Sam Kitching, a soft-spoken, round old man dressed in civilian clothes who works for the Sheriff’s department at the Baker County Jail put his hand on my shoulder and, addressing me as “young man,” said, “It’s very important that you be careful in there. They might have AIDS and might try to grab your hand and push something into it.”
“AIDS?” I ask.
“They could,” he said. “These men can be dangerous.”
A younger man dressed in a tight, dark green Sheriff’s uniform unlatched the door into one of the pods that holds several dozen federal immigration detainees.
Mostly Latino and black and all dressed in orange jump suits, unzipped with the arms tied around waists, the men stood or sat at metal tables in groups of four or five in the three-sided concrete room.
“Zip up,” the guard yelled as the door opened.
The detainees pulled the jumpers up over their shoulders and I followed the guard, Kitching and a young Legal Aid attorney named Karen Winston into the pod. A man stood on a grated walkway in front of one of the two-bed jail cells where the detainees eat, sleep, bathe and go to the bathroom. The rest of the men were below in the concrete room where they pass all their time—there’s only one hour of recreation time in an enclosed gravel yard.
“Hey, Honduras, get down here,” Kitching yelled to the man on the platform, who walked down the grated metal stairs and joined three other Latino men talking in a corner.
“That’s what I do sometimes,” Kitching explained to me. “I call them by their country. For some reason if they’ve been here a while, I can remember their country.”
Winston, a recent law school graduate, works long days in the south Florida jail defending some of the close to 250 immigration detainees held there. On this Friday morning, she’d driven from Jacksonville, the closest city, to conduct a “know your rights” training for as many of the detainees as possible. She noted the training name is misleading, since detainees don’t have many rights to know of.
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