By Jamie Shapiro
I did not know how to pronounce the name Moises. It has been a year and a half since I have taken a Spanish class, and longer since I’ve spoken it conversationally and at length. And here I am, walking through the metal detectors, past bullet proof class and through the room packed with mothers and small children, through the cold halls of Stewart Detention Center on a rainy Saturday afternoon, to speak to a man I have never met. All I know is that he is from El Salvador, and that his name is Moises.The guard leads us into a small room with five chairs opposite five thick panes of plastic. A black telephone hangs beside each chair. I don’t know who is Moises (the visit was set up by a non-profit, “El Refugio,” connecting an inmate who wants a visit but has no visitors, with people like us—the curious and those interested in the massive injustice that is American immigration policy.) Somehow, I walk up to the right pane of plastic, sit down, and pick up the phone. Moises is already sitting, phone in hand.He is a young man, about my age I realize with some surprise. I had imagined an older man, someone weather beaten and defeated. Moises is young, energetic, smiles easily and is anything but defeated. I tell him who I am and how I got to be there in halting Spanish. He introduces himself, tells me he left San Salvador only a month ago, and was only recently put in Stewart. He talks about how insane the prison is, how he feels like he is in a movie, how it can’t be real. He begins to cry. He asks me all about myself, and I tell him. He doesn’t understand why I would want to move to a city far away from my family, to pursue goals that are completely unclear. He marvels at my courage. I tell him my courage is nothing compared to his. He continuously thanks me for coming to see him.We talk about God, how Moises feels closer to Him then ever before. He has time, he tells me, to feel the Spirit. He would not survive, he tells me, without it. He misses his family desperately. He came to Georgia, he tells me, all the way from San Salvador, El Salvador, to meet up with his older brother who is already here working. His plan was to be with his brother and his brother’s family, work, and send money back to his parents, who live in a very difficult situation. He was picked up almost as soon as he got to Georgia, at a roadside check, and placed in Stewart. He is younger then me, only twenty two years old.I try to teach him the “Our Father” in English, and he teaches it to me in Spanish.We say it together. He blesses me. We talk some about sports, girlfriends, and what life is like in our respective home countries. After about forty-five minutes, he asks how many families are waiting to see their husbands. Wanting to give families more opportunity to speak, we decide to end our conversation. Moises is near tears again, and so am I. We hang up and raise palms to the glass, a movie cliché. But it’s real. And Moises does not know when it will end.