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Prayers and Support Free Canadian ICE Detainee

Doug Richardson's father, Bob, flew from Calgary to San Francisco and after a few days was able to put his son on a plane home. It is now Sunday morning July 8th and Doug is home! His father is staying a while longer to talk with people and visit the Oak Grove where this ordeal began.

The Story

23 year-old Canadian, 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 Douglas, a Canadian citizen, it led to a cell in the Yuba County Jail. Doug had lost his identification months ago while visiting Mexico, and hadn’t replaced it. Canadians now need passports to enter and exit the United States and without any proof of when he entered the U.S. he fell under Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) Department of Detention and Operations’ jurisdiction as a “removable alien.” In between his tree sitting and Yuba, Douglas had also been arrested for sleeping under a tree and resisting arrest. Some days in jail and a fine later he was swept up by ICE. Removable aliens who have been convicted of any crime have become special targets of ICE in their “Operation Return to Sender” program so Doug was swept into ICE’s control and taken to Yuba County Jail. The Yuba jail has a contract with ICE to house detainees and typically about 200 of its beds are kept available “for sale” to ICE.

During this detention, Doug had been able to keep in touch with his parents, calling them and letting them know he was OK and awaiting deportation within days, he thought. 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.

In one of their phone calls, Doug’s mother asked “How are you coping, without your violin?” (he wasn’t allowed to have it with him). “I’m singing with the other prisoners.” Douglas told her.

Typically, ICE detainees being held at Yuba County Jail are kept in special “pods” meant only for immigration detainees. These are fairly calm places, according to Lt. Jim Downs, a Deputy-Sheriff who manages the jail. However, because of some friction between occupants of Doug’s pod, on or around June 17th, he was moved to another part of the jail. At this point, things began to go badly. It is possible that he was moved to a pod with criminal detainees (we have not confirmed which pod he was moved to yet). Doug told his mother that he felt that he was in great danger in this pod and sought a way out. He told jailers he was having suicidal thoughts and was placed in an isolation cell. From there…. things become very fuzzy.

According to a lawyer who took on Doug's case pro-bono, Doug's medical and mental condition had become very bad while in isolation but despite protests by Yuba County's Lt. Downs that Doug needed medical or psychiatric hospital attention, Doug was transported to the San Francisco ICE office so that he could be processed out and placed on a plane to Canada. When he arrived at the ICE detention facility, “he was acting bizarre,” Officer Moser of ICE told his mother. He had stripped naked and wouldn’t talk to anyone. “And he’s under suicide watch so we can’t put him on a plane to send him home.”

From singing with the other prisoners to suicide watch didn’t make any sense to the Richardsons and having friends who had lost a child to suicide certainly raised their level of distress. What could possibly have happened to the young man who only days before had been singing with other prisoners, to turn him into a naked, suicidal mute? "Had he been drugged, raped, or what?" his mother wondered. When she asked if Officer Moser would “let him talk to his mother on the phone,” Moser told her that wasn’t possible.

He stopped taking Doug's mother’s phone calls and Doug was sent back to Yuba.

Jan’s mother, a minister in the United Church, wrote this poem that night:

Stripped of clothes of rights of freedom

Stripped down to the soul

It's all so wearing tiring tearing 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". Love always, the mom

At that point, no one at ICE would take their phone calls any more. The Richardsons, desperate to help their son, could not leave Canada because they didn’t have passports. Doug’s mother, Jan, Googled Yuba County Jail and found a story about our visit to that jail and emailed me to ask for prayers and to see if there was any way people in our community could help.

I immediately notified our various circles of friends asking for prayers, the names of lawyers, and ideas for helping Doug.

Jan also told me that Jim and Jean Strathdee, friends of the family who lived in the Sacramento area were on their way to the jail to see if they’d be allowed in to see Doug. 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 even offered to escort Douglas home to Canada if ICE would release him into their custody from Yuba County. They were turned away when they showed up at the jail.

Doug’s father wrote the following account of what had happened leading up to June 27th.

