The Prisoner's Tale, as told to Christy Lefteri

Published date13 July 2021
I didn't want to meet her for the first time in detention, that would have been a really bad thing. Nobody wants to meet their daughter for the first time like that. It cements the stereotype. Black man in jail. This is not my family's tale. That's not how we live our lives.

The thing about the detention centre is that it suits them to segment people. On one side are those strictly with immigration issues and, on the other, people who are being deported because they have criminal pasts. I was put in this section when I got here, with the criminals, the hardened guys.

I didn't know that this was the case when I first arrived. I just thought this is what detention is like everywhere. After about a month, one of the immigration officers was going through my records and she said,

'Why are you here, in this wing, why are you in T Wing?'

I said, 'I don't know, I'm just here.'

She said, 'Yeah but you don't have a criminal record,'

'No, I don't have one.'

'Then you should not be here. You should be on the other side.'

Oddly enough, the security in this wing is comparable to a high security prison. It's a strange place to be: there are fights, there are people high on drugs. They take Black Mamba and Spice. Zombie drugs. Drugs that space you out, slow you down. You see people sprawled out. It's so bad that even the guys who are selling have learnt how to put people in the recovery position. They've been watching the emergency medical team when they come in, they watch them, and learn. I've seen lives being saved.

People come to T Wing clean. The thing about detention is this: you don't have a release date. They say that you're meant to spend a maximum of six months here and then you will have a review. That's not true. People spend years here. That… uncertainty. That… where is my life going?

This is all I knew: they were trying to deport me. I was constantly fighting an invisible enemy.

Once Friday passed, I relaxed. We all get weekly reports about how we've behaved and whether the Home Office has turned against us. If there is nothing negative in the letter, then you celebrate. I got to chill for two days, Saturday and Sunday. Come Monday, the fight started again.

You're not really in prison, but that's what it feels like. They lock your room at 9pm and open it at eight in the morning. You're in a cell for approximately twelve hours a day.

But the guys inside are saying to me, 'Now look, you're getting off. You're going to be free.'

I first came to the UK from X with my mother in 1998, when I was ten years old and she came for school. The government had a programme where they sent people to England. She studied Developmental Science and Rural Development because she wanted to work with NGOs. Back then, we stayed in Manchester.

The most startling thing was the cold. I was introduced to a game called rugby. When we played, my hands turned blue. I told the PE teacher that my hands had gone blue and he said to me,

'Okay, go home and run them under cold-ish water.'

And I thought to myself, 'If my hands are cold, why would I run them under cold water?' So, I ran them under hot water. And I screamed.

The next day he asked me, 'Did you run them under cold water or hot water?'

I smiled and I told him hot water.

He said, 'Was it painful?'

I told him, very painful!

I'd never experienced cold like that before. That's one of the longest memories I have of those early days. I was exposed to that really cold weather.

I was alone a lot.

In Manchester, at the time, it was so different from home. People kept to themselves. When we were kids, we just walked outside, friendships started from there. Parents weren't too worried about where their children were, they knew they were playing in the park with other children. Here I found that it wasn't the same. It's only when I moved to another area in Manchester that things were different. The majority...

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