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  • IN THE PLACE OF JUSTICE, a Story of Punishment and Deliverance
    IN THE PLACE OF JUSTICE, a Story of Punishment and Deliverance
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    This book is unique in that it is written in first person by a man who was incarcerated in one of Louisiana’s most notorious prisons for more than 40 years. Wilbert Rideau chronicles his early life, the capital crime for which he was convicted and imprisoned, his experiences with the Jim Crow judicial system, his life in prison, and his eventual release.
    The author had a troubled childhood, had a juvenile record for petty crimes, and during a botched robbery, killed a white woman. He was condemned to death row, where he spent years before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. His descriptions of life in the various prisons are unsettling, but he never focuses on gruesome details. I was impressed by the lack of rancor in his tone, despite having been mistreated over and over by the “justice” system.
    While in prison he self-educated, and became the first black editor of the prison magazine “The Angolite” which won numerous national awards. He was a correspondent for NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered.
    His descriptions of the organization of prison life were very enlightening to someone like me who has very little concept of what goes on in the lives of incarcerated people. The very fact that prisoners had the freedom to publish a magazine which was available on the outside was mind-boggling.
    I felt that the book dragged a bit, but perhaps that was an intentional mechanism to reflect how life must drag for those on death row, or with life sentences.
    It is definitely a worthwhile read. While other books may give a larger over-view of problems and inequities in the justice system, this one gives insight in to one man’s amazing ability to not only endure the demeaning aspects of prison life, but in the end to emerge as a respected spokesman for prison and sentencing reform.

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  • A Prayer
    A Prayer
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    Creator of all humankind
    You who know the journey of Sarah & Abraham
    The re-location of Leah, Rachel and Jacob.
    The flight of the early Anabaptists into caves,
    across borders into Prussia and Ukraine.
    Many of our ancestors crossed seas to Canada,
    United States, and then on to Mexico, Belize,
    Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil.

    We owe so much to those who were welcoming
    and hospitable to our ancestors who gave us life.
    We are grateful.

    Our world is a network of integrated connections
    Don’t let us be fooled to think that we have no need
    of strangers who come into our lives

    God of every people and language
    Bring healing and hope to those who need your touch
    Bring joy and peace where there is despair

    Forgive us for those times we have not responded
    to your invitation to reach beyond ourselves and
    lend a helping hand

    Show us as a community where your love and grace
    abounds for us, and gives us a chance
    to extend that same love and grace to others
    as we follow in your way of welcoming all, Amen!

    Theda Good
    March 15, 2015
    For Frist Mennonite Church of Denver

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  • How Volleyball Changes Lives of Immigrants Affected by Detention
    How Volleyball Changes Lives of Immigrants Affected by Detention
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    Would you ever imagine that a volleyball league would somehow be helping to put a roof over the heads of people affected by immigrant detention in Colorado?

    Yeah… neither did I! Until my dream became reality. But first let me back up.

    A few years ago I made my first journey to the Mexico/US border to learn more about how the border impacts life for millions of people. What I remember about the trip was meeting people, real people.

    For a myriad of reasons, this border is there, preventing them from reuniting with those they love dearly.

    After my week down there, I knew my life was going to change. But I didn’t know how.

    The first part of my life that changed was actually moving to Aurora and renting an apartment which is directly across the street from the immigrant detention center. In this center, immigrants are held for a variety of reasons, and they’re from all over the world, although, the majority of them are Latino. There are men and women. Brothers and sisters. Moms and Dads.

    They could be there for days, weeks, months, or longer than a year. They’re waiting for a judge to determine if they can be released or must be deported.

    From my one bedroom apartment, Casa de Paz (House of Peace), you can see this immigrant detention center. Every day it’s staring at me, a reminder that families are not together. I couldn’t live knowing this and not do my part to reunite them.

    Think about a family who is living in California and their dad was detained there, but transferred to Aurora. Detention centers have quotas. If they don’t meet their quotas, they’ll just ship in people from all over the country to reach them.

