I had just settled down to watch the Michael Jackson documentary, Leaving Neverland, when I received a text that dramatically changed the course of my evening. “Just learned that one of our detained friends is being released tonight, can you help?”
I said yes, I could help and was told to pick up Edwin, who had won his asylum case earlier that day, at the Elizabeth Detention Center that evening. People ask why I volunteer with First Friends of New Jersey and New York. Evenings like this are why.
When I arrived at the Detention Center, Edwin’s Immigration lawyer, Daniel was standing in the dimly lit parking lot with Trent Harris, an independent filmmaker, who had flown out to testify at Edwin’s case. Edwin had been Trent’s “fixer” in Sierra Leone. Edwin had saved Trent’s life in 2004 when he shot a documentary about Sierra Leone’s boy soldiers, Diamonds, Cannibals and Children with Guns.
A video journalist in his own right, Edwin later filmed three young men who had been violently initiated into a secret society against their will. The young men had come to Edwin to document what had happened to them. Within several days, one of the young men had been murdered and Edwin had to flee Sierra Leone. Eventually Edwin made his way to the U.S., and after spending over 4 months in a New Jersey Detention Center, received asylum.
So, our small group waited, staring at a small door of the converted warehouse in the New Jersey industrial wastelands, for Edwin to emerge. And all at once, the door flung open, held ajar by a seemingly disembodied arm of a guard. It was a big night. Several men of Spanish descent rushed out to awaiting cars and family. Then Edwin emerged and was immediately gathered up in Trent’s arms. A look of pure joy on spread across Trent’s face. Trent later posted on Facebook that, “I don’t know if I have ever been happier.”
Who needs tv documentaries when a night volunteering for First Friends brings fascinating real-life characters into your life?
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