I could say that since I graduated High School, or when I was bullied at Jungle Jim’s because I didn’t speak English, or when I had spent the last of my college savings to help my uncle pay for his coyote. For the sake of venting I will say that it was in a jail cell in Batavia, New York.
I had been awake for a while when I heard the echo of the locks from the second floor followed by a buzz of different dialects of Spanish. “Aquí sí nos dejan salir pa’ fuera, primero los de arriba después seguimos nosotros.” My cellmate was explaining the segregation of our unit based on what floor we lived on. He hugged the heavy iron door that separated us from the commons as he watched through the plastic window. I got down from my bunk to witness the interesting new development. Surely, the commons began flooding with brown men in blue one piece suits. Some played chess, others lined up to use the telephone, and some showered quietly. Most however, gathered around the television to watch Shakira’s latest video, “She Wolf”.
For three hours we waited inside cell 13-A, located on the first of two floors, talking about “how they got us”; at this jail we all committed the crime of working without permission so there is no need for the “what you in here for?” question.
The older gentleman from Zacatecas was working in a construction site for a CVS pharmacy store in Pennsylvania when seven of them were picked up. Of those seven, he was the last one still behind bars; it had been a month and a half, which made him the 3rd most tenured prisoner. The alpha, an Indian man had been there for three years fighting his case from inside. Followed by “The Salvadorian” that had spent seven months waiting for enough Salvadorians to be caught to fill an airplane, so far there were three.
Zacatecas told me all his theories about why he had been there so long, I could see every second passing by eating away at this once lively family man. I felt bad telling him to be patient and that one day he’ll be out of there especially since I was supposed to be released that day….
The man reminded me of my father, and for anyone who has ever been in a cell; you could imagine the rush of pains that being locked up with a sad forsaken version of your father could bring. To pass the time and to normalize our bloodstreams I began to talk about my misfortunes. I told him about my trip to NYC, about the beautiful summer nights I had spent with my lover before being found in Syracuse and dragged off a bus on my way back home. I described Coney Island and how we took photographs and built forts in a cramped room in Brooklyn. The man replied, “!Oooh, tu ya eres más de aquí que de allá!” I told him about Wayne County jail and the men from the farms in upstate New York who were brought in after me by border patrol officer Buitron, the same guy who got me.
Buitron was a local village idiot who made a living doing the only thing he could do well, racial profiling hardworking people and throwing them in jail. He got the four migrants on a bus headed to El Paso; they were on their way back to Mexico since they could no longer find work milking cows in New York.
Zacatecas sighed and I noticed he had stopped paying attention a while ago. Just then the door clicked and we were free to wander the commons.
I joined a pick-up game of soccer in the courtyard. We played shirts vs. skins kicking around a piece of foam that was once a purple Nerf-ball. Our shoes were stylish black canvas with white plastic soles but they felt like wooden boxes glued to our toes. For the skins, a young man from Mexico City directed the action as he guarded our goal. I mostly passed the ball, as I never developed a deadly shot growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. I filled my lungs with fresh air and let my legs move for the first time in about a week. My face was covered with a sorry excuse for a beard, a rich feature of my hairless Indian ancestors. The pitch was a triangular basketball court surrounded by a fence and two walls of the giant federal detention facility. A young Honduran, who would later be release with me stole the show with what seemed like ten goals for the shirts and gave them the victory. No one really cared about the score.
It was a good match, good enough to make us forget the 12 foot barbed wire fence followed by the open grass patrolled by a fat guy in a golf cart with an assault rifle at his arm, followed by another fence followed by a field of barbed wire all encased by the white residents of Batavia, New York who would later ask me if I had just been released when I asked to use a payphone at the local Citgo.
Hell! That was probably the best game ever played. Two squads of the finest men I had ever met. Hard working men filled with talents; they could have been mathematicians, doctors, philosophers, painters, writers, journalists, engineers and leaders…
Instead they were locked up in Batavia kicking air with those raggedy shoes.
For weeks my toes and ankles would ache as I walked around the streets of Chicago while I nervously searched for another low paying job. I’ve been trying to reclaim the normalcy of my life before I was locked up and failed. Months have passed and my feet still ache. They burn with a desire to march with my fellow justice fighters in memory of those hardworking men that I met during my stay in New York. Come join us on 03/10/10 as we march to defend the right for everyone to work and earn a living without being thrown in jail.