Outside the Northwest Detention Center—the largest immigration detention center on the West Coast in Tacoma, WA.

Outside the Northwest Detention Center—the largest immigration detention center on the West Coast in Tacoma, WA.

I thought I would start this entry by reposting what I wrote on social media last week—since it was when my first major experience at the detention center was captured at its most visceral:

I've been waiting a few days to share my Tuesday experience at the federal immigration detention center in Tacoma, WA with you all. And here's the thing, everyone: we really have NO FREAKING IDEA what it's like in these detention centers. I have worked in some trauma-impacted communities, but the detention center was another level of trauma I have not yet been exposed to.

First, after getting federal clearance to even set foot in the center, the first thing I noticed was how there was absolutely no windows at all in the entire place. None. After 5-6 hours there, I felt my body naturally yearning for sunlight. Heartbreaking to imagine what it must be like after months and months there.

Also, immediately upon walking in, I noticed detainees wearing bright colored jumpsuits—already insinuating criminalization when many there have absolutely no criminal record. There was also a sign at the entrance denoting that the center was owned by the "GEO Group, Inc."—a company that is making billions on the detention/prison complex system in the US. Sick.

I felt uncomfortable from start to finish. The guards who escorted me and a couple other attorneys into the center were joking around constantly—one of whom asked a colleague of mine: "How can you stand up for these guys?" When she responded that she believed in due process and everyone having access to their basic rights, the guard retorted "yeah, ok, whatever"—and walked away.

When walking down the hallway from where we gave a legal presentation to the smaller rooms with individual client meetings, I saw an absolutely enormous, out of place mural of a bald eagle painted on the side of the wall. When I turned around the corner, I saw a poster with that same bald eagle and underneath it, I kid you not, the word "Freedom" was inscribed underneath it. Pardon my language, but: what. the. f$!@.

While I saw this, a couple guards were escorting us (heavy security), still laughing and joking around. Not too long within the same timeframe, I was told that a "group of 100 had been bussed in" and the center would be on temporary lockdown. When things were "clear," I had walked down a hallway, only to see the majority of those 100—who appeared to be mostly young Latino teenagers faced against the wall in their plain clothes, looking absolutely terrified. They had just arrived to the facility. My heart instantly sank.

I almost started to cry. But I didn't want to let the guards see me. So, I didn't.

I am learning that the detention process is ambiguous at best. A detainee could be locked up in that center for an indefinite period of time. One of the worst things was witnessing a detainee's already crestfallen face become even more so upon the news that the process was well, just that—indefinite. Unknown.

I waited until I left the detention center and was in my car before I had my cry. And the main thing is this, y'all:

The Tacoma center is right in the middle of Tacoma—right under our noses. And we have absolutely NO freaking idea about the unimaginable amount of injustice and despair that goes on behind those walls where *1500* (you read that correctly) detainees are locked up with no sun, no proper due process, and so many of them have absolutely no criminal record.

Is this how we treat each other? We have our own migratory crisis in our own country and after spending time at the detention center, I can't help but feel shame in what essentially is an internment camp. There are many of these facilities throughout America.

And thanks to you all who have consistently reached out to me over the last few months with words of encouragement or support. You have no idea how much your words/actions have uplifted me—you help re-energize me to keep going back. And we all need to go back.

Finally, let's all not forget our hundreds of thousands of friends who are in these detention centers throughout the United States. We cannot let them think that they are forgotten. We need to keep this conversation going—peace.

It's now been exactly a week since this first full immersion into this world and to be honest, I've had a tough time distancing myself from the experiences I've had there. The realization that the immigration detention process is a completely different operative system (read: less/nonexistent enforcement of due process) is something that really stays with you and almost makes you feel guilty for having the ability to go wherever you want in this country at any time. (I know this mode of thinking is not particularly helpful or productive—but I am being fully honest with you that the thought has definitely crossed my mind a number of times.)

In the office as a volunteer attorney—the office is less than a couple miles away from the detention center.

In the office as a volunteer attorney—the office is less than a couple miles away from the detention center.

A few additional thoughts to add now that a handful more days have passed since I wrote the above reflection:

  • Security is very tight in this facility (not surprisingly). I also had the realization that outside of the 3 other attorneys I was with that day, there are a literal small handful of people who have witnessed what is going on within those walls. Knowing that so many people don't have access to witness the detention system is a heavy thought. How can more systemic change happen when so many people aren't aware of these detention centers? To be perfectly honest, I was not entirely aware of the extent of its apparatus until the New York Times article entitled "The Shame of America's Family Detention Camps" came out earlier this year and it was my first real taste of what these detention centers can be like. We need more truth/light cast into this catastrophe urgently.
  • There are hundreds of thousands of detainees held in detention centers throughout the United States. As I mentioned above, we certainly have our own migratory crisis in this country. I think about the number of detainees who have no criminal record who are being held indefinitely in these centers and wonder not only about their lack of rights, but their lack of voice. Who is able to vocalize their opinions and rights when many of these centers are sequestered either in truly the middle of nowhere (as a number of facilities in states like Texas are)—or even in a city like Tacoma, WA where the center itself is actually located within a populated part of town but goes relatively unnoticed? It really makes one think in terms of the bubble we may individually each be living in and the conscious intentionality we each must make in order to see other circles other people may be living in—and how that intersects with our own reality. We have to be more rooted in intentionality to see past our individual worldview.
  • I have been thinking about the history of humanity since millions and millions of years ago. Migration is something that runs deeply in our evolutionary history—it is endemic to who we are as human beings. People have been migrating since the dawn of our very existence. Who are we as people to determine that other people are illegally anywhere? 
  • Families are often separated in detention centers and there has been research documenting the intense psychosocial impact of detention on families and individuals. Not only is detention affecting individuals in real time, but it also involves a high level of longer-term trauma for them personally as well as their families.

I'll certainly be continuing to think about how to further incorporate working with detention centers on this journey. And if any of you: 1) know anyone in media/journalism who may be interested in chatting with me; 2) have friends/family who have been detained at one of these centers; 3) know advocates who also work with immigration detention centers—I'd be super grateful for the intro so I can dig in deeper with this work.

Thanks, as always, for all your support.

PS: Last Wednesday, I hosted a teleclass entitled "Coaching & Social Justice Advocacy" via Coaches for Equality and Diversity. I covered how advocates can use coaching skills to assist marginalized clients through legal processes. I spoke about what coaching skills can help marginalized clients—especially those dealing with oppressive systems. Some topics discussed included: calling out the power, the importance of lateralism in the coaching/client relationship, self-care, and acknowledgment.

You can listen to the recording here—and please feel free to circulate it within your networks!