Table of Contents Show
- What is asylum in the USA?
- How I prepared for departure
- How I got to the USA
- How I spent my time in Mexico City
- How I got to Tijuana
- How I crossed the border
- What was happening at the border?
- What is the experience of being in detention like?
- How is the transfer organized?
- First week at a new institution
- The second week of confinement/ imprisonment
- The third week of detention
- How I Got Free
- In summary
Not so long ago, the biggest problem was the dark-skinned elves in “The Lord of the Rings”, but now half of my acquaintances write from forced emigration.
It so happened that I was unable to find understanding with the authorities, and in 2022 I began to consider fleeing to another country and started looking for options. The specific features of that time were ruining my mood, so I also started taking antidepressants and making impulsive, stupid purchases.
I heard an idea from acquaintances that in my situation I can seek asylum in the USA. They gave me a couple of links where it was written more clearly in English what needs to be done. Let’s go.
What is asylum in the USA?
When I was getting ready to flee, I found out that the US government offers the opportunity to request asylum if a person becomes a victim of persecution in their own country for one of the reasons:
- Ethnic origin.
- Religious beliefs.
- Membership in a social group is often associated with minorities.
- Political opinion – according to the lawyer’s words and my feelings, currently 95% of Russians fall into this category.
I needed to cross the US border somehow, for example, on a student visa. Although in the end, I crossed it without a visa – I’ll tell you more about it later.
At the border, they were supposed to interview me, then probably send me to the so-called detention – an immigration prison or a migrant holding center. There I would have to undergo an interview of fear, and then be released in all directions to the sponsor – a person who is ready to vouch for me, take on my expenses and help with housing at least for the first time.
The sponsor must help strictly free of charge, otherwise it is a crime. They must also have a green card or US citizenship. I looked for sponsors through acquaintances and charitable organizations, of which there are many here. In Russian chat rooms, there are a large number of sponsors for money – in fact, these are just ordinary scammers.
Asylum application implies that I will be able to stay in the United States, obtain a right to work and a permanent residency permit. Of course, if I win my case in immigration court. If a family with a minor child applies for asylum, there may be no detention or only one of the parents will be sent to a detention center.
In everyday life, asylum seekers are sometimes referred to as refugees, but this is fundamentally incorrect. Refugees are people whom the United States accepts for humanitarian reasons, and this status is temporary. It is implied that refugees will be sheltered in the country, given a little money, fed and nursed, and then sent back after a couple of years once the situation in their country of origin has normalized. Asylum is not refugee status, it implies that you will remain in the United States permanently.
On YouTube, there are now dozens of asylum seekers’ diaries. It was useful for me to analyze their stories and add to this list in order to understand my future expenses and terms – the rules of the game change every 2-3 months.
In my case, the sequence of events was as follows:
- Collection of evidence of persecution for political opinion and completion of one’s cases: one to three months and $2500.
- Sponsor search: one week.
- The way to the US border: two weeks and $4,500.
- Expenses for crossing the USA border: $1000. We bought a car together and drove it – it’s a legal and cheap way.
- Detention period: 24 days, free of charge.
- Exit without a deposit.
- Hiring a lawyer to handle the case: $6,000.
- Additional expenses for withdrawing money from Russia: about $2000.
How I prepared for departure
When the situation began to heat up, I decided to quickly sell all my property in Russia and improve my English language skills. To do this, I completely eliminated Russian from my life and studied with Skyeng for an hour a day. I also began collecting documents related to persecution and preparing my case with the help of a lawyer in Russia. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep my job, perhaps because I insulted my colleagues, but maybe it’s even better that way.
If I had a couple of months spare, maybe I would have gotten my driver’s license, arranged for an international bank card and a second passport. It’s a great idea to take care of everything that hurts because the next six months will not allow for it.
The apartment was sold in just six days for 12,500,000 rubles, which I immediately exchanged for dollars. I bought 10,000 dollars in four iterations at exchange offices. Almost all the remaining money went to a dollar account. Surprisingly, counting the cash helped to relieve stress. However, emotionally, the freeze on some stocks hurt me deeply.
I also invested about $3000 in Skyeng to study intensively. And I decided to take a break in St. Petersburg, so I booked tickets and a hotel there.
Since I started experiencing panic attacks, I managed to get some tranquilizers. Also, I got hit by a mania and decided to sew a custom-made suit for myself, because there might be no opportunity to do it later.
I lived in St. Petersburg for about a month until my documents were almost ready. The consultant’s help in their preparation cost about $2500. I also improved my English. I began to understand approximately the chances of success of my case in the United States.
I also managed to get the “Tinkoff Premium” service for free, as my brokerage account, individual investment account, and deposit became significantly more than 3 million rubles. I planned to use it to buy currency at a more advantageous rate and visit business lounges. I love St. Petersburg for its bookstores, so I went to “Bukvoed” to get some Deadpool comics.
But I didn’t manage to get a tax deduction for my implant, I took care of it later in America. And in general, I abandoned many things. There was a slight depression, I lost interest in the people around me, my circle of acquaintances was reduced to about five people whom I still communicate with from the USA.
I no longer have anything that would tie me to this country. It’s time to plan the route to the USA, buy tickets and leave.
