Yesterday I met Luis and gave him a new set of clothes. As I write I remember Jesus saying, “I was naked and you clothed me.” What a privilege it is to give a man clothing. It’s like giving him some dignity back, with the hope that he might know himself as a precious son of God.
This is not what the state of Arizona gave Luis. Luis was a high school student living with his mom, dad, and sister in Phoenix. He got in with the wrong people, made poor choices, and was arrested. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 8 to 10 years in prison. I met Luis on the day he got out. He was handcuffed and shackled and placed in a van and driven across the US border into Nogales, Mexico. He was told not to return to Arizona nor to his family there. Luis did not complete his process of citizenship before he was arrested and because he committed a felony, the door to citizenship is now closed. He was deported to Mexico, where he has not lived since he was a small child. Luis was not celebrating his freedom instead he was scared.
While being transported out of the country, Luis got sick and, handcuffed and shackled, he threw up on himself. The first thing he wanted to do when he got to the Kino Border Initiative was to get a new set of clothes. For eight years in an Arizona prison, he was not treated with the dignity of a child of God. His exit from prison and the country he used to call home continued this treatment. That is why we are here at the border—to recognize every human being as a brother and sister, to treat every human being with dignity and respect, especially those being cast off and crucified by our society.
The state of Arizona spent a half million dollars keeping this young man in a cell for the first 8 years of his adulthood. Imagine the good that could have been done with those resources. When Luis requested to enroll in a GED program he was told, “You’re going to be deported, why do you need a GED?” So Luis leaves prison with not even a high school education. Much of his time in prison was spent trying to stay safe and out of trouble.
Heart to Heart wants something different for our brothers and sisters caught up in this system of mass incarceration. We know doing time can be a pivotal moment in a person’s life. We know a new direction and sense of purpose can arise when given space and support. We know that there are essential skills all of us humans need and that men and women behind bars are hungry for this growth and learning.
While we weren’t there for Luis during his time of incarceration in Arizona, I am privileged to be present with him for a moment of his crossing over into his new life. He is taking a bus, first to Mexico City, then further south, to the home of his grandparents. They live in the country, and he would like a fresh start with them.
Steve Tumolo, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico – July, 2021