Florence and Detention Centers

This week at my site placement, the focus of our work was to set up a visit list for the Florence detention centers. There would be 9 of us going, three from Casa Mariposa including myself, four from Derechos Humanos, and two volunteers. I had gone through all the letters from both detention centers in Florence, Service Processing Center (SPC) and Pinal County Jail (PCJ). I had to go through the most recent ones and see if they had requested any visits. A few did, and I made a note of it. I then had to go through old letters, and cross-check them with our new archives to see if they were still in custody. I made a pretty extensive list of the detainees and on Friday I went in early to finalize it with Rachel, my supervisor. There had been a situation with one letter I received this week that I needed to talk over with her, so we were able to discuss the situation and place the detainee on the ordered list accordingly.

Once everyone had arrived, we had a group of 8; one member couldn’t make it, so we had to rearrange some people on the list so everyone could get a visit. On our way there, Kate, Rachel and I were able to finalize the list so that detainees were paired up with someone in our visiting group depending on their situation. Some detainees had been through a lot and needed someone who understood Spanish to visit them. Some people weren’t used to these visits, so we tried pairing them up with someone who was more upbeat. We were able to accomodate everyone’s Spanish-speaking levels.

Once at Florence SPC, we were all able to sign up for visits. I got to visit Javier, who had a very traumatic experience in Mexico. It was sad to go visit especially since his experience still haunted him today. He just needed a listening ear and I was able to be that. I let him talk as much as he wanted; sometimes all they need is to talk it out. I tried to make the conversation a little happier and started asking him where he was from, what he liked doing. He started asking me where I went to school, and that helped steer the conversation to something a little more upbeat. At the end of the visit, he really appreciated me coming there. It’s hard to be detained and not have anyone come and visit, so that’s what we were trying to do. Have the detainees something to look forward to that day, the visit, so their detention experience could be slightly more bearable. It’s not a complete solution, but it’s something to try and uplift their spirits.

We had signed up for another set of visits for later in the afternoon, and then moved on to PCJ. At PCJ we were able to sign up for 8 different visits all at the same time. We then had to go back and do our second round of visits at SPC. Out of our original list for the second round, only three were still in custody at SPC. Starting Monday I will probably have to find out where they are, whether they’ve been released, removed, or transferred. Our second visits were slightly more relaxed. Adan was a little shy, but I was able to get him to talk about what he liked. I asked if he liked to cook, what he missed most from Guatemala, what sport he liked to play, any topic that would get him to talk and, for the moment, forget about his current situation. This conversation was a little more upbeat from my earlier one, but it was still sad. No matter how many times I will do this, I will never get over how sad it is to see them in the detention centers.

Our last round of visits was at PCJ, but these wouldn’t be so personal like in SPC. At SPC, there’s one room where everyone is called and tables set out so the visits are more personal. At PCJ, you have a video screen and a phone and a thirty-minute time limit. I wanted to talk to one personal in particular, Jaime, who had written to us asking for help with some paperwork. I realized I wouldn’t be able to see the paperwork because I was in one room and he was in another. We did talk, however, about how he could send us copies of what he needed help with and we would try and help as much as we could before he had to send the forms in. It seemed he wanted to just talk about those forms and leave, so I tried to get him to stay a little longer. I tried asking him some other questions, but he didn’t seem to eager to continue the conversation. I did reassure him, though, that we would try our best to help him. We couldn’t guarantee anything, but we would try our best to help.

After spending all day doing visitations, I needed some down time. I wanted to go to the Party for a Cause for the two women whose birthday was that day, but I was just too tired. I need some time to reflect on what I had just went through. Going from detention center to detention center, it was emotionally draining. I may not have shown much emotion during the visits, but I think it’s because I know how to separate my feelings. I’ve noticed that when I go to visits, I don’t tear up until maybe when I get home. I don’t try to be so distant, but that’s how I feel when I do the visits. I assume it’s because I try to seem strong to them so they know they have a strong support system. I want to be strong for them. I hope I can remain this strong these next few weeks.

At the end of the day, we ended up at a Sonic. A slush was probably what I needed at the end of the day. Something cold to cool my body and mind. Something to keep me going.

First time at a Sonic. Guess they are real.

First time at a Sonic. Guess they are real.

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One thought on “Florence and Detention Centers

  1. Thank you for this heartfelt posting, offering insight into an activity I have never participated in, but can imagine from work with other types of folks in difficult situations. I appreciate your empathy, combined with desire to “be” whatever is needed, even if it’s just an ear, along with your recognition that any time spent in thoughts more upbeat could make at least a small difference for one individual. Being strong on the outside yet empathetic & moved on the inside is taxing. I hope you take the time to process and share – and of corse to enjoy a sonic slush & other such aides.

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