How I got to the USA
The study of little-known immigrant channels in Europe and the USA has shown that life in Moscow is very convenient and, no matter where you go, it will be difficult to get used to, especially banks, taxis, and a variety of quality services. By the way, a piece of advice from my future self to my past self: pack cosmetics and cleaning products in isolated bags or don’t bring them at all. One of the shampoo jars spilled onto my MacBook, which, despite this, still survived.
My route was as follows: Moscow – Bishkek – Istanbul – Mexico City – bus to Tijuana and the border. I booked tickets and hotels through “Alpha-Travel” and Tinkoff Travel. The flight from Moscow to Bishkek cost $200, Bishkek – Turkey – Mexico was $800. The hotels in total cost about $200.
None of these countries require visas from Russians, except for Mexico, but even for Mexico, a full visa is not required, only a special permit that can be obtained online without registration or SMS. However, citizens of CIS and those with acquired citizenship may be taken off the flight, especially if the destination is in Northern Mexico.
My departure was on July 14th, 2022. I arrived in Moscow on the “Red Arrow” train from Saint Petersburg and ordered a Maybach to the airport, because if you’re going into political emigration and not in a Maybach, then you’re not a political emigrant, but a pathetic parody.
Moscow looked especially beautiful from a Maybach. This is my second international trip in my life, before that I flew only to Serbia for a week, because it is in Europe and no visa is required there.
Apparently, in the next ten years, I will not visit Europe anymore, but in any case, I don’t regret anything because I considered and still consider the process of obtaining a tourist visa to the EU frankly humiliating. In their imagination, for some reason, I have to prove that I do not plan to take away a job from a local cleaner, whereas a large part of the EU is openly poor compared to Moscow, and in reality, I only saw it in the context of tourism.
Strangely enough, I got to the airport without any incidents, went into the local “Chew and Go” and ordered myself two McMuffins which the new owners of the chain hadn’t managed to ruin yet, and picked up a toy with updated My Little Pony nearby. For some reason, when I went into the restroom, I started crying without any particular reason, but it stopped after a couple of minutes. There was nothing to do before the flight, so I hung out in the business lounge.
The flight to Bishkek was quite boring. At the airport, where there is free and unlimited Wi-Fi, I exchanged some dollars for local soms. There, a bomber tried to persuade me to go with him. After my refusal, he hung around for a bit and then left.
Luckily, there was “Yandex Taxi” working there, so I ordered a business class car to the hotel where I planned to stay the night. The ride cost 900 KGS, and it was charged to my Russian card. However, a not-so-new Kia Rio arrived, and I realized that my idea of “business” didn’t quite match the local one. Tinkoff Mobile was luckily working, and there were mountains outside the window. There was an overbooking at the hotel, and I paid for a more expensive room, but the price difference was later compensated to me.
On the way back to the airport there were no incidents, but when the employee looked at my tickets and saw the destination was Mexico, he said: “Going to cross the border?” I replied: “Maybe.” After that, he slyly squinted, and I realized that maybe my plan wasn’t so sly after all. I sat in the business lounge, which cost $40 paid for by the bank, and flew to Istanbul.
Istanbul looked welcoming from the airplane window. We landed at Ataturk airport, where we found out the most hilarious fact. The only way to pay for Wi-Fi after the first free hour was by using a credit card in a special machine. Naturally, Russian cards didn’t work. In recent years, I had gotten used to printing out papers while sitting in the business lounge, rather than dragging pre-printed documents with me throughout the entire trip like some peasant. I also hadn’t printed out the electronic entrance permit for Mexico which I was supposed to show during the flight.
Here, the outline of a future problem is being outlined, as only credit card payments are accepted in the business lounges at Ataturk Airport. I went to all five lounges in this giant hub, and none of them accepted cash. Apparently, the stupid part of my brain came up with the idea that everything would be okay and I would just show my Mexican permit on my phone.
The flight was around midnight local time. There was a huge line at the landing, in which I often heard Russian voices. When it was my turn, my battery was already on its last legs. Unfortunately, the wireless internet didn’t work in the gate area. Then my phone completely died, so I lost my ticket to Mexico.
Several people were removed from the flight. One of them was Russian-speaking, and his situation was even worse: he was denied boarding. They scanned his passport and said that he needed to contact the American embassy because it did not approve his departure. Therefore, he either had to go there and figure it out or fly back.
The US Government is aware that many people use Mexico as a transit point, so there is a bilateral agreement between the US and Mexico aimed at preventing this. Passengers can be removed from any flight that enters US airspace if their presence is undesirable. Hotel reservations and the presence of a return ticket are also almost guaranteed to be checked, with Turkish Airlines requiring that the return ticket be provided by their company.
Those who could not board were sent to the Turkish Airlines cash desks to sort out our problems there. We walked gloomily towards them, not knowing the exact location. I saw two pilots and asked one of them in English: “Sir, where is Turkish Airlines located?” He put his hands over his head, made almost a full circle and replied, “All around you.” I clarified that we needed ticket desks, and he finally directed us more precisely to where we found the cash desks.
There we roughly figured out what to do. The guy who was removed from the flight was told that he could be sent to St. Petersburg in two days for $1,500, and it didn’t make sense for him to buy a new ticket to Mexico, as he wouldn’t be allowed on the flight again.
