by Kevin Annett
I wear as a badge of honor my deportation from a country of liars and cut throats.
- Big Bill Haywood, labor organizer and revolutionary, 1920
Old Peter Annett would have been proud of me, I suppose.
Like my free thinking ancestor, I was tossed into a British prison for thinking certain thoughts.
It happened in May of 2011, just a few days before I was to speak of state-sponsored child trafficking at the annual Against Child Abuse Rally in London’s Trafalgar Square.
My closest loved ones like to joke that I must be Peter’s reincarnation, considering our parallel lives, and of how he was jailed and pilloried in London at the age of 70, in the year 1763, for writing “seditious blasphemy” against the Church of England.
How little changes over time. For just like two and a half centuries ago, a blood stained fiction called the Crown of England and their wealthy private contractors still catch the innocent in their claws, the rule of law be damned.
Here is what happened to me, as I recorded the day after my imprisonment:
The room is small, unventilated, and foul-smelling, and crammed with ten of us. I am the only white person there.
A Malaysian mother with her four year old daughter sits in one corner, sobbing uncontrollably. Incarcerated for half a day, she’s one of the luckier ones. A young Turkish man called Farid has languished in here for over three days, isolated from his four children. Farid has lived in England for eleven years, doing sweat jobs for shit wages and loyally paying his taxes, but tomorrow he’ll be deported over a technicality in his work visa.
There is no appeal allowed. His children will not accompany him.
This is the Immigration Prison in Stansted airport, outside London. The time is the early hours of May 30, 2011.
The net fell on me suddenly the night before, as I made my way through the border control desk after disembarking from the Netherlands.
After asking me why I was coming to England, a banal twit in a uniform scanned my passport through his computer, and quickly looked shocked as he peered through thick lenses at the screen. He scuttled off to speak to his supervisor, who I watched through the glass window of his office as he looked at his own computer, nodded his head and said something to his crony.
Triumphantly – I guess that as an employee of the private company Reliance Limited that runs British immigration services now, he gets extra points for jailing and deporting someone – The Twit returned and informed me with a whine of condescension that my giving public lectures was “unusual” for a tourist, that I was “suspect” (he didn’t say of what) and would therefore be barred from entering England.
“What exactly am I suspected of doing?” I asked him.
“But first you are to come this way” he motioned, ignoring my question like I hadn’t said anything. We walked to a tiny holding cell. The Twit left me alone in there for a half hour, I guess to make me sweat, but when he returned I was calmly whistling an Irish melody that seemed to annoy him to no end.
“I bet you find your job difficult, you know, putting people through all this” I ventured to The Twit as he fiddled with his papers.
Attempting a smile, he answered,
“No, no, I enjoy it, actually. One meets very fascinating people in this line of work”.
If only you knew, I thought.
The Twit refused to give me his name when I asked, nor could I know the name of his supervisor or even use the telephone. He also wasn’t wearing a badge number, although later he made a gaff when he donned another coat and I saw his number: 6676.
“You’ll be in here tonight, until we can send you back from whence you came” the pallid Twit informed me, smiling at his pretended eloquence and gesturing to a white door. He knocked, and a stern young guy answered and glared at me like I was yesterday’s trash. Then I was locked in with a whole crowd of dark skinned people.
Despair stared back at me from the sad eyes of my fellow prisoners who lay or sat around the room. They were all deflated, tired and beaten. A TV was blaring mindless crap at them so I walked over and switched it off. The young Turkish guy whose name was Farid looked surprised at my action, but then he smiled at me weakly, and nodded.
After my obligatory finger printing and photographing – I asked the Reliance company goon if I could have a copy of the picture, since I looked pretty good, but he said no – I was locked back into the sparse room with my fellow detainees. I was told not to speak to any of them since that was against the rules. I just smiled at the goon, and I ignored him.
Most of the detainees didn’t want to talk. It was nearly midnight by then, and like prisoners do, they had adapted to their incarceration and were mired in themselves. But Farid was too filled with grief about being robbed of his children to settle into apathy.
“I will never see them again. They will be put with other families and then anything can happen to them. My youngest son is only a baby.”
I remembered reading the day before how 586 children placed in the foster care system in England had somehow disappeared over the past year. Just vanished. Local child welfare officials had no explanation, apparently.
To ride out his pain and the dull hours, Farid taught me of his life in Turkey: how he had run a small shop in Ankara until he couldn’t afford the back handers to the local cops. He’d worked every shitty job imaginable in London since arriving, to feed his growing brood of children. His eyes bore a thousand scars but they glowed when he spoke of his kids.
Farid seemed on the verge of tears at that point, so I tried telling him some jokes but they fell flat. So he politely shifted the topic by teaching me some Turkish words, starting with “I love you”. The phrase sounded like “selly sev yurum”. He commented how the phrase might come in handy if I ever came to his country, but not if I said it to another man, of course.
“That’s not what I hear” I replied, and he laughed uproariously.
We held back the demons like that during those slow and weary hours, as the others tried to sleep and didn’t. The Malaysian woman sang to her daughter while the Reliance thugs stared at us through a thick pane of glass. But it felt to me like I was free, staring in at them in their little box.
It all ended for me the next morning, when I was taken to a plane that would fly me back to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. I said goodbye to Farid and wished him luck, and gave him a strong bear hug.
The man stepped back and took my hand gently. He said “Allah”, pressing his other hand against his chest, and then pointing to my heart.
I recalled just then the last words in George Orwell’s book Homage to Catalonia, in which he describes briefly meeting an Italian militia man who like Orwell was fighting to defeat Franco and his fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Orwell and the Italian couldn’t speak one another’s language, but they embraced and shook hands before departing in different directions for the war-ravaged front lines. Orwell never saw the Italian man again.
In memory to this unknown stranger who had briefly taken his hand in comradeship, and who had probably died, Orwell wrote a poem to him that concluded,
But the look I saw in your eyes, no power can disinherit.
No bomb that ever burst shatters the crystal spirit.
The night after my deportation, I stood in a crowd of singing and laughing revelers in a pub, tasting my freedom like a soothing ale but wondering where Farid might be, and grieving for him and his children in that part of me that never rests. I never felt imprisoned in jail; nor did Farid’s own agony stop him from taking my hand in his and blessing me.
Down the years, I’ve learned from so many Farids that the more they repress us, the sharper and stronger some of us get, like the sharp point of a spear. The criminals in power are afraid of us now and are striking out in their fear, knowing that their time is over, be they ever so high.
So be of good cheer, and let this knowledge propel your body and your life to accompany your words. But never forget Farid, and his children, and that Thing that is trying to imprison all of us in these final days of decision and revelation.