Doug's Father Wrote (on June 27th):

In the post-9/11 world, the United States administration has told everyone they don't torture people. Tell me what you think about this story.

Our son, Doug, was calling us from Yuba County Jail (a detention facility contracted to Immigration & Customs Enforcement) every few days. He called us on Father's Day, Sunday, June 17, and again Monday, June 18. On both occasions he was in good spirits. Then the phone fell silent. Friday, June 22, the officials at I.C.E. in San Francisco told us he would be coming home on Monday.

Meanwhile, up in Yuba County, no later than Saturday, June 23, Doug had been put in isolation, on suicide watch. From there, Lt. Downs, told I.C.E. not to try to ship Doug out on Monday the 25th, because he belonged in a hospital. I.C.E. had him transported into San Francisco anyway, and a hellish day for Doug and for us ensued.

Today, Lt. Downs stated to Doug's lawyer (Nedra Ruiz) that he was very dismayed when Doug was shipped back to him (Yuba County Jail is a 2-3 hour drive from San Francisco) the evening of June 25. And he has continued to tell the I.C.E. officials that Doug doesn't belong in his facility but rather somewhere where he can receive proper mental health assessment and treatment. At home here in Red Deer, Alberta, we've spent two more days in fear and confusion waiting for more information. (And while beds are at a premium in our psychiatric wards and mental health institutions, I'd rather our Canadian government employees were helping us find a space in this system than trying to at least get us a phone call from an American jail.) Doug is not allowed to call out now, even collect. The only "outside" voice he has heard in nine days was when I.C.E. Officer Carl Monroy (in San Francisco) put Doug on a speaker phone to his lawyer for a few minutes late Monday afternoon.

We still don't know how and when the change in Doug's mood and behaviour occured. This ordeal has been torturous for Doug, Jan and I, his lawyer, friends and other relatives. And it didn't have to be this bad.

As bad as this has been for all of us, our hearts are broken to think of the thousands of other I.C.E. detainees, most of whom have not got the support and resources that we and Doug have had... some who's own governments do not care about them and work to lobby on their behalf.

So I ask you, U.S. Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and I.C.E., when will you care about a human being.

written by Bob Richardson

father of Doug Richardson,

I.C.E. detainee

June 27, 2007

The Saga Continues – Prayer and Dad to the Rescue and Doug Finally Goes Home

On Thursday June 28th, Doug’s hometown and church held a prayer vigil and his story began to spread around the world. The Richardson’s local MP (member of Parliament) and other officials began to work to get an expedited passport for Bob Richardson.

Meanwhile, Lt. Downs convinced ICE to allow Doug to be transferred to a hospital and he was taken to San Francisco General’s psychiatric ward. On July 2nd, Doug called his parents and although he didn’t sound great, he at least was able to talk, knew who he was, and wanted to go home.

In order for Bob to fly to San Francisco, he needed an American citizen to vouch for him. He used my name and phone number. His wife called me as they were on their way to the airport to let me know, just in case someone checked in with me. Isn’t it strange that a Canadian citizen needs to have someone vouch for him to get into the United States?

Bob arrived in San Francisco on July 5th. When he visited his son at the hospital it was a very difficult visit. Doug was obviously glad to see his father but within a few minutes he was curled up in a fetal position, spitting out the food he had just eaten, and acting like an infant. Bob stayed with Doug for a few hours but exhaustion kicked in and he headed to his hotel. The next day, Doug was a little better, and as the hours wore on, Doug got more and more lucid.

By the 6th, he was capable of flying home and his father arranged a flight to Calgary.

The best guess Bob and others could make is that Doug had been given some types of drugs at Yuba County and/or in the San Francisco ICE facility and had reacted badly to the drugs. It is possible that he was given one type of medication to calm him down when had talked about suicide (sedative) and another type of medication when ICE needed him to be “up” to fly home (amphetamines). At this point, this is all speculation. The Richardsons are awaiting a review of Doug’s medical records, if they are actually available and complete.

