Image courtesy of Michael Collins

This blog post was written by John for Unlocking Detention, in the form of a letter to Colnbrook, the detention centre where he was held for three and a half months.  John is a member of Freed Voices, a collective of experts-by-experience who have lost over 30 years between them to immigration detention in the UK. They are all present or former clients of Detention Action.

Dear Colnbrook,

I’ve got a few questions for you in relation to the three and a half months you held me in detention.

Why were the Officers at the induction unit so mean and unwelcoming to me? I remember asking for a bed sheet and was given a pillow case. I remember asking for a tooth brush and waiting patiently for over 72 hours. I was treated harshly and spoken to rudely. Were you trying to give me a terrible first impression of Colnbrook, or did that just happen by mistake?

Why was my asylum claim treated in isolation to my family asylum claim? I claimed asylum as part of a family but was detained and dumped at Colnbrook all by myself. Were you just trying to scare me because I was so young?

Why did you only tell me I was on the Detained Fast Track after ten days of being on it? I hear it has been abolished now for being unlawful. Did you know how unfair and unjust it was when you put me on it? Every day, I watched your staff go home to their safe beds, and to their families, and then return the next morning. How did they live with that knowing what we were going through?

Why were we locked up in the room from 9pm to 8am every day? What was the point of this? Where were we going to go? Up and over the barbed wire? What message are you trying to send to the people they detain?

The officers at Colnbrook would always say ‘this is a high-security detention centre’. It wasn’t. It was a high security prison. I even had PRISON NUMBER printed in bold on the front page of my medical report. And yet, I have no criminal record, I haven’t committed a crime. I guess my question is, despite this, did you see me as a criminal?

I saw an old man in his late seventies with a walking stick. I saw a guy who had just had a major operation who struggled to pick up his medication. There was a survivor of torture, covered in scars. I heard people screaming at night because they were going mad inside in Colnbrook. What exactly is your definition of ‘vulnerable’ if you are detaining these kinds of people?

I prefer to call ‘Healthcare’ in Colnbrook, the ‘Inhuman Treatment Centre’. Are the staff there medically trained? Are they aware of medical ethics? Do you know that once I was given the wrong medication, complained of dizziness, and the doctor checked my medication and after 5 mins told me “yes, sorry the nurse gave you the wrong medication.” Really?! Do you know how many times I left ‘Healthcare’ with tears running down my cheeks simply because I was terrified I’ve been given the wrong medication again?

Do you think you’d be able to talk about your problems with someone who is doing everything they can to tell you they don’t like you?

Why are the nurses at Colnbrook so quick to dispense medications before listening to the patients, acting like they already knew what was wrong with them? I ended up feeling that their evil was intentional and a calculated attempt to terminate my life or create complications for me.

Were the staff in Colnbrook told to try and make my life, and the lives of my family, an agony? Were they just following orders?

Why was I given the opportunity to work and earn £1 an hour in Colnbrook but now that I am out of detention, I have automatically been stripped off this same right?

I met lots of people who had lost hope because they didn’t know when they were getting out. Is this why you don’t have a time-limit? So that people give up?

Even though I’ve been out now for two months, do you know I still have panic attack every time I think about the horror I went through in your detention centre? Three weeks ago I almost fainted at the police station where I usually sign, just because I saw two immigration officers walking towards me. In that moment, I thought I was going to be arrested. I thought I was going to see you again.

Goodbye Colnbrook. I hope I can clear your horror from my memory. I hope we never meet again.