I So Wanted it To Be About the Kids, But it Was About the Heat

View from the ladders. So incredibly sad. So incredibly wrong. So incredibly important to bear witness to.

Day 2 – I didn’t ask for a ride. I figured that since I coordinate the arrival of witnesses I should figure out how to do it without a car. I should experience public transportation so I could wisely advise others how to do the same. I also didn’t want to ask for help from people stretched so thin and who struggle to function while spending so much of their days in an unhealthy environment. So I took public transit from Miami to Homestead.

It began with an Uber. $15 later it was a transfer to a train that went well enough. $5.75 later it was onto something unfamiliar, a Metro bus. A man told me I needed bus #38 so that’s what I boarded with my pass. My pass didn’t work and the driver took off without me. 30 minutes and a new ticket later I boarded another bus #38. 3 hours later I was dropped off somewhere in Homestead. But before I was dropped off, I asked the driver which stop I get off for the child detention camp. “Child detention camp?” she asked. She had never heard of it. Sigh. So as I walked around a while trying to orient myself I thought, “No problem, I’ll just order an Uber. “No Ubers in your area,” was what my phone told me. In total defeat, I contacted Witness Camp and a half hour later a very tired and hot Tina came and got me.We both looked and felt like we had seen better days. We grabbed the mail and then a lunch and headed to camp. Lesson learned, public transportation is not how one gets to Homestead. Rent a car.

My second day in Homestead was when I learned first hand the power of south Florida heat. I wanted to be a good witness. I really did. I didn’t want to be a tourist, someone who comes and takes a few selfies on the ladders and then heads out. While that has its purpose for those who do that, such as learning about Homestead first hand, I wanted more. I feel that many who come to witness are surprisingly overwhelmed with the emotions that come from this place. By being here, even if only for a very short time, they do learn what is happening there and thus are able to educate others, and that is very good and very important. But as someone who has been working with witnesses remotely for months, I wanted to be more. I wanted to help. But within a short time of my arrival I had a headache and my stomach was yelling obscenities at me. I tried my best but I barely remember standing on the ladders, helping with camp, taking photos, and taking camp down. What I do remember was the heat and how my body angrily and defiantly revolted.

There is something that happened though that I do remember and need to record here. As I was holding a sign on the corner (I do love holding signs on corners) a car pulled up. I don’t remember what kind. I was hot. When the man rolled down the window I saw it was an older man with a Latin accent. He said, “You know that is closed down and empty right?” He pointed to the 17 year old area. I told him I did not know that and how did he? He informed me that he use to work there, a few years ago. So he knows things. He said, “They are gone. And not to their families. They have been sent to other facilities because that is what they do.” He continued to explain that when the kids’ stays gets too long and when people might begin to notice, they get shuffled to another place and kids from other places get shuffled here. He asked if I knew that. I told him I did not know that. He said that they are closing this place down. So I asked about all the employees, that there are still so many and some look like new hires. He said that is part of their game. When they are closing a place down they don’t want employees to know or else they would all quit at the same time and then what would they do. So they hire like 100 new people and fire 50. So it looks like it’s all still going strong. But eventually they fire everyone when the last kids are gone. Then he assured me that the guards treat the kids well. I pray to god he is telling the truth about that. He told me their food is not good though. They serve them tacos, rice, beans three times a day. He said that is Mexican food and the kids are not Mexican, that they are from Central America and that is different. He informed me that they may look Mexican to people like me but that they are not. He said their clothes are not good either, especially their shoes. Nothing of good quality. Cheap. Falls apart easily. With that, a bus full of workers pulled up behind him and he said he had to go and he drove away. I did not get his name or contact information. It was hot, really hot, and my body was shutting down big time. I also worried that if I seemed too interested or asked too many questions he would stop talking. I reported this to Charlie and the other witnesses. We have passed this information on to a few others who may be able to research it more.

A little while later it was time to take down camp. Oh my freaking word. Let me just say this. If you are planning on witnessing at Homestead, of course please take care of yourself. Drink a ton of water and find AC during the afternoon hours. But also, for the love of god, come back at 4:30 and help Tina or Charlie take down camp. It was an overwhelming task even for the two of us. It was incredibly hot. We were exhausted. The sun was blaring down on us. I don’t know how anyone does it alone. I really don’t.

That’s when one of the biggest regrets of my witnessing happened. The girls. The girls were out. “Let’s go see the girls,” Tina said. I know from communicating with her that this is always a highlight for her because it happens so seldom. I thought I was going to be sick and told her I couldn’t. And we left. Without seeing the girls. Without showing our love and support to the girls. I am so freaking sorry about that.

Tina drove me back to the train in her beat up car which sounded like it was on its last legs. 1/2 way there the AC broke. She dropped me off and with that, back to my daughter’s I went. Defeated. Truly and utterly defeated, and worried about Tina making it back to Homestead.

When I got to my daughter’s, I threw up, took a cool shower, and threw up again. She gave me a cold mint julep and I wondered, “How on Earth will I make it through another day?” Yet my daughter assured me that, “Tomorrow will be another day.” Imagine that. A daughter encouraging her mum. She understood how important this was to me. Please understand that my daughter has been through hell and back, more than once. While I do not have her permission to share her story I want you to understand that. She has been my number one hero for years. And here, in her home in the heat of south Florida, she did what she could do. She took care of her defeated, witness mum. She fed me. She cleaned up after me. She made my bed. Like all of us, she did what she could and I appreciated it more than anything. But as much as she did, to make her mum ok again, with extreme dread I thought about, the heat.

Witnessing is hard. But it’s important. It is beyond important. It is what we need to do to see, to truly see the harm our government is causing. The pain we are inflicting on scared, traumatized people. And Homestead is just the tip of this massive inhumane iceberg.

So please go to witness at Homestead. If you can’t, consider how you can support those who do. My number one suggestion would be to donate to help the witnesses who are on the ground everyday. They need your help. Please donate what you can to help them… here. Or go to their Amazon wish list and purchase something from their list that will make their life just a tad bit easier. Send Amazon Wish List item to: Charlie and Tina, 3020 41st Terrace #116, Homestead FL 33033. (For either of those donations, just click on the blue words and you’ll be directed to the appropriate links.) Then call your congressional representatives. Demand they go to Homestead. Ask them what they are doing about the ratcheted up crimes against humanity that are happening in our country under their watch.

“Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone. Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone. . . ” Maya Angelou

Thank you again to all who bear witness here or other places that put children who we’ve taken from their families in the dishonest and racist name of national security.

Day three reflection coming soon.

Mary(ellen)

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