I was offered to buy a new ticket to Mexico, but the only option they have is a business class for $1900. I am like Batman, my superpower is money, so I paid for it, especially since it allowed me to access the business lounge. Together with the return ticket from Mexico to Turkey, it cost me $2400.
On the way, I had a panic attack – it seemed like I would be taken off this flight. I wanted to go back to Moscow, but couldn’t since it was dead. I found a pharmacy and said, “I need something to relax” – and they sold me a sedative that made me feel better.
In 15 minutes I was already in the business lounge, not the peasant one where you go with a pay pass, but a separate one for Turkish Airlines business class customers. Since I wanted to eat, I went on a small crosswalk to all the tables with the task of eating at least part of the amount. By the feeling, I spent about $90 and, of course, printed everything out without any problems and took my seat on the flight.
I passed out very quickly on the plane because the seats were reclining and the pills were effective. Therefore, I don’t really remember the 12-hour flight.
I woke up about an hour before landing with the thought that I hate planes, hate flying, and hate myself for flying on a plane.
How I spent my time in Mexico City
Usually, Russians don’t fly to Mexico City, but to Cancun, and from there by plane to Tijuana. But I read that people were increasingly being removed from the flight and detained on immigration charges. That’s why I decided to fly to Mexico City and get to Tijuana by bus from there.
I got off the plane and paid for roaming. The Mexican peso has almost the same symbol as the dollar, which is terribly confusing. I exchanged some cash dollars at the airport and spent my first pesos at a local Starbucks.
Later, I felt like taking a taxi to the hotel. I installed “Uber,” but it turned out that its drivers cannot park at the airport. I ordered a taxi at a special kiosk, it turned out to be inexpensive, and I teleported to my wonderful hostel with concrete floors, a concrete shower, and WiFi that only worked on the first floor.
Having left my things, I went for a walk. Immediately, fatty stray dogs caught my eye, as well as a very interesting burger restaurant nearby, inside of which there was a model of the HMS Victory sailing ship. It was terribly hindering that no one in Mexico speaks English properly, but that was already a small problem.
I was planning to hang out in Mexico for three days and then take the bus to Tijuana, so I could spend time as a regular tourist. Especially since the hostel was located in the historic part of the city.
The city center is overflowing with Catholic churches and white tourists, it is impossible to get lost in it, so on the first day I decided not to go to the bus station, but just walked around and blindly took pictures.
Mexico City is well-maintained, beautiful and wealthy, I thought when the next day I googled the location of the bus station and decided not to order an “Uber”, but to walk, especially since the journey took only about an hour.
Just five minutes of walking in one direction from the Catholic churches and tourists, and Mexico from American movies began: makeshift markets, spontaneous dumps, slums, petty criminals. The assortment included curved spines, missing teeth, women with whom you even have to talk with a condom, and the feeling that you are attracting too much harmful attention to yourself.
About 20 minutes later, I decided that it would be better to use Uber and rode to the train station. No one spoke English there, so I used my irresistible charm and body language to persuade them to sell me a ticket to Tijuana for 2500 MXN.
The next day, I took a walk in the center and then took an Uber to my bus. At the station, I needed to use the bathroom and for the first time realized how far progress can go in a particular country. The thing is, here you have to pay separately for entry, and after entering, you have to separately buy paper from a specialized machine so that you don’t take too much or accidentally walk away with a whole roll.
Realizing that I had already had my fill of the spirit of Mexico, I decided to quickly get on the bus, especially since the journey was about 42 hours. The seat backs had tablets built into them, and at first I was happy, but later I realized that all the movies were in Spanish. I was already considering taking some tranquilizers to, so to speak, speed up the journey. But the tablet had built-in games like Angry Birds, which saved the day.
How I got to Tijuana
About four hours after we left Mexico, we were stopped by the police to check our documents. Everyone without a Mexican passport was asked to step out for an individual conversation – about 12 people. This is where I met the first Mexican who spoke English.
The main meaning of his speech was that we all do not have the right to be here on our visas, as they are only valid within Mexico’s territory. This is complete nonsense – the local police, in which apparently operates the principle of “whoever puts on the uniform first”, abuses the right to detain without cause for five to ten days.
He was looking at me, I was looking at him. After about 10 seconds, a special chemistry arose between us and I heard the phrase “Do you want me to help you?”. I answered “Yes”, and my best friend Mr. Franklin intervened in the situation and saved the day. Although, I lost two best friends.
Only eight people returned on the bus – I suppose four of them either didn’t have such good friends or couldn’t bring themselves to say goodbye. In any case, we continued on. The landscapes of Mexico are very beautiful, with mountains everywhere and an overall interesting look.
Approximately five hours before Tijuana, the situation repeated itself, but I had already lost three of my best friends. Remarque said that your person is not the one with whom it is good, but the one without whom it is bad, and Franklin is definitely my person. Throughout the rest of the trip, I blamed myself for losing so many friends, but I had to keep living. I took some pills and fell asleep.
I woke up about an hour before Tijuana with the thought that I hate buses, hate traveling, and hate myself for taking the bus. I arrived without any adventures, limped to the hotel, bought some food at a local store, and fell asleep in the room.
