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The reason why I wrote "Out of Status"

We don’t really know what we’re missing until it’s been taken from us. We wake up every morning thinking that our soft and cozy bed will always be there waiting for us at the end of the day. There are things we take for granted because we never thought such things would cease to exist. To look up in the sky and see the sun shine and the stars at any hour of the day seems a constant gift that is always readily available – until you are not even allowed to step outside without barriers and restrictions.

It’s important to keep one’s mind focused on the good in one’s life. To make the hours in a day seem shorter, writing about one’s day has always been therapeutic, especially when there’s no one there to talk to face to face.

There are experiences that will fade and be forgotten. However, there are those that will always remain vividly in our hearts and minds…

This is my brother's journal. He was only 13 years old when he first came to America. For almost 20 years, our families hired various lawyers to obtain permanent status. However, my brother wasn't as lucky.

FREEDOM LOST: Benjie’s Journal
Elizabeth Detention Center
October 27, 2005 – November 24, 2005

Benjie’s Journal Entry – Oct. 27, Day 1, Thursday

5 a.m.  – Got picked up from the house. Mood: Scared

7 a.m.  – Homeland security office holding cell. (Spoke with officers about case. Officer in charge was watching us at our house in Willingboro for a week.) Jokingly I asked, “You were stalking us. Have nothing better to do?” We had more conversations about immigrants.

10 a.m. – Just found out Kuya Noel has just been picked up. Good versus bad news. Picked up: bad news! Mom and Dad at home: good news! I used the phone to talk to my family. I’m OK.  I spoke to Mom and Dad and told them that I’m OK and then I spoke to my nieces and nephews: I said hello to (niece) Zoe. She made me cry. Then my “jester” Mikey said that he is going to be famous because of his “illegal alien” song. “Brap-brap” to my dirt-bike buddy, Paolo, and asked him to take care of pet dog, Kenny. Asked Jonathon about school. I tried to comfort Nicole and told her that everything will be alright. Don’t cry for I am not dead. Promised that we will see each other again. Started crying. It’s really tough to talk to my nieces and nephews. I told my sis that I don’t want to see the kids in jail because they will just cry and that will make me weak. The kids insisted, begged and cried. Craig said that I have to see them because the kids see me as their Dad. Started crying. Kids asking what they want from my stuff. Paolo – the truck, Nicole – my CDs. (She has been shy with me when it comes to asking lately).

11:30 a.m. – Met Bao Dong. Ankles chained together. Picked up at work at Atlantic City.

12:00 p.m. – Ate lunch where we pee at the holding cell; Tried to sleep hoping that “this  is just a bad dream.” Prayed to God hoping that HE is listening and helping my family deal with this ordeal. Tried to talk to inmate but couldn’t coz he didn’t speak a word of English. (Short, skinny, dyed hair, heavy smoker and his breath smells really bad.)

2:00 p.m. – Head ached from lack of sleep and crying. Officer Fitz checked up on me. The officer told me how he had once fallen in love with a PINAY from Japan. But I said that he’s a pimp and he got a big laugh out of it! And he said the Pinoy phrase “Hahalikan kita!” and I told him that he’s not supposed to say it to me. (“Hahalikan kita” means I will kiss you!)

3:00 p.m. – Got transported to Elizabeth Detention Center. I asked them if the chains are necessary; they said “yes,” it is their policy. I was asked to lift my arms and then they wrapped the chains around my waist and ankles. About to leave for detention. The immigration officer said “good luck” and I begged him to take it easy with my Mom and Dad. Got transported with Dong. He kept shaking his head. Me? -- teary-eyed.

3:30 p.m. – Passed by N.J. Turnpike and said “goodbye” to exits 5, 6, 7A, 7, 8, 8A, 9, 10 and 11.

4:30 p.m. – Entered the detention center and imagined what Kuya Nelson went through, now that I am going through it.

4:45 p.m. – Processing and met “Y. Holmes,” big dude like a giant, but a nice guy. I was placed in holding for one hour while they had their burrito lunch.

5:00 p.m. – Got my first taste of prison food – bread, milk, chicken patty. Tasted like crap, but Dong seemed to love the food. He was practically inhaling it!

6:00 p.m. – Got my fingerprints done. First Holmes made a mistake. He used my info for Dong’s prints. Conversation with Holmes about business, college football and people he knows that became “pro.” Dong’s lighter was confiscated and thrown into trash. He got upset because it was expensive. Only found $1 in my wallet. “Perfect” time to go back to the Philippines because I am broke! (Got a laugh!)

8:00 p.m. – Got my survival kit – plastic cup, spork, three pairs of blue uniforms, three pairs of T-shirts (white), three pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks, toothbrush, soap, shampoo, towels, black shoes, lotion and deodorant. Took a shower for the first time in the prison. Made sure I did not drop the soap.

8:30 p.m. – Medical. I got examined and got a T.B. shot. Met Egyptian guy with asthma. (He got picked up at the hospital because the nurse called Homeland Security). Has a beard; looks like a terrorist according to the nurse. He spent one month in jail.

9:30 p.m. – Moved to my cell, A2. People were watching “Zorro.” Then got to my bed and Herman from Guatemala helped me prepare my bed. He then asked each inmate how they got picked up. The Guatemalans said that INS police showed picture of a guy that does not exist then asked for everybody to show their paperwork – passport or green card. Then Herman told the story of his life and how he hid and did not open the door. Wife was left behind with the kid and the officer said for him to say goodbye to his family coz he won’t see them anymore. Then met a guy from Tanzenher, South Africa. He spoke perfect English and told how he got picked up: in the airport for overstaying the last time he visited and they told him that he will stay in a motel. Turned out to be this rat hole and walked in airport with chains and cuffs.

10:30 p.m. – Lights out but couldn’t go to sleep. Just too much noise – sound of the TV, people yelling, dominos hitting the stainless steel table. Plus remembered the kids’ voices and how they would cry.

Photo credit: screen capture from TFC Balitang America interview with Don Tagala


  1. Popped in to say hi--that is so heart wrenching!

    1. Thank you for stopping by to say "hi". Hopefully we can make a difference.


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