Fortunately for Jan and Bob, no one mentioned the New York Times story that had broken during this ordeal, which covered the 62 deaths of people who were in ICE detention over the past three years. Had Jan or Bob known about those deaths, it could have been an even more frightening time than it was. For Doug, the story has a happier ending than for those other 62 people.

By Saturday July 7th, Doug was home, eating his favorite home-made cookies and settling in. His father stayed a couple of days longer to visit the Oak Grove and meet some of Doug’s friends.

Today, the family is back together, staying in a family cabin and trying to mend.

Doug Richardson’s story is but one of many nightmares people go through when caught up in our broken immigration system. Tomorrow, July 12th, my friends from Multifaith Voices from Peace and Justice are finally being allowed into the short-term detention facility in San Francisco, to meet with officials there and see the conditions under which people are held.

More tomorrow.

From the Red Deer Advocate Newspaper: June 28th

Violinist jailed for protesting By LANA MICHELIN Advocate staff A 23-year-old Central Alberta man is being held in a California jail on suicide watch and his anguished mother wants to know why. Douglas Richardson is a Delburne-raised violinist who chose to busk for a living and drifted to the San Francisco Bay area. His counter-culture lifestyle of sleeping in parks, at shelters, or at friends’ homes frequently worried his mother, Jan Richardson, a United Church minister. But Richardson, who recently served at Sunnybrook United Church, said her “spiritual” son always explained he’d rather perform for others as a way of spreading his love, than study to be a musician. “That’s the thing about Doug, he wants to save the world. He cares deeply about everything,” said Jan. It was Douglas’s social consciousness that led to his arrest on May 22. Jan was told her son was taken into police custody at a peaceful protest on the Berkeley University campus, where students were trying to keep a grove of oak trees from being removed for a new athletic complex. Douglas was put into the county jail for sleeping under a tree and resisting arrest. Federal immigration officials got involved when it was discovered that the Canadian man had lost all of his identification papers. Jan faxed some documents to California and Douglas was supposed to be taken out of jail and put onto a flight to Edmonton on Monday. But on Monday morning, Jan received a phone call from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service. An officer said her son was not fit to fly unescorted because of his bizarre behaviour. “They said he was a danger to himself or others,” said Jan, who was told Douglas was completely unresponsive when spoken to. Later that day, Douglas apparently took all his clothing off and refused to get dressed, and was put back into jail. Jan can’t understand this change in her son’s mental state. She said she last spoke to Douglas by phone on June 18 when he recounted singing with other prisoners and seemed in good spirits. But by Sunday a friend who tried to visit him was turned away by jail officials who revealed that Douglas was on suicide watch. Jan said this information was not passed on to immigration officials who came to pick him up for the flight on Monday. “I want to know what happened between the 18th and the 24th. Was he drugged, raped, beaten? Did he have a breakdown?” The mother was only told that a mental health assessment is being planned for Douglas. Jail officials cut her off from further information, saying her son did not authorize that she be told. On Wednesday, Jan learned from a lawyer who’s taken on her son’s case pro-bono that jail officials do not believe prison is the right place for her son. “They’re trying to get him moved to a mental health facility.” Jan just wants her son to come home. Red Deer MP Bob Mills and Foreign Affairs Department staff are expediting passports for Jan and her husband Bob so they can fly to California. In the meantime, a 7 p.m. song and prayer vigil will be held for Douglas today at Sunnybrook United Church. Contact Lana Michelin at

Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice Tries to Visit SF ICE

While ICE had permitted our organization (Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice) to tour the Yuba County Jail, they had steadfastly refused to allow us to visit their San Francisco detention cells. We had heard nightmare stories about the conditions there, but without the ability to see it with our own eyes, we had 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! At the urging of Representative Anna Eshoo (D. Palo Alto), the San Francisco director of ICE has invited Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice to visit the ICE detention facility in San Francisco on Thursday July 12th. Watch this space for a story about what we learn that day!

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.

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