Why am I in this cell?

January 8, 2018

Siham Byah, a longtime Boston activist and a single mother, was deported secretly, without the knowledge of her family, friends or lawyer, in the days after Christmas, some seven weeks after she was detained at a check-in at ICE headquarters. Below are excerpts from Siham's gut-wrenching letters written from detention, edited slightly for publication, in which she describes the terrible treatment she faced while confined, along with her desperate attempts to maintain contact with her 8-year-old son Naseem, who was taken away by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF); her partner Aziz and his son Masin; and her lawyer and supporters.

Also included in this special SocialistWorker.org feature on Siham's case is our report on her deportation after she stood up for justice for herself and others and a heartbreaking appeal from her son Naseem.

November 10, 2017

I AM writing these lines from the Bristol County Jail, where I was brought upon my unjust, unwarranted and uncalled-for ambush-style arrest on Tuesday, November 7 at the ICE headquarters where I was asked to come in prior to my original check-in date because "They now require people to check-in twice a year." I have since been detained under inhumane conditions, and my son's life has turned upside down. He had been forcibly removed from the comfort of his home with a police escort and taken to some complete stranger's home, totally disregarding my repeated requests to have him placed with the designated people I had picked to care for him!

I had entered a hunger strike immediately after my arrest in protest, demanding a valid reason for it. However, even that basic right was coerced and extorted from me. This institution told me that if I continue to cry over what had happen to my son, I would be strapped in a bed in the psych ward and stripped of my clothes. "Cry in the shower," they suggested.

Siham Byah speaks at a rally for Palestinian rights in Boston
Siham Byah speaks at a rally for Palestinian rights in Boston (International Socialist Organization-Boston | Facebook)

Furthermore, I was taken, promptly, to a segregated solitary cell, and denied access to meds, heat, books, writing material and my attorney/family/DCF unless I ended my hunger strike. When they finally allowed me to call my attorney, they made it clear I was not to contact DCF or my family, in direct contradiction to their own regulations outlined in the handbook they handed me when I first got here. Faced with this cruel and unusual emotional blackmail, I was forced to take two bites of my food tray so I could find out, at the very least, where my son is!

I would like to take a moment to give all of you who support my just case a heartfelt "THANK YOU"! I remain steadfast in my belief that I deserve to be in my home, with my family where I belong. ICE and this place will never succeed in breaking my spirit,s and my faith in justice is unwavering. As for the smear campaign ICE is running against me, I find it to be a low blow, even by ICE's standards. Shame on them for trying to cover up their political retaliation against my by wrongly portraying me as a multiple felon or a "Jihadist." This is straight-up political and should never be allowed.

November 20, 2017

My roommate and I talked and exchanged stories until 12:30 a.m., then sat quietly reading until I started to fall asleep...About 5 to 10 minutes later, as I was just on my way to surrender to a slumber to escape this horrid day, the night-shift officer comes into our cell to inquire about the deck of cards my roommate owns, which sat plainly on our desk. Oh nothing, she just wanted to play with it to make the time go...She woke me from my near-sleep, around 1-1:30 a.m., and I couldn't go back to sleep.

About one to one-and-a-half hours later, around 2:45 a.m., the same officer storms in again, nearly giving me a fucking heart attack! I jump out of bed screaming and waking my roommate, Anna. This time, the officer came for me! She had two empty trash bags in her hands, and told me I am to "be moved" and to put my bedding and uniform in one, and whatever personal effects I want to take with me in the other. I got no answer when I asked where I am going or why. Sheer fucking panic, my roommate holding back her tears, me not knowing what to do.

I asked if I could call my attorney or my family to let them know, to which she said, "Sorry girl, you can't use the phone." I quickly jotted down Matt's and Aziz's numbers for Anna to call as soon as she is able to, packed my letters, pictures, notepads and books in a bag, hugged Anna, and left the unit at 3 a.m. By then, I had been told that I was going to Suffolk County jail, but was not sure if I'm staying there, coming back, or just making a transfer down there on my way somewhere else, or if I'm being shoved on a plane and deported somewhere...I took my paper goods and sat in a cell by myself near the entrance where I got "processed" for two hours when I first got to Bristol, after I changed into my non-warm clothes. I was shivering cold!