In the morning I woke up and started planning my crossing of the border with the USA, but quickly got tired and decided to just walk around the city. As a bonus, I went to a local casino and played a little bit. But it was so poorly and cheaply organized that it wasn’t really thrilling, so I quickly gave up. I returned home and went to bed properly.
How I crossed the border
The border crossing options change every couple of months. I crossed it in July 2022, and the velvet conditions of that time have turned to smoke. The problem is that successful stories continue to be retold in numerous chats, where there are many theorists and optimists. They are supported by those who crossed the border at a good time, which creates false notions about the process.
It is worth mentioning separately the Russian immigration lawyers who are very controversial and controversial lawyers. They make numerous encouraging videos like “Don’t want to go to the army? Get asylum” and “Don’t want to pay taxes? You can also get asylum”. It should not be forgotten that these people charge for their attempts, not for the result. Any help funds are most likely scammers, I wouldn’t waste my time on them.
I understood that it’s better to learn the rules of transition from those who have gone through this path no more than a month ago. The reluctance to conduct a small investigation could result in a loss of several thousand dollars and the risk of starting your asylum with a violation of the law.
I monitored migrant chat rooms as rules keep changing, with some getting stricter and others easing up. In the end, I chose the option of buying a car with American license plates near the Mexican border, driving it through the checkpoint and immediately requesting asylum on the border. This method doesn’t violate US laws.
Since I can’t drive, I found fellow travelers through Telegram. We each contributed $900. For the first time in a week, I heard Russian speech and was happy.
There were seven people in the car, and we crossed the border on the fifth try. There won’t be any photos, and all subsequent pictures are taken from the internet since they confiscate cameras at the border.
We passed orange bumps and requested asylum. We spoke with them, they put bracelets on us and led us to the so-called border – a place where asylum seekers are held at the border until they decide where to send them next. That’s how I became an American.
What was happening at the border?
We were taken to a small room, sat on a bench, and told to wait. People were being escorted past us who were caught at the border. After a couple of hours, we were taken to a room that looked a lot like a police station, and finally had our bracelets removed.
Here we encountered a translation system for the first time. Those who did not know English or did not know it very well communicated during critical conversations not directly, but through a translator using a special black Cisco telephone. Even if one’s English was good, communicating through a translator adds time and allows for less nervousness.
During the medical survey in the questionnaire there was a question “What surgical operations have you had?” I started telling, bending my fingers, about the penile implant, the broken and restored arm, hair transplants one, two, three, four, appendicitis, resection of tissues in the nose and so on. About halfway through the survey, the therapist conducting the survey began to look for a lifesaving eye contact, but continued to write and write.
They assigned a zone for all of us in the room, then separated men from women, gave us blankets – we had normal ones made of fabric, while many people say they were given foil ones – and mats to put on the floor. Since they took all the electronics and things, there was really nothing to do. I approached a policeman and said that I needed to take antidepressants, they whispered among themselves and allowed me to take them from my belongings and take them under the supervision of a doctor.
From that moment on, they began to call us detainees – “zaderzhashkami” (slang for “detainees”). They said that we just needed to wait a couple of days until we went through a small interview, after which our fate would be decided.
There were three Russian speakers: me, a Belarusian, and another guy from Russia. Both of them were with their wives and were very worried about them. I was the only one who spoke English, so I was mostly acting as a translator.
The boredom was terrible. The African-American cop saved me – he understood that I spoke English and started joking constantly in the vein of “This chair won’t clean itself.” In general, the atmosphere resembled a cheap private daycare, the staff were kind and didn’t interfere much. They fed us mainly with what was sold in the store and warmed up in the microwave.
The next day, we all underwent a small interview with twenty fairly standard questions, but at the very end there was a question asking “Are you afraid to return to your home country?” I answered “Yes,” and then the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started to take action. We called them “ice.”All families with children were released, and the rest were kept for one more day. In the morning, they put us in a Ford with bars and drove us to a so-called detention center, which in our case was a normal private prison of general regime in the state of Arizona.
What is the experience of being in detention like?
It is impossible to separate those who truly need asylum from ordinary labor migrants immediately, so people are placed in detention – from the English word “detention”. According to one ICE officer, approximately 2 million people go through this system each year.
As far as I understand, ICE has no own facilities, they usually rent places in private prisons and immigration centers. Among those I know, the detention duration ranged from 0 to 180 days. The duration depends on such factors:
- Does the detainee have a sponsor in the USA?
- Is he willing to make a deposit if necessary?
- Does he have any chronic illnesses or is he of advanced age?
- If the interview on reasonable fear was successful, I will tell more about it later.
- What is the political situation?
- System load.
Judging by the reviews on YouTube and in Telegram chats, the conditions of detention in detention centers range from terrible to acceptable. Since my conditions were good and I was released quickly, one may get the illusion that this is not a problem. But sometimes it’s different: people declare hunger strikes and rebel to some extent to protect their rights in custody.
We were taken to a building surrounded by barbed wire and fences. The entrance had a sign saying LaSalle Correction Centre. In general, I never heard the word “prison” during my detention there. Instead of “prison” or “jail”, they always said “immigration center”, “correctional center”, or “facility.” This is a private facility that belongs to the La Salle Corrections holding company.
