The Visit

July 26, 2010

Friday night, both Logan and I have trouble sleeping in anticipation of the trip to Stewart Detention Center the next day.  On Saturday, I wake up at 4:45AM to get us out of the house by 5AM and catch the 6:30AM flight.  It goes pretty smoothly.  Logan is surprisingly patient and well behaved on the flight.  We arrive in Atlanta just before 8am and go on our search for the rental car.  We get a rental car and set out for Lumpkin, Georgia.  Lumpkin is about 2.5 hours Southwest of  Atlanta.  Logan falls asleep for an hour and the drive goes by quickly.  We stop a few times to get out and walk and eat lunch.  The whole time he is awake, he is talking about seeing his daddy and keeps repeating, “When we going to see Daddy?”


We arrive at Stewart Detention Center right around 12:30PM.  We park and approach the barbed wire, double gated entrance.  “Whoa.  Daddy’s in here?”  Logan marvels at all the gates and security.  We push the button and are let in through the two gates.  We check in and the waiting room is full of people anxiously awaiting to be called to see their loved ones.  I look around at the faces of the children waiting to see their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers.  The waiting room is small.  It has vending machines.  There are metal detectors.  All of the employees constantly look irritated.  They explain it will be awhile because the first group has just entered.  There are only spaces for five detainees to see visitors.  After a half an hour Logan starts to get  restless.  “Why Daddy taking so long?”  I try to explain that it is not our turn yet.  I start telling him stories about the fun times that we had as a family together.  I begin to get depressed and tearful and decide to change the subject.  It is 1:45PM and the first group of visitors is let out of the locked doors.  They all look so sad and defeated.  One woman’s face is tear stained and her eyes are red.  I guess that she is the wife of one of the detainees.  A small child walks beside her, also visibly sad.  I am starting to feel emotionally and physically exhausted and pray to myself that we will be in the next group.  As the visitor’s names are called to approach the desk, each one walks through the metal detectors. They put all of their belongings in a locker and are handed a visitor badge.  We are not called.  It will be at least another hour.


I worry about Pedro.  I know that he expected us at 11AM.  I left my phone in the car because it is better not to have anything with you when you visit.  Logan starts to run in circles around the waiting room.  He starts to climb the walls.  I try to calm him down but we are in a tiny room and he has been anticipating this visit for a long time.  I tell him he will be in timeout if his behavior continues.  He starts running through the metal detector. The guards look at me as if I am a horrible mother.  I look at them with distain, not understanding how they could do what they do everyday.  A guard tells me that Logan cannot behave like that when we are visiting.  I explain how far we have traveled.  The guard tells me we will not be able to have our two hour visit today.  We will only be able to have one hour because of how busy it is.  He says that if I come tomorrow, right when they open, we won’t have to wait as long and we will be able to have our two hour visit.  Logan starts to climb on the chairs and jump up and down.  I am about to lose it.  A little boy offers Logan an M&M.  Logan says “No thank you.”  Then turns to me and asks if he can have his own bag of M&Ms.  I don’t have any change.  He starts whining and crying.  It is 2:45PM.  Shift change of the security guards begins.  I watch them swarm in, amazed at how many employees they need for one shift.  In this facility there are around 2,246 detainees at one time.  Most of the guards are African American, a few are white, and one looks like he may be Hispanic.  The majority look between 25 and 35 years old and are about equally divided between male and female.  I wonder how this many people could live in the middle of nowhere and work 40 hours a week oppressing a group of people that have not committed crimes or have already served their time.


It is 3:15PM.  Logan is crying that he wants to see Daddy.  I feel like I have been hit by a train.  Will we ever see him today?  Logan seems to feel my desperation.  “We never going to see Daddy again!” he cries.  “We will see Daddy.  I promise.” At around 3:45PM, we are called to come forward.  I am relieved.  We go forward and I put my keys in the basket.  We walk through the metal detectors.  Good.  No beep.  I have an action figure in my pocket just in case Logan gets bored.  It’s against the rules but I am not sure how he will do in another small room for an hour.  I put the keys in a locker.  We get our visitor badges.  They unlock the door and by about 3:50PM, our group of visitors is permitted into the locked hallway where the bathrooms are located.  There are bars that we can look through and we see some detainees cleaning the hallways.  They get about $2 per day for that job.  A few people in our group use the bathroom.  Logan refuses.  Then we are let into the visiting room.  Logan sees his Daddy.  “Daddy!”  He jumps onto the table in the “cubicle”.  He picks up the phone.  Logan is so happy.  Pedro and Logan play hide and seek, make “boy” noises, joke around, and put their hands on the glass to “touch” each other.  Logan is elated, he refuses to give me the phone to let me talk to Pedro.  I sit back, let them talk, and look at my husband. 


