Like I mentioned in our January/February update, Adam and I joined friends and drove south towards Lumpkin, Georgia where we visited undocumented immigrants who have been detained at a private prison called the Stewart Center. Our first stop was El Refugio, a hospitality home that provides food and a night’s stay for families who make the long drive to visit a loved one. This is a much needed resource as there are no hotels in the area. We did a brief training, and El Refugio partnered me with the individual I was to visit with.
It was an emotional wearing day (in the good hard way) as I saw how hard this is for families. Once I arrived at Stewart Center and completed the paperwork I waited two hours for my visit. The only item I was allowed to bring into the prison was my identification – no book to read, phone, toys for kids, or food.
My visit with Gabriel (name has been changed) was limited to an hour. We sat across from each other, a glass wall dividing us. As I looked to my right I saw a phone. As seconds lingered by I realized this is how we were to communicate. As I grabbed the phone, Gabriel put his hand up to the glass. This gesture, some may call it instinct or a reaction made me emotional. As human beings, touch is a way we interact and feel connected, loved, and cared for. It pained me to know detainees and families are denied this basic human right.
After our visit I was unsure how to process what I experienced as I was hyper aware of my privilege. As a citizen I don’t live in constant fear of being arrested for living in America. I won’t know what it is like to have my family torn apart unexpectedly in the middle of the night (read about this here), or while walking to work (happened in the Atlanta area). I can hug Adam and interact with him freely without a guard telling me my time is up.
It can be easy for me to feel guilty about my privilege. This was my first reaction while waiting for the prison gate to open so I could leave. Knowing guilt does not come from the Lord, I rejected this thought, and instead chose to give thanks for the freedom I have in this country. I can appreciate my freedom while writing letters to detainees and supporting organizations that advocate for undocumented families. It is not one or the other – it can be both.
Currently I’m figuring out how to best connect with immigration work that is happening in Atlanta. If you know of any organizations that would be great to partner with, let me know. In the meantime, I choose to trust that small acts like writing a letter and extending hospitality can make a difference.
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” – Matthew 25: 34-36