Jangling keys. Large, heavy doors. Unlocked, opened and locked behind. 10 feet forward to the next door. Unlocked. Opened. Locked Behind.
I would imagine that relatively few of us usually spend much time thinking about freedom or how it feels to have that freedom taken away. However, the ongoing pandemic and public health measures we have experienced over the last few months has forced us to confront the realities of living with restricted freedoms. In those weeks of national lockdown there were times when I felt frustrated and angry at my situation, and others where I was drained and worn-out. Yet the freedoms still offered to me were much greater than those offered to our friends held in immigration detention.
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When I visit those currently detained I am led slowly to the Welfare Office, passing through numerous locked doors, each one further distancing me from the outside world. Each turning key a reminder of the freedom taken from those who are detained. Commonly, our friends speak of how they feel their years are being wasted and that their detention alters what they had once hoped to achieve in their lives. They feel isolated and removed from their family, communities and society, and frustrated at the unfairness that their incarceration is not time-limited. At the end of my visit, each door locked behind me carries the added weight that I am able to freely leave but our friends remain.
I wish it were possible that I could open those doors for our friends so we could leave detention together. But in the absence of this, I try to walk with them and offer support where I can. When speaking with one friend, Jemal*, recently he thought back to when he first came across JRS in the welfare office. On that occasion we were able to help Jemal contact another organisation for support with his bail application who in turn put him in contact with a solicitor who was able to secure Jemal’s release after a lengthy delay. Jemal said he was thankful because, as he puts it, “you guys opened the door for me”.
This week, the Church in the UK marks Prisons Week. It is a week of prayer for those who have been affected by the prisons system; those in prison, their families, victims of crime and the communities impacted. At JRS we take this time as an opportunity to call to mind our friends who are held in prisons and detention centres under immigration powers; incarcerated and stripped of their freedoms for an unknown length of time. Through our prayers and our actions this week, we stand united in solidarity with our friends in detention as a reminder that they are not alone.
*Names changed to protect identity.
Join us in praying for the needs of our friends held in detention, and all those affected by prisons, including prisoners, their families and communities this week.
Download prayer resources from the official Prisons Week page
Join us in praying the JRS daily prayer
Find out more about Prisons Week 2020 (11-17th October)