This blogpost is part of ‘Thinking Outside the Box’ – a Detention Action series which featuring the reflections of those with direct experience of detention, or of working with people in detention. This piece was written by Joe from the Freed Voices group especially for Unlocking Detention, which this week looks at Dover IRC in Kent.

I was in Dover IRC for three years.  It is a place of mental torture.

You go through four separate gates before you enter Dover IRC and I got more and more scared with each one we passed through. The first gate is the big stone arch and there are two officers who take a movement order from the driver of the van; the second gate is attached to a small office. I remember a small lady coming up and running a metal detector over the car before coming into our van and asking me to confirm my name; gate number three is a big metal structure and the driver got out and signed some paperwork before we went on; at the last gate they just waved us through.

I as put in Deal House in Dover IRC and all you could see when you looked out of the window as the sea. You felt you were on the edge of a nation, sitting on the border. Sometimes you would get French signal on your phone or French stations on the radio.

As a survivor of torture I went into Dover IRC with existing mental health issues. The lack of a time limit made these worse. You can’t look forward. It is a never ending sentence – a life sentence – only I had not committed a crime.

The female officers were supportive at Dover IRC. They would encourage you to keep going. Sometimes they would smile. But many of the male officers at Dover were rude. It was normal to hear them shout ‘go back to your country!’ They demonised us. I think it made it easier for them to do their jobs.

We were dependent on one hair clipper for 100 people in Dover. It would stay in the wing office and you’d have to give them ID to get it. Sometimes you had to wait for three weeks before it was your turn. We had no real way of cleaning the clippers, as nothing with alcohol in it was allowed inside. I developed lots of skin conditions on my head from sharing the clippers.

You don’t notice the seasons in Dover. You were in a cage inside and they made no difference to you. The only way you could really tell it was changing was by what clothes the guards wore when they came inside and out.

Unless you are working in Dover then you are locked up in for nineteen hours a day. All you can do is think. Think, think, think…you go crazy. It’s even worse in a single room. There is no-one to talk to. It is just you and your head.

I tried to take my life five times. But I thought about my kids and I couldn’t do it. They pulled me through detention.

There is a big pressure to work in detention, even though it is only for £1 an hour. Firstly, working in detention is the only way to leave your cell – otherwise you are there all day. Secondly, if you don’t work then the Home Office can say that you are ‘not complying’ with Immigration and this can count against your case. Working in detention is also a way to control people in detention. If you complained, you can lose your job. And if, for example, you have family far away then you have to work otherwise you cannot afford to call them.

I went for bail ten times but they turned it down because I had no address to go to. They also rejected my S4 application on many occasions. Finally, BiD helped me try to find out why I wasn’t being allowed free. I will never forget how I felt when I received the fax from them with the explanation. It said that the Home Office had been keeping me in Dover because I had committed murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. I had done none of these things. I had only claimed asylum. I hadn’t been charged with any kind of crime.

I think about Dover IRC every day. All the time. It as if it has merged with my traumas from back home to become one.