At the entrance, they took our cash with a condition to return it on the way out. They gave us a form, shampoo and shower gel in individual packages like in a hotel. Then we underwent a quite lengthy medical examination. During it, I said that I have clinical depression and I take “Selektra”. The psychotherapist replied that I cannot take my own pills because they are not made in the USA, so I will have to wait for a psychiatrist to prescribe me medication.
Then we were given prison IDs which specified our name, number, and level of detention under guards. There were three levels in our facility:
- Minimal custody is the lowest level of supervision. It is for people like us who do not pose a significant threat, with the easiest conditions of imprisonment and a blue uniform.
- Medium custody refers to criminals who are serving time for non-violent crimes. Mostly, they are drug dealers and coyotes – those who illegally transport immigrants.
- Maximum custody – serious guys sitting for violent crimes, their uniform is red.
Prisoners of different levels can be kept in the same institution, but not in the same room.
A Belarusian guy paralyzed the local system by asking for a translator. The administration, without understanding the situation, started looking for a Belarusian-to-English translator. Nevertheless, everything was resolved. The guy’s name was Igor, but in the system, he was recorded as Ihor, and during roll calls, he was called Aikhara, which irritated him for some reason. Overall, for Americans, this name is known at most in the context of “Igor, bring the brain.”
There were only three Russian-speaking people in our party. I was the only one who spoke English, so I was mostly the one who communicated with the administration. We were given prison rules – at first, in Spanish, but then I asked for them in English – and led to our cells. Spanish was the main language in this prison facility, as 90% of the staff and inmates were Latin American.
Our unit had the shape of a stretched rectangle: there is a wall with ten two-person cells, and on the opposite side there is another wall with ten cells as well. There is a shared space between these walls where there are tables and chairs, communal showers and a TV.
Aihara from Belarus was put in a cell without a cellmate, and he spent six days alone. Denis and I were put in a cell across from each other. It was a completely ordinary room with a concrete floor and an iron door, about 8 square meters in size, which, by the way, is exactly 1.5 meters larger than one of the apartments I wanted to buy. It had a toilet and a bunk bed, more and more resembling that apartment.
Since there was nothing else to do, I read the rules and it turned out that communism had already arrived. The book literally dripped with our rights: the right to medical assistance, training, library, translator, legal library, healthy food, prison phone, prison store, religious meetings, participation in volunteer programs, voluntary deportation and other attributes of a country of freedom.
On the first day we didn’t feel like doing anything, we ate and went to bed. On the second day we were allowed into the common room and watched TV – they showed a series about Harley Quinn and “Star Wars: Episode 4”.
The food was frankly not very good. I ate a little more than half, but as I found out later, the calorie norm in it is about 3000, so by the time I left, I still gained 4 kilograms. Generally, there was a savings on food in the institution: beans and the like were often added to it. But they gave me a very good shampoo, my dandruff disappeared instantly, which I acquired during my stay in Mexico.
Since we were bored, we tried to use our many rights. We were taken to a sports ground and given a ball, but playing basketball in July in Arizona is no pleasure, so we barely lasted for 30 minutes.
We shared our unit with Latin Americans of medium custody level. To avoid mixing inmates of different levels, they put us in our cells after lunch and the common area was theirs until night. On the evening of the second day, they had a party, apparently celebrating the release of one of the guys, but generally they were calm.
I had a dream last night that I was in a huge airport trying to fly somewhere, but one airline after another was refusing me. The excuses were getting more and more idiotic, and my intelligence level was constantly dropping due to exhaustion, as I had been walking for several hours. At the last counter, I was practically speaking incoherently, I ran out of strength, I fell in the airport and began to suffocate.
The next morning we were taken to the library and allowed to take books to our cell. I took Tom Clancy’s “Rainbow Six”, and Denis took “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. Before leaving the institution, I managed to read just under 100 pages, so I never found out how it ended. I read up to the part where a new special unit was supposed to storm a bank in Switzerland, and the evil Russians were planning some cunning conspiracy. There was nothing else particularly memorable about it.
Six days later, a security guard came to us and said that we were released, which made us all incredibly happy.
How is the transfer organized?
And we were glad for nothing, because it was just a transfer. The system here is organized in such a way that one holding company owns the sending institution, another owns the transport company for the transportation, and a third company owns the receiving institution, and they all coordinate each other.
We were gathered and taken to a waiting room for departure – a room of about 20 square meters, where there were two benches along the wall, a toilet, and about 30 lucky ones chosen by the administration. Since we were waiting for more than four hours, most of us fell asleep and slept right on the concrete floor by the time of departure.
We were dressed in the clothes we arrived in, but all our shoelaces were taken out of our shoes and our money was taken away. Then they started to restrain us for transportation almost like murderers: handcuffs on our hands and ankles, a chain around the stomach, and handcuffs on our hands attached to this chain around the stomach. To complete the picture, all that was missing was a striped uniform, a huge steel ball, and tying us all together, but for some reason, that did not happen.
Everyone was creating theories about how we would be taken to the airport and sent off to sponsors, but after the illusion was shattered, they vanished. We were taken to a prison bus and traveled for about an hour to a small local airport where a “Boeing 737” that had been well-used in life was waiting with our names on it.