At 5 a.m., I got the Hannibal Lecter treatment AGAIN! Cuffs, shackles, the works. This time, I wasn't so shocked really; still feeling humiliated and dehumanized, but not shocked...Aren't these the same people who locked me in solitary with no heat, denied me attorney contact, family contact, finding out Naseem's whereabouts, meds and heat ALL BECAUSE I EXCERSIZED MY RIGHT to enter into a hunger strike? What am I expecting? Any illusion I ever had about basic human rights has quickly been rectified!

At 5:15, I get shoved into the "cage" of the van again no bigger than a dog crate, sitting on a tiny metal built-in stool in the bitter cold with no heat the entire way back to Boston! Shivering and getting bumped around the tiny narrow cage as the driver navigates his way through the morning traffic!

The heat in my cage kicked in when we reached I-93, about 15 minutes before arrival at South Bay jail, where I have been coming every Labor Day to serenade to ICE detainees with my buddies for two years in a row (missed this year). Little did I know that I will be one of those I used to (still) fight for.

We got here at 7 a.m. South Bay people have no idea who I am or what to do with me. I get escorted to an empty 12-person cell, so rancid and filthy I started to cough! The floor and walls had pee and other unidentifiable stains, the metal toilet bowl so fucking filthy, there is toilet paper stuck to its edges like an old carpet! I stood in the middle, unable to sit or move, for fear I'd touch something I won't recover form. The putrid smell fills my lungs and I feel them squealing for air. I ask for my inhaler to abort a full-fledged asthma attack!

Between booking me and moving me from one filth-pit to another, I was asked to sign things that were never discussed with me, such as if I had any pressing medical needs, which I fucking did, and I said so to at least three different people on different occasions! No Omeprazole--stomach on fucking fire! They also never asked me if I wanted to hurt myself or others, among many other things--when I pointed this out to the officer who was "processing" me, he and someone else just rolled their eyes and totally dismissed me!

About 10 a.m., someone escorts me upstairs for medical screening. I AGAIN get locked in a solitary cell, filthy down to the walls and the metal bunks with what seemed to be blood, snot, and other unidentifiable shit. One roll of toilet paper, no hand soap, no paper towels, no hygiene kit, and still freezing cold. Lunch comes, which I decline even though I'm starving on account of being fucking denied my meds, which are supposed to regulate my stomach acidity so it doesn't hurt so fucking much and doesn't feel like I've got an erupting volcano inside me!

I get asked to provide a urine sample. I say: Not if there's no soap to wash my hands with afterwards, for which I get yelled at before being given some soap. Four hours later, at 2 p.m., I get to see a nurse who doesn't know what she's doing. My blood pressure is surprisingly high. Go back to the filthy cell and wait. All of a sudden, it is shift change at 3 p.m., I am still standing on my feet in this filth because there are no chairs, just a ripped, very old dirty single mattress, and disgusting metal bunks! My back, legs and feet are absolutely killing me!

I see a new officer pass by my door, so I try to get his attention by knocking on the glass part of my cell door, while repeating: "Excuse me!" As if this guy is deaf and blind, he totally ignores my confused, and by now frustrated, ass and goes right pass me to exchange pleasantries with another officer sitting watch at a cell not too far away, as if I don't exist. I keep knocking to get his attention.

He comes back a few minutes later, frustrated (get this) that I "can't see that he's trying to say hello to a co-worker!" Motherfucker, my fucking LIFE is on the line here. I don't know what the fuck is happening, what am I doing here, until when, why. My lawyer doesn't know where I am, my boyfriend either. I've been here for eight hours, and I'm starving, sleep-deprived, freezing, confused and in excruciating pain, but by all means, you chatting up your co-workers is more important!

I ask if I can talk to my attorney. He says he doesn't even know who I am (and is in no hurry to find out either). I ask to find out what is happening, and he starts yelling at me, so graciously reminding me that I'm locked up in here whereas he is on the outside. To which I reply that he's denying me my basic rights, and that his actions won't be without legal ramifications. He leaves, and his supervisor comes by a few minutes later. I explain to him that I have questions. He opens my cell door to talk, notices my notepad and pen, and says, "This should be interesting":

Why am I in this cell?
Until when?
Can I call attorney?
Am I expected to stay?
When can I get meds?
Cell unsanitary...

He says he has no idea, but will find out for me. Thirty minutes later, another officer (nice) comes, takes me to see a doctor. She won't give me Omeprazole or anything tonight, can't fucking eat. Back to my cell. Another officer has some answers: I'm staying the night in this cell, and I can get "rec" time when I get to use the phone. No idea why I'm here, or until when. They will send someone to "clean" my cell while I'm on the phone. Btw, my blood pressure is even higher now, 144/107. I don't want BP meds!

