23 year-old Douglas Richardson is described by his mother as “a very spiritual being… sensitive to others… a gifted violin player who shares that as his universal language of love.” That spirit carried him up a tree in Berkeley, trying to protect the Oak Grove from being cut down to make room for a new athletic center. While for most people such an act of civil disobedience would result in a slap on the wrist and a fine, for Canadian citizen Douglas, it has led to a cell in the Yuba County Jail. He was sent there by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service (ICE).
In between the tree sitting and Yuba, Douglas also got arrested for sleeping under a tree and resisting arrest. Some days in jail and a fine later, released by local police, he was picked up by ICE and taken to Yuba.
After being at Yuba for a few weeks, an immigration judge had granted him a conditional release and ICE had transferred him to their office in San Francisco in preparation for his flight back to Canada. But instead of being flown home, he ended up back in Yuba. “He’s been acting bizarre,” Officer Moser of ICE told his mother. “And he’s under suicide watch so we could not put him on a plane to send him home.” When his mother asked if Office Moser would “let him talk to his mother on the phone,” Moser told her that wasn’t possible and has now stopped taking Douglas’ mother’s phone calls.
No one in U.S. officialdom is talking to Jan Richardson now, and from her church in Red Deer, Alberta Canada, she’s reaching out to anyone who might be able to help.
She and her husband would jump on a plane to get to the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, but neither of them has a passport, now required for Canadians to visit the United States. Friends from Sacramento, Jim and Jean Strathdee, are on their way to the jail now to see if they’ll be allowed in to see Douglas. The Strathdees are ministers of music, well known in churches across the world for their songs including “Draw the Circle Wide” and “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.” They’ve offered to escort Douglas home to Canada if ICE will release him from Yuba County.
Right now Douglas, his family, and the Strathdees need our prayers and maybe soon, other forms of support. His mother is quite clear about the mistakes Douglas has made, not the least of which was losing all his identification papers and not getting them replaced. Yet when she had been able to communicate with Douglas prior to June 18th, his biggest concern was for his fellow prisoners, trapped in the Yuba County Jail for months or years, with little hope of being released any time soon, caught up in a post-9/11 immigration nightmare.
“How are you coping, without your violin?” his mother asked. “I’m singing with the other prisoners.” Douglas told her.
From singing with the other prisoners to suicide watch doesn’t make any sense to the Richardsons but having friends who have lost a child to suicide certainly raises the level of distress for them. What was his bizarre behavior in the San Francisco detention cells while he was waiting to be released? He’d stripped naked and wouldn’t put his clothes back on.
Last night, Jan wrote the following poem for her son:
Stripped of clothes
Stripped down to the soul
It's all so wearing
It's what so many know
The clothes on your back
become part of the attack
a choice between flight or fight
release or peace
be "me" or be "we".
While ICE has permitted our organization (Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice) to tour the Yuba County Jail, they have steadfastly refused to allow us to visit their San Francisco detention cells. We have heard nightmare stories about the conditions there, but without the ability to see it with our own eyes, we have no idea how bad or good it might be. Perhaps Douglas had good reason for tearing off his clothes – it is after all a rather biblical thing to do!
Please pray for this family and watch this web site for other calls to act. And, if you feel for this particular family, remember that there are hundreds of prisoners at the Yuba County Jail trapped in this nightmare, and thousands more across the United States, who need our prayers and action.