This piece was written for Unlocking Detention by William, from the Freed Voices group. William was detained in Campsfield Immigration Removal Centre for four days before he was transferred to another detention centre, where he was incarcerated for a further two months. He was released earlier this year following Detention Action’s litigation against the Detained Fast Track and was subsequently given leave to remain.
I was detained the day I arrived in the UK. I landed at 8am, we left for Campsfield at around 10.40pm, and I arrived there around midnight. I was put into a van with four other guys – one was Brazilian, one from Chad, one from Albania, one from Saudi Arabia. We were transported like criminals. The van drove very fast. The doors were locked. It was very dark. There were cameras on the walls. When we arrived at Campsfield, I was taken straight to my cell along with the Brazilian. He couldn’t speak any English. I looked at the Brazilian as we stood in the doorway but he said nothing. We couldn’t speak but, at that moment, he was my best friend in the whole world.
There were two other guys in the cell who were asleep already. They didn’t move. The room was tiny. It felt very congested. It felt like it was meant for only one person but four people were being crammed up in it. There was a window. Someone had been smoking. I could smell it mixed up with the smell of people who had been there a long time. I walked over to try and open it but it was stuck.
When we had arrived they had given us each a key and a padlock. This was for the individual locker in the room. I put the clothes I had with me inside. They had also given me toothpaste and a toothbrush. I didn’t have anything else. They took my phone off me when I came in. The room was dark. We used the light from the corridor to guide us.
It was one-down one-up and so I climbed up to one top-decker and the Brazilian did the same on the other bunk. My bed was ‘Bed D’. The Brazilian was in ‘Bed A’. The mattress was small and covered in plastic. I had a sleepless night that night. No winks. I couldn’t catch anything. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know where I was heading or what was coming. I never thought I’d end up in somewhere like this when I claimed asylum in the UK. I felt like someone had plunged me into the middle of mystery. I felt depressed like never before.
I was coming from my induction when I first met James. The induction had not been much use. They told us about meal-times and the facilities but nothing about why I was there or how long I would be locked up. James was my real induction.
I was heading back to my room, walking down the corridor. I was still very stressed, very upset and shaken. I was scared to talk to other people or look them in the eye. And everyone I had seen since arriving in the UK was white – white and aggressive. James was actually the first black person I saw. I felt a little at home! He came over to me. He was very bald and soft. He greeted me. He asked me where I was from and how long I’d been at Campsfield. He asked me how long I’d stayed in the UK. He asked if I’d been in contact with my family back home. I told him they had taken my phone. He offered me his and told me to call them. He tried to calm me down. He could see in my face I was not fine.
He told me how to access legal aid. He was the one that told me about the Rule 35 format, none of the officers had mentioned it to me. I asked him when I would be free from here. He said he couldn’t tell me that. He said that no-one knew that. He told me that if I needed to know anything else I should ask him and he would try his best to help.
We spoke for about thirty minutes in that corridor. He cancelled his gym session. He encouraged me. He was heart-mending. He left me with some belief, some courage. I felt like someone was listening to me. I never got that feeling from the Home Office.
There was one guy in Campsfield I will never forget. I saw him when I went to welfare. I was going there because I could not sleep. I was in Campsfield for four days and I don’t think I really closed my eyes once.
We were both waiting in the queue. He said he had been detained for 11 months. He said he was thinking of withdrawing his case. He looked completely devastated. He looked hopeless. He had uncontrollable hair. His face was very, very tired and very pale. He looked like someone in mourning, grieving over something. He showed me his leg. It had a huge scar across it. He told me he had lost his son in the same war he had got the scar. He said that since he had been in detention he had lost touch with the rest of his family. He felt desperate. His speech was angry and broken. He said he trusted no-one, nothing.
And then it hit me. Am I going to spend the same amount of time here? Am I going to turn into something like this?
That was the first and last time I spoke to him. I never saw him again. Every now and again I think about him. I think about lots of guys I met in detention. I can picture their faces. I have a gallery of faces in my head. There are certain things that trigger different faces. Whenever I look at my SIM card, for example, I think about the guy that gave it to me in detention. When I look over my Home Office paper, my mind always goes back to Campsfield and some of the people I was with when I first received them. I have one jumper that one guy gave me because it was cold. Whenever I wear it I am with him.