I try Matt and Aziz on the phone. Neither answers. I try again and get Aziz. Just upset him even as I try hard not to scream or cry in frustration, while trying to spare him some of the painful details. He is too frustrated and angry. Apparently, he never got a call this morning and was surprised to find out I moved! Someday, that man is gonna get a fucking stroke, and it will all be my doing!

We talk briefly, quick updates. I know for a fact he won't find rest tonight! Fuck! Back in my cell, it smells okay, but the walls and bunks are still the same. I accept this fate for tonight, I got no more fight left in me! Tired, in pain, cold, hungry, confused, frustrated, and fucking pissed.

I lay on a bedsheet on the filthy mattress, and sit on it, writing away my momentary defeat. I still got have soap, no toothbrush/paste. As I'm sitting here in the temporary "clean" smell, I get a whiff of when I entered and was overcome by putrid, eye-fucking-blinding, urine stench!

I give up!

How the fuck is it okay to treat another human being like this? And do it so casually? When did people start thinking it was their God-given right to strip you of your dignity and humanity and everything I once thought was sacred! Sheni had leqlawi hada? Is this a reality? Can someone wake me from this fucking nightmare? I'm gonna lose myself in the pictures Aziz sent me of him and I and the boys.

Oh, and according to the ID they issued me, I am a Hispanic female, much taller than I actually am, weight 20 pounds less than I actually do, with jet-black hair and jet-black eyes. I don't fucking know how they don't even bother to ask simple questions to get the information right!

I never got a hygiene kit, a nightshirt, or my extra shirt, underwear or socks! Handbook says I should have! Haven't brushed my teeth, or hair all day! Didn't get to shower either! I have my period, can't change tampons, no fucking soap! I have asked for soap and toothbrush/paste at least more than three times! So far, nada!

Nurse felt generous today and gave me two Tums! What the fuck are two Tums supposed to do to a person with my bariatric ailment? I could only eat a couple of bites out of a dry/stale slice of white bread. It's 8 p.m. Monday, my last meal was soy milk and protein on Sunday at 11 a.m.! Oh, but a voluntary hunger strike is out of the question!

Holy fuckety fuck, today just fucking does NOT WANT to end! I had given up and had barely closed my eyes, hadn't even surrendered to sleep yet, when an officer came in with another officer and told me to pack up, that I was going to building B. Building B, it turned out, is where other ICE detainees from other prisons are kept temporarily while they transfer from their jails to go to court.

I asked him why I was going there, and he said, "You're going for a ride," as we went through the back staircase of the medical building, crossing a large courtyard with a deserted basketball court (it was 10:40 p.m.) I had a cold sweat running down my spine, thinking this was a trap, a setup. That he might jump me at any moment or something.

We made it to Building B where, behind the reception, was a lieutenant and an officer, and outside leaning in were two other tall, well-built officers. I asked them where was I headed, and one of them replied, "To NYC, where we're going to put you on a plane and watch you go home." I said, my home is Nahant, Massachusetts, and may I please call my attorney. They looked at each other, puzzled. One of them said, "We can't allow phone calls during a transfer." WTF do you mean transfer? They both went into an office, closed the door and talked, and then called me. They explained that they would extend me the courtesy of using their landline to call Matt.

I called Matt's cell phone, left a voice message. They said I have until the third officer shows up for Matt to call back. He explained to me that we can do this the easy way or the hard way. I can either comply, or refuse to, which isn't without serious consequences, charges might be brought against me, etc. They asked me to leave the office and let them discuss this, which I did. Moments later, I asked to speak to them again, suggesting that I call Aziz, ask him to track down Roxana down, or her BF Seth, and they try to get in touch with Matt NOW!

He was kinda, gonna agree, but his supervisor said, "Listen, we tendered you a courtesy because you are calm, polite and articulate, but we cannot allow contact with family and friends during transfer." At which point, I said, then, I respectfully exercise my right to refuse. He did not seem to like that. He tried to persuade me otherwise, and I kept respectfully declining. Then he saw the third officer through the glass, and went to talk to him. The other officer said to me, "I cannot tell you this when he's here, but continue to refuse and face a judge here, it is safer." He said, "I am not particularly enjoying my job tonight. You seem like a decent person."

