A piece written by one of BID's volunteers Jessye Corcoran Dodds, a recent graduate of BA in Social Anthropology from Queen's University Belfast featured in the April 2018 issue of our e-newsletter.
“I just got off the phone to Peter, his wife has lost the baby.”
When I heard these words, first thing on the Monday morning after my detention centre visit, my heart broke a little bit.
Not anywhere near as much as I imagine Peter’s did, or his wife’s, or their families, but it did.
Miscarriage probably isn’t a particularly rare occurrence in situations such as Peter’s, given the high level of stress that detention places not only on the individual but also their loved ones. It is very bleak, but fair to say Peter’s family are not the first and won’t be the last to experience a tragedy such as this whilst in detention. Volunteering at BID makes you very aware very quickly of the chaos people’s lives are thrown into as a result of being detained.
Despite this, I couldn’t help but be emotionally attached to Peter’s case. I met Peter at Harmondsworth and saw the excitement on his face when he told us that his wife was 3 months pregnant and that this would be his first child. I also watched his face cloud over as he told us they were worried about the baby because his wife was under so much stress. He called her every day but it was hard to comfort her when he had no idea what the future held.
We met many more men that day from all sorts of backgrounds with varying experiences of detention. We met a man who had been detained (whilst reporting) on Tuesday, who was so worried because he didn’t know if there was any way he going to be released in time to make it to his son’s wedding the coming Saturday. We met another who had been on hunger strike for three days because his previous bail application had been refused and he didn’t know why. We met another who told us he’d been in detention for so long, and seen so many men try and hurt themselves in front of him, that he didn’t know how much longer it would be before he started trying to hurt himself too.
I was undoubtedly glad to leave the centre that day. Not because it had been an awful experience; alongside listening to the inmates experiences I also witnessed examples of solidarity and kindness. Men taking the time to translate for their fellow detainees, which often included little jokes that made us all laugh so much it surprised me, but I was glad to leave.
Ever since I left that day, I can't help but think about how awful it must be not knowing. With every man we met, and everyone who we speak to on the advice line, this seems to be the hardest part. Not knowing if you’re going to be released, not knowing when, and for many, not even knowing where to.
This is what I thought about that Monday morning. That Peter wouldn’t know when he was going to be able to comfort his wife, and he wouldn’t know whether he would even be able to live in the same country as her again. Indefinite detention has time and again been shown to cause severe distress and anxiety. It is inhumane to keep someone in a place which feels so much like a prison with no idea when they are going to be able to leave. I hope that the work we do at BID does something to alleviate this sense of not-knowing. I hope that one day we won’t need to do the work that we do, but for now I hope that we are able make such an awful situation feel a little less vast and a little less bleak
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