It was April 2016 when I got out of the I.C.E. detention center. Since then, I have learned the importance of getting a second chance in life. The first lesson I learned was from my cellmates. They woke up every morning and looked out the window and said, “It’s so BEAUTIFUL outside. I wish I could be out there.” To most of them, just to be out there and breathing the fresh air was enough for them, for others too, they wish they could undo what they did to bring them there.
In there, to me, it was a perfect place. I wasn’t physically and sexually abused by the man I was forced to marry when I was just 13. It was a perfect place for me because I didn’t have to be on his farm or the marketplace to sell his food product for him. The only thing that terrified me though was the thought of being deported and being forced back to live with him again. I was happy working in the laundry for eight hours and getting paid a dollar for every hour. However, this wasn’t the case with most of my other cellmates. They wish they could get a second chance with the outside world and change their life. They wanted to be with their family and loved ones, and to go back to college.
I could hear the pain of regret in their voice anytime I asked them about what brought them to jail and what life looks like on the outside. I never stopped thinking about my 2-year-old son I had left home in Ghana when I escaped to Ecuador and then ending up in the United States. I remember one of my inmates, named Samantha, asked me what I wish for while I was still in jail. My son, I said, I wished to have him here with me.
It was around 3 a.m. when I heard an officer knocking on my door. I jumped quickly to respond because it was something unusual. The officer told me to pack my things because I was going to go to Chicago that morning. I told him that it must have been a mistake because I had no place or anybody to go to. He looked at me and said, “Vida, pack all your things because you might not come back here again.” “I don’t know what’s up with your case, but I think someone is out there helping you.” I was full of emotions that night. I wept that night because it came as a huge surprise. They drove me from Wisconsin to Chicago in handcuffs and in chains across my waist and connected to both my feet. I walked outside and saw that there were two women who made my release possible, one was Jajah, who turned out to be my child advocate.
In whatever condition you find yourself, in happiness or sadness, you need to know that there are those that care. You might not recognize it at that moment. This is why it’s so important to not give up and believe that change will come one day.
Both women were total strangers to me and both fought for my freedom when I had lost all hope. Jajah gave me a second chance by helping to look for E.S.L. classes around the eventual Chicago neighborhood where I was settled. I started with E.S.L. and later got the opportunity to go to high school; this was my priority. I was desperate to learn and wanted also to find a platform to help others as well. Other young people who were in jail and helpless like me. I finished high school within two years. I never stopped believing in my goals even though I was bullied at school because I could speak English well, because I didn’t know anything about American culture, and because I seemed so different from them. And because they didn’t know me. These students didn’t know that the clothes I wore were initially clothes and shoes I received from the donations to the shelter I was living in. But the clothes I had meant everything to me. I was very grateful to have them and to have a roof over my head. Sometimes the little things that we do to help others go a long way without even knowing it.
I thrive everyday not because of my effort but because of the good people around me. Some of us still need people like Letitia the Founder of MENTEE who never gives up on supporting people like myself. She motivates me to move forward with my goals and dreams. Ever since I was released from the detention center, I have learned to become more appreciative of getting a second chance to better my education and my life so I can give back. I see what I have been given and those currently supporting me and I cannot wait until I can give to others in the same way.
MENTEE is a virtual and global mentoring program supporting those marginalized in their own communities around the world. Find out more about our mission that helps mentees like Vida and how to get involved at www.menteeglobal.org!