Then the two others walked in. I said, "I would like to exercise my right to refuse removal/compliance at this point, please." He said, "Well, it doesn't work that way," I again explained to him briefly why I was choosing that option. He said, "It is time to just accept it and go, because within 24 hours, once in Morocco, you can hop on a plane and go anywhere and see your boys." I said it wasn't as simple as he tries to make it out to be, and that I may not have that option. Besides, my boys live here in the U.S., the one place I can't go, so what's the point?

He explained that there will be dire consequences to my refusal to comply, and that I would remain in custody, in addition to much more. I said I understand, but I'm still not going. I was asked to once again step outside for them to discuss this among themselves. By this point, I was shaking despite my calm and fierce exterior. Looking at that one picture of my precious boys on Sunday, November 5, at the mini-golf place, happy, silly, care-free, unsuspecting--their naughtily happy goofy faces of bliss forever frozen in time!

A few minutes later, the third guy came out, sat beside me and said: "I'm good at my job. I don't want to fight with you for five hours. I could cuff you and drag you across the floor to the vehicle, but you're not the person I want to do this to. Many scumbags come through this office, and believe me, they GO, but I just checked your file. You have never been convicted of a crime. You are polite, respectful, intelligent and, by all appearances, a good mom/person. So if I cuff you, would you please remain calm?"

Still holding Masin and Naseem's picture, the only thing I could muster was "please don't hurt me." He said he wouldn't: "I will cuff you, then I will attempt to stand you up, at which point, say NO, then I will call it a no-go. The camera has to see me doing my job."

Honestly, of the three, he was the one I least expected this from! He was the most adamant about convincing me to go (or threatening me), but he humbled me with his gesture. He got the cuffs, asked me to put down the pictures. I did and calmly extended my hand out for him to put on the cuffs. He did it in a solemn, somber, almost ritual-like way. Then he (kinda) attempted to stand me up, promptly turned to the other two and said, she won't go!

When he removed my cuffs, I couldn't help it--tears, silent, tired, touched, ran quietly down my cheeks. I said to all three of them: Thank you for not hurting me! I felt they all wanted to reach in and hug me. They turned me over to the lieutenant whose task it is to now rebook me and take me back where I was. The guys left, wishing me good luck, the lieutenant went to get me new jail clothes, while an officer took me to a large CLEAN holding cell (unlocked) to wait for him.

Unable to contain my emotions or to process what the fuck just happened. Realizing how close I had come to losing every person I hold dear to my heart, Aziz and my boys, none of whom are in a position to follow me to Morocco right now or in the near future, coming close to never see my nuclear family ever again. How many words left unsaid, how many laughs got stopped in all our throats before seeing the light of day! I have so much more love to give, so much more nurturing to do, so much more parenting, so much more sex with my beloved, so many babies yet to be had!

I have not given all I've got yet, I am not done! I have barely begun to live, barely laughed, barely loved! My boys need me! I'm a damn good mom. Aziz needs me, he deserves to be happy with his partner! He has had it tough. I've barely just started to help him heal. He will lose faith in life if this was over! Who would raise my Naseem? Why would he ever have to live with ANYONE when his loving and dedicated mother has still so much to give? Who would sit Masin down and teach him how to read? He is my little rebellious devil, and Aziz is a softie, he needs me. My boys, all thee need me, including the adult one...

Let me be in peace...there is a master's in neuropsychology out there with my name on it. Why end this? I am barely getting started...So much more to do, so much to give, so much fun to be had...AGAIN who the fuck would raise my firstborn, and how would anyone ever convince him that condemning him to a motherless childhood by choice is/was the right thing to do...

Slow down, hold your horses... I am just getting started... Let me be a mom, let me be a partner, let me be a therapist and a researcher, just fucking LET ME BE! Another sleepless night, weak burning stomach, I no longer feel pain, hunger or cold, as I sit in a new cell back in medical. At least this one is so much cleaner than cell number 16 where I was...except there is no heat, and it's COLD! My whole body is shaking...My mind is racing, my tears, hold back, this feels surreal!

Somebody please explain this to me, I just can't anymore! How much more of this am I to endure? What the fuck is happening? Why is this happening? Oh, what I would give for a hug from my babies right now. But I cannot afford to, I may break down and cry, and they are confused enough as it is! I cannot even wish for a hug from Aziz for this, this might just break him, and I won't have that...

I must stand tall and remain strong on my own! This feels lonely...tired of strange new faces, I want a friendly familiar face for a change! I WANT TO GO HOME!!

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