April 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Detained

By Olivia Kate Cerrone
Published: 2017-01-02

"Striking won't get us nowhere. We been through this before," Jean said.

he prison door opened, soaking the gray cell with bright fluorescence. Jean stiffened against the thin mattress, its coils pressing across his back. Several guards appeared inside. Breath caught between his lungs. He'd be taken now, transported back to Haiti without a parting word to his daughter. His hands reached along the edge of the narrow, steel-framed bed and squeezed. Instead, the guards made for the opposite bunk, and wrestled Imad to his feet. Low, impatient voices accompanied their shuffled movements. Now. Let's Go. A groan surfaced from the metal cot, and Imad followed, escorted between them, in silence. The mechanical door rolled shut, taking with it the outside light.

Jean found Anel in the mess hall the next morning, just before dawn. A quiet, somber tension subdued the neighboring rows of men, as it often did when one among them was deported.

"They fly them out of Newark. In Jersey. Don't even remove the handcuffs to let you eat," Anel said. Hs eyes shone bright and fierce.

"How do you know? You been on them planes?" Jean said.

"I got ears, brother. And I know Imad was still meeting with that lawyer about his case. It ain't right."

Jean nodded. In the few weeks since his arrest by ICE, he'd tried to acclimate himself without complaint to detention center life in the Boston jailhouse, as if that might help his asylum plea. He focused on the chore of breakfast — a cornmeal patty strewn together with dry chunks of peanut butter. Tasteless and stale, it offered just enough protein to start the day. Jean choked down his portion, knowing of the hunger that awaited him later in the evening.

"Imad told me he couldn't get an appointment with the caseworker for weeks. Like she was avoiding him. Maybe she already knew," he said.

Anel scratched at his thick beard and rolled his eyes. "Hell, all she ever says is that she'll look into it. Don't matter what it is. You still waiting on that lawyer, right?"

Jean nodded, his frown deepening. A thick bland taste traveled through his mouth as he chewed. Heat shimmered beneath the lamps of the small serving station nearby. He thought about the yellow notepad that the caseworker brought to their meetings, how she recorded his requests for legal representation before facing the judge — the detained received no jury. Perhaps his messages didn't get forwarded to the right place. Jean longed again for his smartphone, taken from him upon detainment. He'd suffered a withdrawal from the device at first, severed from the outside world and his presence in it.

A pair of guards circled the perimeter of the long cafeteria tables that crowded the sterile grey and crème-brick cafeteria. Sergeant McLaughlin appeared from across the room, enormous in his blue-black uniform with its badge positioned over his chest like an unblinking eye. Jean tensed at the sight of him.

"More of us here than them," Anel said. He nodded at a group of Haitians nearby. Jean seldom sat among those so fresh from the island, as if the twenty-plus years of living in the States had made him more deserving of becoming American. Still, he ached at the sound of French Creole. Years ago, he'd left with his mother from Port-au-Prince. He gazed at the other Haitians, stiff with jealous wonder over the relatives and friends that awaited their forced return.

"Striking won't get us nowhere. We been through this before," Jean said.

He studied Anel's long, bony face lined by age and hustle. Bonds formed fast in detention, and Jean knew much about the man, how he'd worked security jobs until his visa expired. Then he landed himself in the streets. Striking was always on Anel's mind. It was all talk until it wasn't.

"All the power sits in this room," Anel said. His heavy gaze shifted to the guards. "You want anything to happen, you got to get them to notice you first. I been here over a year now, and I know how it all works. We got to do it in a place where our absence will be felt."

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