How did we get here?  How did this happen?  I miss him so much.  I would give anything to touch him, to hold him.  I look at the other dads trying to interact with their sons. Most of them are simply trying to talk with these little children.  Only Pedro is brave enough and crazy enough to make this hour the best hour possible.  He is such an amazing father, even with glass separating he and Logan.  I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I didn’t want this for our son. Will he remember this?  Will this scar him for life?  Even after 10 months, Logan still talks about him everyday. Logan “kisses” Pedro through the glass several times.  I am able to talk to Pedro for a few minutes while Logan makes a “nest”.  This behavior is his anxiety reduction technique.  At home, he surrounds himself in a nest of stuffed animals.  Here, in this tiny sterile room, he is using chairs to make a “nest”.  I explain to Pedro how our trip to Stewart has been and I tell him how good it is to see him.  I touch the glass and wish in my heart I could just break the glass.  Pedro puts his hand to the glass too.  “I love you.” We both say.  He tells me he will call me that night and Logan rushes back to talk to his Daddy.  After they talk and “play” some more.  I hear the dreaded sound of the keys jingling.  It’s time to go.  The security guard is coming back to take us out.  Logan does surprisingly well at the goodbye.  We say our goodbyes and we are escorted out.  “Why Daddy can’t come with us?”  “We’re working on it sweetie.”  I say as I feel as though I could just collapse on the floor in tears.  No tears right now.  We need to head to the motel to check in. 


We will be staying in Richland, Georgia, population 1, 553.  It is the motel in which we have stayed on two other occasions when visiting Pedro.  I walk into the lobby.  The walls are covered in deer heads and stuffed fish.  I look at the desk clerk and ask him for a room assuming this motel would never be full.  Why would it?  “We’re full.” he says, “Family reunion.”  “They took up the whole motel?” “Yep,” he replies. Crap.  There is one other motel in town.  Luckily, Logan fell asleep on the way from Lumpkin to Richland so, at least I have some moments of peace to figure this out.  I walk into the small brick motel lobby.  She tries my credit card several times.  I enter into a panic.  Did something happen to my account?  “It may be my machine,” she says, “There is an ATM down the street.”    I finally work it all out and check into the motel.  Logan is still sleeping.  I put all of our stuff down.  It is 7:30PM.  I have not eaten all day.  I eat the Cheetos we have in the car.  Yuck.  Pedro will be calling soon.  I look at my cell phone.  There is no signal inside the room.  Damn the motel for being brick.  I go outside and stand on the stoop.  Still no signal.  Are you kidding me?  I sit in the car.  Every once in a while there is one bar of signal.  I am exhausted.  I feel like I am going to have a panic attack.  If he calls and I have no signal, it will go straight to voicemail and he will lose money.  I keep walking around trying to find signal.  After an hour, its 8:30PM, he still hasn’t called.  Every time he is late calling, I start worrying.  Did they deport him?  Is he in the hole for trying to advocate for someone?  Did he finally lose it?  Did he break down?  Was there a fight and they are on lock down?  I am going to lost it.  I am too tired.  I go and lay down next to Logan and decide to leave it up to God.  At 9:00PM, the phone rings.  My heart jumps!  I was almost asleep.  We talk.  It breaks Pedro’s heart to see how big Logan is, how much he is missing.  But at the same time, it gives him some joy to see him.  We make a plan for me to get to Stewart right when visiting hours start.  I go to sleep.  Logan sleeps through the night.  He was emotionally and physically exhausted too. 