Passengers of “Katalazhka Airlines” felt somewhat uncomfortable mainly because no one had taken off their bracelets. The plane had three rows on the left side of the aisle and three on the right. Everyone was terribly thirsty due to the scorching heat, as the last time we were given water was back at the departure facility. Water distribution started 30 minutes after takeoff and ended about 30 minutes before landing. The thing is, the stewardess looked like she had eaten a real stewardess and now was pretending everything was just fine. She was blocking the entire aisle, so any process – boarding or distributing – took forever.
Since Uncle Sam paid for my trip, I started staring out of the window. There were beautiful views, vast fields, many factories, windmills everywhere. America truly felt huge. Living in Moscow, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Russia is very small, slightly larger than Monaco.
In about three hours, we flew almost through the entire southern part of the country and landed in Louisiana, where another bus was waiting for us to take us to our new home.
We were driving for about two hours. As I later found out, the new state was called Mississippi. Outside, we could see all the charm of this place: emerald-green and well-kept strips of forest, golf courses, gas stations almost submerged in the woods, numerous small churches, mostly of different types of Christianity, and small houses.
As we understood, the women were taken to another institution, so their search became a separate quest in the future. We drove until we saw a huge complex called Adams County, owned by Core Civic holding.
First week at a new institution
The new institution looked much better than the previous one and was called an immigration center. As I understood, only immigrants were kept there. At the entrance, there was a surprisingly long medical examination, where the story about surgical interventions was repeated.
We handed over our personal belongings and money again. When I gave $5,600 in cash, the security guard asked, “Russian?” I replied, “Yes.”
Then they took us to a special warehouse and gave us olive-colored uniforms, bedding, and bath accessories. In my previous institution, everything was as it should be – shampoo was separate from conditioner, but for some reason here they gave us shampoo plus conditioner, like we were cave people. Afterwards, we were led to a special room called the dormitory.
This is a huge room of approximately 400 sqm with an eight-meter-high ceiling. It had 75 bunk beds, showers, toilets, TVs, microwaves, and a couple of offices for staff. Naturally, all windows are barred. Usually, this regime is assigned to the safest of the detainees, which was us.
There were prison phones, like in American movies, where you could make a call only after stating your ID and they guaranteed to be monitored. The toilets consisted of three stone walls, and instead of the fourth, there was something like a shower curtain that covered the middle of the body, so to speak, making the users resemble very focused Indians in ambush.
If we describe the audience, there will be about 120 Latin Americans from Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, and even one from Brazil, seven Indians, three Chinese, ten Africans from Cameroon, Angola, Ivory Coast, five Russian speakers from the CIS countries – Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan – and five really rare ones like a Turkish Kurd or a dude from Sri Lanka.
About ten people knew English in total, and those who knew two languages were most valuable to the administration. The most important language pair was “English-Spanish”, of which there were only two. I read that Latin Americans have the lowest chance of obtaining asylum, less than 15%, but this does not stop them from crossing the border. Therefore, almost all immigration establishments and processes are bilingual, using English and Spanish.
The first day was full of events. In particular, a Colombian got himself a tattoo with homemade ink and played himself into a full-blown inflammation.
When the ceiling lamps flickered twice, something like a roll call would happen. Everyone had to stand along their beds, including the Indians jumping out of their hiding places. The guards would start walking around and counting everyone. It was especially comical when a guard weighing 160 kilograms would walk between the beds, bumping into nightstands and inmates. Such roll calls happened five times a day. There were very few guards, and 90% of the time there wasn’t a single employee in the building.
Overall, the atmosphere was reminiscent of a cheap children’s camp. For example, when the guards turned away, the Latin Americans started playing a game. Those who were not being watched by the guard made random sounds – meowing, hissing, kissing – waiting for him to turn around. When the guard turned around, the sounds stopped, the face showed innocence, and another person took over the relay that the guard was not watching.
On the first night, I dreamt that Sberbank stocks were priced at 6R per share on the app. I already had some and wanted to buy more to compensate for the drop, but couldn’t. I contacted support, called, and tried to figure out why I couldn’t buy them, but I was given ridiculous reasons. Eventually, the head employee explained that this was the maximum price I could sell them for, but I could only buy them at the old price of 160R. When I asked about these rules, he said they were “new”, gesturing with his fingers like Dr. Evil.
By this moment, I had already been without antidepressants for seven days, so I dreamt of something dark, but since the effect of the pills was still present, the dreams were long and very realistic.
They fed three times a day: at 04:30, 11:30 and 16:30. Food was given in plastic containers like a business lunch. The sets were of two types – regular and vegetarian. During the first check-in at the prison, you can request a vegetarian meal and there won’t be any problem. The rules of the institution state that it is a pork-free zone, so there will definitely be no pork in the meat, although it seemed to me that there were no other animals there either. The food, in general, was better, but there was too much of it, so I only ate about half of it. You could eat at any time and the food was heated in the microwave.
On the second day at our unit, a so-called chancellor appeared. He was supposed to help us solve our questions, explain the rules, take complaints and appeals. We instantly nicknamed him Big Boss because he was big and dark-skinned. He explained to us non-obvious points such as the fact that you can only get a razor from him and give it back to him, about a volunteer program and that in a couple of days we will be able to make purchases in the local store and use tablets.
