time. The yard was closed, and dancing inside the facility was against the rules. Since it was my last night, I asked for special permission, and it was granted. I danced one last hula.

As I moved, I watched their eyes. Some smiled, others cried. My heart broke with each step. It was the saddest dance I ever danced. Everyone clapped at the conclusion. I made my way around the room to say goodbye to each one of my asylum sisters. When finished, deputies called my number for release. My friends walked me to the door.

One buzz, one click, one turn. I walked through the armored gate, looking back until I couldn't any longer.

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I wanted to create a letter writing service because it’s hard inside. To have at least one person on the outside willing to encourage you means the world. Receiving letters always made my days better. Someone knew I existed and took the time to write to me. Just a half-page brought a smile to my face. It made me sad to see many women never receive anything. ​Remembering the women who did not receive anything is why I created www.dearyous.com. I wanted to provide the opportunity for people to write to immigration detainees. It would mean the world to them to know that there are people out there willing to offer support. It would mean the world to me if you could tell others about my initiative and anyone else you feel may benefit from my letter writing service. With great gratitude, thank you!

Climate activist, author, and visiting professor at the University of Cincinnati mike-roman.com