Trigger warning: suicide and self-harm

Like Red, whose poem we published earlier this week, Mishka is a member of the Freed Voices, a group of experts-by-experience who are committed to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK. In this blog, Mishka talks about the following images he drew based on his time in immigration detention. Mishka writes under a pseudonym and tweets @Mishka_anonym

I made these artworks a few months ago but so far I had only shared them on Twitter. Therefore I am glad that these will be shared on Unlocking Detention 2018 as well.

The reason I decided to create these pieces was to give a message to others who are not very aware of these experiences of immigration control. I hope that they will get the message I was intending to convey.

Audience-wise, I made these for people with compassion and empathy – but not sympathy because sympathy turns me off – who would get the message I was trying to convey.

I drew these artworks using computer software called Sketch Book Express. I drew them a few years after I was released, between November 2017 and February 2018. I was released from detention in 2014.

I enjoyed drawing them. I remember I used to draw one per week at that time. Even though my drawing skills are basic, I thought I would be able to convey a meaningful, strong message in the form of an artwork. A few people have told me that these drawings give a strong message, and I believe them.

The time it took to draw each of these varied. I would say on average it took 30 minutes to draw each one but some took a bit more time.

There must have been a trigger for me to choose these themes. For example: I remember why I decided to draw about reporting with the Home Office. It was because I remembered at the beginning of this year, my mum was asked to report with the Home Office. I grasped that she did not like going to report with the Home Office and was nervous, and I understood why.

I have been in that position before. This is why I decided to draw the painting about reporting with the Home Office. I had been in mum’s position, and I grasped the set of feelings that would have gone inside her mind when she was asked to report with the Home Office. So, I put that in a drawing.

The reason I drew the painting with chains and handcuffs is because they actually took me to the hospital A&E department in 2014 with a long chain and handcuffed with two detainee officers on both sides while hundreds of patients and visitors were watching, just like in the drawing.

What I happened was, while I was in detention, I became very ill. Then they took me to the A&E department. I could not even walk due to the severe pain caused by my illness, but this is how they took me to the hospital. I was chained to the hospital bed as well.

I still remember people were looking at me with confused faces. Even though it was a hard experience at that time, now in a way it feels funny when I remember the faces and reactions of those confused people, visitors, patients.

I had a long beard at that time, as I did not care about grooming my beard while I was in detention. I was heavily tattooed and I was escorted by two detainee officers on both sides, with chains and handcuffs. People in the in the hospital were like, “Who is this peculiar alien?” This particular first-hand experience is the reason I drew this.

All these artworks are directly linked to my past difficult and painful experiences that I had endured. In other words, these themes that I have chosen are about unpleasant or painful experiences that I have overcome already. Before I started drawing any of these, I looked back at those memories and experiences to envisage ‘old me’ in that position. Then, I draw these, adding a bit of black humour as well.

Lastly, the pain and traumatic experiences you endure in life eventually turn into wisdom. This wisdom helps you to see the world differently with a greater understanding. Also, the pain and harsh experiences you go through in your life can break you, but they can make you as well. So, when I drew these drawings, the pain and trauma blended into these drawings had already healed and turned into wisdom. These themes no longer feel painful or unpleasant; instead, it feels like they depict wisdom.

With thanks to Mishka for sharing his thoughts and drawings.

If you would like to share your own drawings, paintings, photographs or other visual images as part of Unlocking Detention, please get in touch on Twitter (#Unlocked18) or at