    This family obviously wants to be there for their dad during his court hearing, or just to visit him. As you can imagine, loss of income from the person who is detained can be financially disastrous. Making a trip to Aurora could be impossible.

    I thought to myself, “If I open up my home and let people stay there for free, maybe they’ll be able to make this trip.” So that’s exactly what I did.

    Casa de Paz has been opened for two years now and we are busier than ever. In addition to hosting families, we have added two new services. Immigrants who have been released from the detention center, but need a place to stay while their travel logistics are worked out, are welcome in the home. We also have a dedicated group of visitors going into the detention center almost every day to visit with those who are detained and have nobody to stop by and say hi.

    Obviously, this all costs money. The rent, the food, the electricity… all adds up. I only work part-time which gives me the flexibility to run the Casa. Every month I was stressing out about paying all the bills. It was almost too much to handle and I wanted to quit. But a friend of mine encouraged me, and told me this was an important home, and the doors needed to stay open.

    And that’s where two of my passions suddenly collided. Volleyball and Families.

    Volleyball Latino is a league which was started out of the necessity to make money to pay the bills for Casa de Paz. We started with six teams (most of them friends whom I begged to play). Each team pays a registration fee. After expenses (rent, prizes, refs, etc) are paid, the remaining money goes towards the Casa.

    Not only does the league raise money for the Casa, but it has also been wonderful to see the two communities interact with one another. Players from this volleyball league have started volunteering at the Casa, donating household goods, participating in the visitation program, and offering meals and rides to guests.
    The league has volleyball players whose loved ones are detained, and we can offer services to them. We have gathered at the gym to make Christmas cards for those who are being detained and teams regularly donate household items to the Casa.

    Sometimes guests at the Casa will come to the volleyball league and meet the players who have impacted their lives. It’s an awesome moment when they walk into the gym and see hundreds of people who care about them, without even knowing their name.

    One of my favorite moments was seeing two volleyball players come alongside a young man who was released from the immigrant detention center. He was released with not a dollar to his name. They picked him up from the Casa, took him to lunch, and later shopped for essential things he needed. Once his family purchased him a plane ticket, they brought him to the airport so he could be reunited with his family.

    Today we have over 80 teams playing and every single player knows the larger reason behind having fun each week. Because of this league, families can see each other one last time before being separated by detention. Because of this league, people are not left homeless after they’re released from the immigrant detention center. Because of this league, families are reunited.

    And that is how my dream became reality.

     

    — Sarah Jackson

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  • The Power of Relationships
    The Power of Relationships
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    E. just graduated from high school and finished his final semester with straight As. He speaks three languages fluently and is hoping to eventually attend college. I met E. when he arrived in an immigration detention center for unaccompanied minors in South Texas after he fled abuse by his father in his home country. When he arrived, E. had only completed sixth grade and did not know any English. The transition from abused child with little prospect of graduating high school to a straight A student who is deciding on which college to attend is not an easy one to make. Children are resilient, and the boys and girls like E. who traverse countries on their own and suffer all the trauma that comes with those crossings have an extra set of strength and resilience, but they still need someone to encourage them in order to achieve their dreams.

     

    Immigrant children, children of immigrants, and persons in poverty too often describe the same groups of people.  When unaccompanied minors like E. leave detention centers, their journey is far from over. In order to do well in the United States they need access to mentors, clinicians, supportive families, and teachers who take an interest in them. The system is not set up to provide immigrant children the resources they need, and there are even fewer resources for the children who have not completed their legal case or who end the court process with no legal status. The biggest lesson that I learned while working with the children who I met in immigration detention is the power of relationships and the profound impact that a caring and supportive adult can make in a child’s life, especially a child who is far from home and separated from his family. Even though taking the time to show a young person that you care and believe in his ability to achieve great things will not change the system, it can change the outcome in one child’s life.

    — Laura Rheinheimer

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    about the author

    Laura spent 4 of the past 6 years in southern Texas. Her primary task was offering legal help to detained unaccompanied immigrant children – to children seeking asylum.

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