Aikhar said that when he and his wife arrived in Tijuana, all the Russians were let go peacefully, but all those from CIS countries, including Belarusians, were sent to a Mexican immigration prison in the city-hero Tabasco and kept for five days, and the conditions there were much worse than here.
Prison is like a planet. Within a day, everyone has already been divided into language communities: Russians, Indians, Chinese, Latino, etc. Moreover, Russians included all Russian speakers. And there were separate communities for bilinguals, of which I was a part. Some had lawyers and connections with relatives and other institutions – thanks to this, we more or less understood what was happening. Throughout my time in imprisonment, I was also a translator.
All the bilinguals had a case, so we discussed the future interview a lot and even conducted a couple of trial interviews. I especially remember the Turkish Kurd, his preparation is my respect. A couple of times, I conducted a test credible fear interview, CFI – an interview for reasonable fear. He didn’t fail even on difficult questions. It seems he is a specialist in computer security, so it’s not surprising.
Among Latin Americans, there were constantly circulating crazy rumors. They told that participating in the volunteer program accelerates release, that all women were released, or that if you throw away your documents at the border, you won’t be deported after being caught. The dude who was translating from Spanish to English asked not to take them seriously because “They are an idiots.”
The biggest problem was the noise and sleep, as local people watch TV until 1:00 am, food is served at 4:30 am, and roll calls are held every four hours. An uninterrupted eight-hour sleep is an intolerable luxury. This quickly starts to drive one crazy and gets one accustomed to a regime of sleeping in several segments of 2-3 hours.
On TV, they showed “South Park”, “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America”, “Harley Quinn”, and news that covered the same topics: Taiwan, abortions, natural disasters, and Trump, who is also in a way a natural disaster.
One night I dreamt that I was in my company’s Moscow office and everyone was asking me what the hell I was doing there since I had sent everyone away and left for the States. I didn’t understand and tried to figure out what had happened, as I remembered spending a ton of money and crossing borders. I tried to calm myself down, but it didn’t help. I checked my iPhone to confirm my spending history, but I couldn’t use it properly because about a hundred people were focused on me in a huge open space. I rushed to the bathroom and “Google Maps” showed me that I was actually in South America, in Lima – the capital of Peru. When I logged on to T-J, my rating was 0 and my status was “Lost”.
When one of our guys was at the doctor, the kind doctor offered to help him find his wife. They entered her name and found nothing. This means that she was taken to a prison of another holding and now it will be quite difficult to contact her.
They told me about Commissars-Store – a local shop. The principle is simple: you choose goods in a special electronic kiosk until Thursday and get them next Monday. The cost is deducted from the account where the money you deposited at the entrance or that was deposited by friends, relatives, or sponsors is kept.
Prices are somewhere around a third higher than retail prices, the product range is similar to normal small groceries: snacks, soda, small trinkets, over-the-counter medicines, and cards. Overall, in terms of software and websites, everything there is much simpler than in Russia.
We made the first order with other Russian-speaking people in the commissary store. Here’s what we chose:
- 50 sheets of paper;
- two handles;
- five unsharpened pencils;
- acrylic mirror
- Moon Lodge chips, 170 grams.
- 100 tea bags;
- Sugar in cubes, 1 pound.
- four Snickers bars;
- four Hershey’s chocolate bars;
- six popcorns;
- orange soda
- “Two packages of tortillas.”
- “Aviator” cards;
- pound of peanut butter.
In total, it cost about $30.
Since there was not much to do, we played local board games: chess, puzzles, checkers, “Four in a Row”, “Monopoly”, dominoes. We really missed playing cards – it’s no wonder that many people ordered card decks as soon as it became possible.
I have been without electronics for fourteen days already. At first it was perceived as something terrible, but then the positive effects began, which are called digital detox – when you become interested in reading books again and everything in that spirit.
In my opinion, a volunteer program is like a “Naprasny Trud” cooperative. They offer you to work for $2 per day, mainly cleaning and helping with food distribution and clothing loading. It’s not a full-time job, but still sounds like a blatant exaggeration. I understand that prisoners cannot be given jobs, but paid volunteering and work, in my opinion, are damn close concepts. Among Latin Americans, the belief has quickly spread that participating in a volunteer program can reduce the detention period.
The second week of confinement/ imprisonment
The beginning of the week resembled some kind of madness: around 50 people gathered near the Chancellor’s office. I approached to figure out what was going on and asked a guy who knew English and Spanish why this crowd had formed. He replied that all these people wanted to sign up for a volunteer program.
“I thought he was holding back and waited for an opportunity to talk to the chancellor to find out what was going on. It turned out that it was really a queue of those who wanted to sign up as paid volunteers, which, of course, was not a job, as we had already agreed, for 2 $ per day. The chancellor asked me:”
– And you, Russians, do you want to work?
– There is no such phenomenon as Russians who want to work.
He laughed and said that I am free then.
One of my mistakes was not remembering important phone numbers, which could have made my sentence more bearable. At the very least, I should have known the phone numbers of my sponsor, lawyer, and a couple of friends who could deposit money into my account in case of problems.
