From one of BID's volunteers Jack Fowler, currently studying for a Graduate Diploma of Law at The University of Law featured in the January issue of our e-newsletter.
Boarding the train at Kings Cross on a rare sunny day in January, we were heading North to Lincolnshire, coffees and overpriced baguettes in hand and (thankfully) not a copy of the Daily Mail in sight.
Lincolnshire can, at its worst, be an intensely bleak place. The sheer, unrelenting flatness of the county has been said to drive people mad. Today, far from the azure blue of London and the south-east, Lincolnshire is slate grey and provides an aptly sombre backdrop for my first detention centre visit.
I was surprised to discover that Morton Hall detention centre is only a 10-minute drive from where my parents have lived for the past 29 years. But in the taxi to Morton Hall you wouldn’t know it. There are no road signs and I had no idea of its exact location before I went there on Thursday last.
Upon arrival, we worked our way through the maze of gates and fences via grunts of thanks to the guards and the showing of various name badges. The level of security seemed…a bit much. This unnecessary level of aggressive security seems aimed at dehumanisation. This must have a profound effect on the detainees. I’ve never been somewhere where I wasn’t allowed to leave. I have never had my liberty restricted in this way and it makes me claustrophobic to even think about it now.
Once inside, I was amazed by the kindness and organisation of the welfare centre staff at Morton Hall. There is here a genuine understanding of the plight of the detainees and an eagerness to help them get bail.
But I was shocked by the number of vulnerable people in detention who need help. In our few hours at the centre, we saw evidence of self-harm, addiction and the physical toll that life in detention can exact. Everyone we met said that they were depressed in some form, if only from the experience of detention itself. Surely no one deserves this.
Many detainees we met understandably cannot comprehend the deliberately complex bail process they are faced with. We met young people who are afraid about whether they are allowed to talk to us at all. EU nationals who just want to go home, but are not being allowed to leave by the Home office. Even people born in Britain having to fight the Home Office for their right to stay.
The hardest part of the visit was watching the anger, frustration and sheer uncertainty that brought grown men to tears. I guess this is a common sight in detention. But there was a palpable feeling of powerlessness - even though we are there to try to help them, the only real hope we can offer them is our own process, which takes time.
Despite this suffering I also saw courage, infinite patience and humour at Morton Hall. But these seemed to be more necessary mechanisms for survival than anything else.
I didn’t need to visit Morton Hall to know that the system of detention in the UK must end. But after visiting what is apparently one of the better detention centres in the country, it is clear that the human costs of this system are too high. The small consolation is knowing that BID’s process works and it can help some of these people in detention. However, it would be better if BID didn’t have to exist at all.
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