(Yousra was held at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility before winning her asylum case. She recently shared her story with SOLACE’s Kathy Smith, one of the volunteers who visited Yousra while she was detained there) I am 26 years old. I grew up in Northern Morocco, across the Mediterranean Sea from Spain. I was born in the State of Tangier. I have five sisters and one brother. I love to learn and am curious about the world. My mother also taught me to stay busy in whatever task was in front of me. I wanted to go to University in Morocco, which is free in my country as I was a good student, but I could not make this decision on my own. The conservative culture I grew up in valued my being a wife and mother before being a college student. But as a teenager, I became known as an independent young woman. Therefore, I was declined as a marriage prospect. Finally, my father agreed that I could go to University, as it is free in Morocco. I had a Major in Hotel Management. I had also been studying English in school, and learned some Spanish along the way, in addition to my Moroccan French. My emphasis in high school was accounting.
for my attendance I fled my country because I had shared my secret sexual identity with one of my sisters whom I thought I could trust. Very soon I found myself in danger from some of my family and others with a very conservative religious mindset. They started to look for me as I was living with my female friend. I flew out as soon as a ticket was bought for me. After spending some time with people I had met in Mexico, I arrived at the US port of entry in Tijuana where I turned myself in and asked for asylum.
I eventually ended up at the CCA detention facility in Otay Mesa. I was there a month before I learned of the [SOLACE] Visitation Program. I learned about it from another female detainee who had been held for three years as she was appealing her case. Then the posted SOLACE signup paper began to make sense to me even though I thought it was a Religious Visitation Program. I signed up for Video Visits with SOLACE, because of the Strip Search Requirements for Contact Visits. I later changed my mind and took a chance with Contact Visits even though there was this requirement. In my contact visits I was able to meet with Karen, Kay, Jane, Kathy and Chole. VISITATION MEANT EVERYTHING TO ME because I had no family or other friends that I could safely contact here. SOLACE visitation was so good for me, as I had a chance to meet someone who did not have a uniform or carried a radio pager. I felt happy when I had contact visits, and signed up weekly. This helped me to not feel so alone helped me feel that I had support in the outside world. I also helped to translate for my Syrian friend so that she could also have a visit, as I could translate from English to Arabic and Arabic to English. Several people asked me to tell SOLACE volunteers to light candles for them in their churches. They felt hopeless - as if they could never get out of detention unless a Miracle happened. The other support for me was Chaplain Claud Bery. I had listened to so many people in detention who had various ideas of God from their religions. It seemed like everyone I saw was praying in his or her own way, more in detention than in the outside world. My question for the Chaplain, was a personal one, “Do you think God loves me?” He said, “I have no clue, but I can help you find peace within yourself which apparently
you are missing.”
Twice a week we had private sessions for breathing concentration. At first I thought this was a silly thing, but I wanted so much to have the peace that he was talking about that I concentrated very hard. I developed a practice while in detention after lights were out, to concentrate on my breath and to clear my mind. After at least a month of practicing I felt my concentration become so intense that I had a vision that I was at my parents` home. I saw my father watching TV in one room, and my mother sitting alone. I looked at her face as if I was right there. I kissed her hand. After coming back to my senses in this world, in detention, I could still remember her facial details. I could remember the smell of her hands. I felt like I physically traveled there. It was so real to me. Maybe this sounds unbelievable but it was real for me.
Now that I am in the outside world, I still have friends in SOLACE who I see. I also had friendships with my volunteer lawyers who interned with the Legal Orientation Program. They helped me to make my case for asylum, and also took me to register with Catholic Charities for a referral to Refugee Support Programs. I got some cash assistance, and food stamps, and started learning this culture at the Alliance for African Assistance where I met more friends from around the world.
Now that I am outside I also can better my English with ESL classes at the Mid City Community College Campus. I take upper level ESL courses in English, Statistics and Accounting there. My first job earning money in San Diego was at the Super 8 in the House-keeping Department. Now, I am working as a Receptionist for the Alliance of African Assistance. I like this job much more.