I sat there in disbelief almost in denial. I felt a kid-like sense of safety. I thought to myself, I did nothing wrong, I will get everything sorted out and I will be on my way.
That day started like any other, little did I know it would end the way it did. I was 19 years old and had just moved to a small town. The people were warm and polite. However, the majority was white. Even though for the most part people were sweet you could feel the separation of identities. I was one of only a few Latinos in town.
I answered a few questions.
“Can I look at your identification?” I didn’t have it on me. I had nothing on me. I had just gotten out of work. I was dirty, tired, and hungry. I just wanted to go home.
The officer had stopped me because he said my tail light was out. Deep inside I knew that wasn’t the case. You see as I was driving home I saw the officer a couple feet away. He was on the side of the road. As I got closer I noticed he started his car. As we met eyes he put his car on drive. Which means he meant to pull me over even before he got behind me to notice the tail light.
After what I felt was nothing but a blink I was surrounded by four cop cars as if I had robbed a bank. Officers were walking back and forth, talking on walkie talkies and I was being handcuffed. The officer that handcuffed me shook his head as if he was ashamed of my existence. I felt a lump in my throat, I was confused and terrified! I didn’t understand what was going on. “Why I was being handcuffed?” My heart started beating so hard I could hear it. I wanted to crumble and cry. I was only 19, I am just a kid I thought. I had never broken the law. I have always tried to be the best person I could. I have never hurt someone, I wouldn’t dare! Why am I getting handcuffed?As the officer looked at me I held back my tears.
This was one of the most difficult times of my life. I didn’t know it yet but that was a moment that was going to test my limits, my will to live, and my fight for what was right.
On my ride to a purgatory correctional facility all I can think about was my jobs. I needed to work to help support my mom, my sister, and I. I could not lose my jobs! That car ride felt like eternity. I missed home already. Before I knew it, I was standing in a cell alone. Again, I wanted to cry. I knew I had to be strong because only the guilty cry. I said that to myself again and again. I just needed to convince myself to not cry.
After a few hours they took my fingerprints and my picture. Then I stood in front of an officer. He began his questioning.
Where are the drugs?!
Who crossed you?!
Who were you going to sell the drugs to?!
Do you really think you can lie to me?!
I will find out the truth no matter what!
What?! Drugs?! My fear left my body and it was replaced by anger! These people are trying to put a crime on me I did not commit. All my life I have tried to be a good person. I volunteered, worked hard, and I hurt no one. So I took a deep breath and I fought back.
I have never done drugs!
I have never sold drugs!
I have never associated myself with anyone that has sold drugs!
Again, I did not have drugs!
I don’t know where I got the courage to talk back to an officer but I am glad I did. That would be the first of many moments in there I would have to defend myself.
Hours later, I was in jail attire getting walked to a room full of bunk beds. The officer gave me a mattress, a blanket, a sheet and a change of clothes and pointed to my bed. It was already bed time, everyone was in their beds. I walked in feeling so terrified out of my mind.
I had the bunk bed on the bottom. I stared at the top of the second bed, I felt so alone. There were messages carved at the top of the bed. “God be with us” ” love you” and a family members’ name. It really sunk in at that moment, I am in jail! I covered my mouth as I began to cry. I didn’t want to let anyone know I was crying. I felt hope leaving my body and it was replaced by terror. I was almost paralyzed by the pain. I guess even innocent people cry, they cry for the injustice. I could hear in the background the girls could hear me. They began to murmur
” Poor girl,” said one
“The first night is always the hardest,” said a second woman.
Then a third said,” she will get used to it. After a while she will be in and out of the system.”
To hear that, I wanted to die. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I waited until everyone was asleep and I snuck into the showers. As I felt the cold water I hunched in the corner. I cried like I had never before. I felt so stripped, alone. As my tears rolled down my face it was the warmest thing on my body. The water was ice cold. All I could think about was how I let father down. He gave everything up to give my family a better life. Now, I sat in the shower in a jail, like a criminal. Slowly the water got warmer and the pain began to fade. For a split second I felt the pain come to a silence. Then, one of the woman stormed in. I realized then the things we take for granted. A five minute shower was all I wanted. Actually a plain shower after a long ass day is all I wanted. Just a moment to be alone. She immediately turned off the shower and said, ” you will get us all in trouble! You can’t do that! This is not your home.” She threw my clothes at me and demanded I put them back on.
That night I cried myself to sleep.
The days after that I would wake up lineup for breakfast, spend the day walking around. Pacing back and forth waiting for answers. I thought to myself, “this is my life!” At first I was terrified to look anyone in the eye. These were criminals we were talking about. You hear so many horror stories. I didn’t want to die or get beat up, or get in any more trouble.
After a day of being in bunk beds in the general open area I was moved to a cell, meaning I had a cellmate. She didn’t talk much which was perfect. I had no desire to make friends with criminals. The next day I was taken to the doctors office. I needed to get checked. My eyes were feeling off. As I arrived to the medical facility the doctor tried to intimidate me. He said
“what is your name?”
After I said my full name, ” Guadalupe Sanchez-Gutierrez ” he looked at me as less. I am Mexican.
He asked me what was wrong and as I was about to answer he said , ” Do you even know English?”
To which I answered, ” I have been answering you in English right? It must mean I do know how to speak it.” I usually wouldn’t talk back to anyone but it made me so angry to see how as soon as he heard my name he assumed he could humiliate me and look down at me. Two days after that I would pace back and forth. I made a phone call to see if my family knew what was going on. They were frantically trying to find answers. I remember after one of the phone calls I had with my family the frustration took over me. They had no answers to what was going on. I slammed the phone. I yelled ” I don’t belong here!” And I stormed into my cell.
After the three first days I was there I was escorted to a small office. Two officers sat me down. After a moments of suspense they let me know that they knew I was not the person they were looking for. I could go home I thought! I took a deep breath of relief. Then they told me they knew I wasn’t legally in the country. My heart sunk once more, I knew he was right.
Written by: Lupita G.