Creativity Behind Bars

Working in social justice, particularly working with immigration detainees, is like a teeter totter.

You would talk to a detainee who completely drained your reserves,

And an hour later you chat with another one who refilled your tanks.

The immigration court system would frustrate you to the point of an angry outburst,

And a detainee’s resilience would leave you in awe.

One detainee could break your heart,

Then another would piece it back together by sending you their art.

I will include a few art pieces I received, I won’t go too deeply into the stories behind the artists but I will give a short introduction so you can appreciate their art.

Yesenia was from Mexico and has Down Syndrome, I will include a copy of a note from her so you get a peek at the Artist.

We exchanged messages every morning through an email like system they have at her detention center and she always started with the time of day because, as she said, “One of the ladies gave me a watch with numbers when she left because she knew I can’t read the clock on the wall, so now I know what time it is without always having to ask somebody, so that’s pretty cool.” The last thing I tell her in each message is, “I’m proud of you.” The first time I said that she responded, “Geeeeeezz Mr. Bob, nobody ever said they were proud of me before! Thanks!!!!:)”

Yesenia

Yesenia apparently got a T Visa as a victim of trafficking and was released from detention and dumped on the street with no support, God only knows what happened to her.

Her message:

Her art, baby shoes, were made from candy wrappers given to her by other detainees because she had no money to buy snacks herself.

Lajan

Lajan was born in Iraq and her birthday was on Tuesday. She has spent two Christmases in detention.  She requested asylum because her father has threatened to kill her when she is deported to Iraq because she has adopted western ways and converted to Christianity.  There was testimony at her hearing that Lajan’s father helped his brother kill her cousin in an honor killing.

As an introduction, here is a letter she wrote to me.

If you would like to write to her she loves getting mail.

Lajan Kashkha

A076199225

South Louisiana ICE Processing

3843 Stagg Ave

Basile, LA 70515

This is a video Lajan and I made and for Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, one of the good guys who worked at ICE.  Andrew and his team came up with a program to allow detainees to do video visits with family and friends using a tablet.  Once Lajan and I started using it, it occurred to me that Andrew had probably never seen it in action, so we sent him this.

And in better days, we have Lajan in what she calls her claim to fame, she is the waitress in this commercial.

Lajan makes bracelets by tearing trash bags into thin strips which she stretches and then weaving the strips together.

And she sent a Bible carved from a bar of soap.

Over the years we have collected many pieces of art as other detainees would send greetings to the intern who helped them.

And finally, this:

When Lajan sent me the soap Bible, she was preparing to spend her second Christmas behind bars, so I played this John Prine song for her.  I hope it doesn’t become a Christmas tradition, I hope she doesn’t have to spend a third Christmas behind bars, but I also hope she isn’t deported. Like I said, social justice work is like a teeter totter.

Christmas in Prison – two stanzas really stand out to me

It was Christmas in prison
And the food was real good
We had turkey and pistols
Carved out of wood
And I dream of her always
Even when I don’t dream
Her name’s on my tongue
And her blood’s in my stream

. . .

The search light in the big yard
Swings round with the gun
And spotlights the snowflakes
Like the dust in the sun
It’s Christmas in prison
There’ll be music tonight
I’ll probably get homesick
I love you
Goodnight

The whole song if you want to sing along

It was Christmas in prison
And the food was real good
We had turkey and pistols
Carved out of wood
And I dream of her always
Even when I don’t dream
Her name’s on my tongue
And her blood’s in my stream

Wait awhile eternity
Old mother nature’s got nothing on me
Come to me
Run to me
Come to me, now
We’re rolling
My sweetheart
We’re flowing
By God

She reminds me of a chess game
With someone I admire
Or a picnic in the rain
After a prairie fire
Her heart is as big
As this whole goddamn jail
And she’s sweeter than saccharine
At a drug store sale

Wait awhile eternity
Old mother nature’s got nothing on me
Come to me
Run to me
Come to me, now
We’re rolling
My sweetheart
We’re flowing
By God

The search light in the big yard
Swings round with the gun
And spotlights the snowflakes
Like the dust in the sun
It’s Christmas in prison
There’ll be music tonight
I’ll probably get homesick
I love you
Goodnight

Wait awhile eternity
Old mother nature’s got nothing on me
Come to me
Run to me
Come to me, now
We’re rolling
My sweetheart
We’re flowing
By God

Source: LyricFind

Published by Robert Lang

Social Justice lawyer and mentor, nurturing calmness, kindness, and adventure. Just trying to leave something good behind.

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