We get up in the morning and get ready.  We drive to Lumpkin and get to Stewart by 9AM.  The waiting room is already almost full.  At around 9:30AM, they let us back to visit with Pedro.  Logan is just as captivated by talking to Pedro as he was the day before.  Again, he wants to talk to him the whole time.  They “play” again.  Logan hugs the phone.  Logan wants to show Pedro his new dance moves.  He starts showing Pedro how he can dance.  Logan looks so proud.  Logan asks Pedro where the mean guys are?  Pedro tries to explain.  We talk about Logan’s cousin visiting.  Logan talks about the latest super hero he loves.  Then he decides he is going to make a tunnel out of the chairs and crawl under them before he makes another “nest”.  I have a moment to talk to Pedro.  I tell him that it is going to be hard to leave today, for me and for Logan.  What should I do?  How could I distract him?  The plane isn’t until 10PM.  I ask Pedro if I should take him to the Georgia Aquarium.  He has been talking about ocean animals every since they had the Ocean unit at school.  I am worried about how expensive it is.  Pedro says I should just take him. 


Suddenly, at 10:30AM, I hear the keys.  I tell myself the guard is just here to take the other people but not us because we have two hours.  The female guard comes in and says everyone needs to go.  I tell her, “we have a two hour visit with special permission.  Pedro filled out the paperwork.  We traveled very far to get here.  They promised us yesterday.”  She says, “there are too many people here to visit.”  I feel homicidal.  Pedro motions for her to pick up the phone.  He is visibly angry.  Logan starts crying, “I don’t want to leave Daddy!”  He holds onto the partition.  “I don’t want to go!” Pedro negotiates 10 more minutes.  I pick up the phone.  The guard leaves.  Pedro is fuming.  I tell him that we should enjoy the last 10 minutes.  He calms down.  Logan picks up the phone.  “You my Daddy right?” “Yes.  I am your Daddy and I love you,” Pedro replies.  Tears are streaming down my face.  “Then why you can’t come home with us?”  Pedro says, “We’re working on it.  We will be together soon.”  I try to wipe away my tears but they just keep coming.  The pain in my heart is unbearable.  Logan just wants his Daddy to come home.  I ask Logan if he would like to go see some real sharks.  He gets excited.  We say our goodbyes.  The guard comes back to get us.  At the gate, as we are leaving Logan says, “I miss Daddy. I want he come home with us.”  “I know sweetie.  We will be together soon,” I reply.  But will we?  It feels eternal.


Logan and I drive back to Atlanta and we spend the rest of the day at the Georgia Aquarium.  Logan is in awe of the sharks and the whales.  He also loves the playful otter family.  It was a good distraction for Logan but I just kept wishing that Pedro could be there too.  Like every other day that Pedro is missing from our life.  Everyday he is missing something else, something new, something painful, something fun.  Will this ever end?  How long will they keep him?  Today, and everyday,  I pray that the immigration court system will realize that Pedro  is a good man and that he deserves to be with his wife and son. I also pray that it happens before one of us lose it.  This has been the hardest 10 months of our entire lives.  If we get through this, I truly believe we will be able to get through anything that could possibly come our way.

We are flying home now.  It is 11pm.  I look over at Logan.  He has headphones, listening to music, and has his eyes closed.  He looks as if he is processing the day and trying to relax from all the emotions.  He is such an old soul.  He understands way too much for only being 3 years old. 

It is midnight and we finally arrive to our car at the park and ride.  We get in our car to head to our house.  We pull away from the pay booth and in the dark, I see something scuttle across the road.  It is a beaver.  I follow him.  "Look Logan. a beaver."  We both sit and watch in amazement.  We get out of the car and look closer.  He looks at us, eats something in the grass, looks back at us again and slowly disappears down a path to the river.  "I think he swam all this way," Logan says.  "What do you mean?"  I ask.  "I think he swam from the quarium," Logan replies.  I realize he thinks the beaver is one of the otter family we saw at the aquarium. "Where he going, Momma?"  I don't answer but ask him, "Where do you think he is going?"  He answers, "I think he going to find the mommy and the  baby.  He lost but he be happy when he find them."  Well said Logan.  A 3 year old knows that a family is happy and healthy with all the family united together.  Why can't the immigration system understand the same concept?

We arrive home at almost 1AM.  We curl up in bed together and hug each other close.  One more night without Pedro.  One more night without Daddy.  It is just one more night that he lies alone in a hard cold bed, alone and unjustly imprisoned.  Half asleep, Logan murmers, "I miss Daddy. I want he be home."  "I know sweetie.  I know.  We will all be together soon." 

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Pedro was detained at Stewart Detention Center for 19 months.

NACARA is the type of relief Pedro was granted. Click here to find out what it is.