A group of about 250 incarcerated individuals at California State Prison, Los Angeles County raised $4,000 in fall 2021 to support an immigrant rights law firm’s work with unaccompanied children who were temporarily housed at the nearby Pomona Fairplex Emergency Intake Site.
Sam Lewis, the executive director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, brought this opportunity to our attention, and several hundred of us donated through a partnership with the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles.
The intake site closed its doors as a temporary emergency shelter in late November of last year, but the Immigrant Defenders reported in late October that before the shelter was permanently shuttered, the firm’s Detained Youth Empowerment Project team conducted more than 2,700 legal screenings and provided more than 9,000 Know Your Rights presentations to educate minors about their right to seek asylum in the United States. Thousands of children were offered crucial legal advice during this time.
I have organized and donated to numerous causes in the past, but this one has been the most significant and impactful. As a child, I lived with my father in Pomona, the city where the emergency shelter was located. When I was about 9 years old, I moved to West Covina with my mother. Throughout my childhood, the Pomona Fairplex hosted the Los Angeles County Fair and was a staple of enjoyment. To see children separated from their families and housed at the Fairplex evoked a lot of memories for me.
I am passionate about supporting this cause because I want to help our Black and Brown communities unite. Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the effects of racism in the Black and Brown communities in Southern California, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley.
As a Black teenager, I felt a deep sense of incongruity living around West Covina and La Puente. The same kids who were my friends in elementary school became my enemies in high school, due in large part to our skin colors. I have never been called a racial slur by a White person, but I’ve been called the N-word and many other demeaning names by Mexicans. In the cycle of violence and bigotry between Black and Brown people, I have been both a victim and a perpetrator. I feel passionately about breaking this cycle going forward.
The frequent news coverage in recent years of immigrant kids in cages, separated from their families, devastated me. I empathized with them because I can vividly remember the horror of being locked in a cage, separated from my family, in my youth. The anxiety, trauma, perpetual sadness and feelings of helplessness at times made me feel worthless.
But while I did things that caused me to be locked in those cages, those kids didn’t do anything. They were in cages because their parents did what all good parents aspire to: give their kids a better life than they had. Is that not noble and admirable? Yet, these children are treated like criminals.
I still believe that America is the land of opportunity, and that each of us has the opportunity to bestow goodwill upon our neighbors. Prison walls can’t prohibit that. This is why I was humbled and honored to receive a letter of gratitude from Hilda Solis, 1st District Supervisor for Los Angeles County.
By acknowledging those children, we joined them in solidarity to support them in their struggle. We let them know that we saw them, cared for them and loved them.
I’m no stranger to hurt. Therefore, I’ll never be a stranger to the pain of others. Neither will I grow weary or be discouraged while doing good, because I’m certain that everyone in due time reaps what they sow.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.