By the second week, our accounts were finally set up, and we could start using the prison tablets. I couldn’t come up with a proper, organic name for them – nothing besides “Zekopad” came to mind, and that name didn’t stick. We had GTL TG 801 tablets with custom firmware and the following settings: [not specified].
- Free. All types of opium for the people are available, about 100 books, a calculator, calendar, Calm meditation app, various prison instructions and notes, an app for filing official complaints, a limited version of the “Khan Academy” where only videos can be viewed, Webster’s dictionary, PTSD and PREA apps for reporting violence in prison, and also a phone app.
- 0.03$ per minute. For this, you get movies, Sudoku, radio, crossword puzzles, solitaire, a special messenger “Aka Prisongram” – you can forward the link to your friend or relative and then you can correspond. But the correspondence is accessible to the supervisors.
- 0.05$ per minute – all of the above plus TV, news, sports news and about 20 simple android games.
- Video calls through another app, similar to “PrisonGram”, cost 0.21$ per minute and work on the same principle of a pre-invitation. There is one small feature: when an outside call is initiated, the screen on all tablets is blocked and it displays who is calling. This is necessary so that the inmates can find the lucky person, give them the tablet, and additionally thank them for interrupting their movie or book.
Tablets are stored in special key-locked boxes. There were 18 of them in our unit of 150 places, all with wireless chargers. They were issued for a day and the batteries usually lasted until the evening. In the morning, when the guard came in, you had to say “I need a tablet, please” and provide your ID as collateral. At least a third remained unused: most prisoners had no money and didn’t speak English, so the tablets were of no use to them.
I wonder if such a system exists in Russian prisons? You could earn a lot of money on this, although, probably, they will still earn more on champagne.
At night it rained and it became cold. Many people started coughing and sniffling, but fortunately the doctors gave out cough tablets upon request. The main question that troubled everyone was, “When will we be released and what will happen with my case?” But it’s impossible to find out: when the time comes, you will simply be called.
Cellmates came up with a way to communicate with their wives in other institutions. Since the prison phones allow international calls, they simply called at the same time those whom they knew and communicated. The wife of one of them told that the conditions were terrible, constant quarrels, and some had already given up and written a request for voluntary deportation. I have heard stories about so-called “breaking” prisons, where everything is arranged so that you yourself would ask to go back.
By midweek, we began to be summoned for a CFI – an interview on well-founded fear. Its purpose is to determine whether the migrant falls into the category of those who are granted asylum, and to understand who he is in life.
I was taken to a small room where there was only one Cisco phone, through which I spoke with an interpreter, and the interpreter spoke with the officer. The interview process, although in reality it was an interrogation, was standard.
- Your rights.
- Standard questions about convictions, citizenship, how you got here, why America specifically, have you killed people and so forth.
- Your story.
- Questions like “Why did you go to the police after receiving a summons if you knew you could be subjected to violence there for your views?” In general, they are trying to find out if the case was artificially made up.
My interview lasted for 3 hours and 50 minutes, there were no particular difficulties. All Russian-speakers passed their interviews among the first, I think we had some advantage over the others.
The next day, a librarian arrived with a cart and allowed us to take books. I took the collection of mathematical puzzles, The Moscow Puzzles, and Seal Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper. I liked the author’s joke: “The only thing that develops in developing countries is epidemics and hunger.” From The Moscow Puzzles, I solved forty problems during my time in confinement.
He also read “The Plague Year Diary” and the American Constitution on the tablet from time to time. All books, electronic and paper, were in English or Spanish. Reading was free and helped to pass the time.
They started showing some football championship on TV, so it was impossible to sleep normally for two days. When the security finally came, they for some reason tried to speak louder than the TVs instead of just turning them off. If I were in charge, there would have been a small Gulag here with only one hour of TV per day for the best workers, in a week.
I wanted to put $50 on a tablet to watch movies. It turned out that I could only use the money from my account through the chancellor, who was not available that day. Therefore, I was taken to the boss of the Big Boss. I told him about my desire, he made a call, and the transaction took place. I asked him, “Why do people want to participate in volunteer programs?” He apparently did not understand and began to explain the terms of the program. I clarified, “Why do they want to work for two dollars a day, if it’s absolutely obvious that there is no other benefit there?” He laughed and said he had no idea why they are involved in all of this.
We received our first order from the commissary store. For the first three days, we were enjoying this awful food, because after two weeks of prison food, it becomes simply divine in taste. Thanks to the paper and pens, I started making notes, from which this article was born. Otherwise, I would have had to make an inkwell out of bread, ink out of milk, and a secretary out of a cellmate. As I understood it, this institution is generally more liberal.
Since I got a tablet, I have access to movies. I managed to watch all three parts of “Austin Powers”, “The Lord of the Rings”, two parts of “The Hobbit”, “Sonic” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”.
It was striking how Latinos play with puzzles: many cannot correctly separate two pieces with one gesture and just pull them apart. Most didn’t even consider the idea of first laying out the outer frame before doing the sorting. Fine motor skills were practically non-existent. But there was a character from Brazil who arranged two-hour meetings with his lawyer and generally avoided the local public. Overall, it seemed to me that in South America, there is such a huge inequality that they seem to represent different biological species.
The most popular game gradually became chess. Aykhar played them for the first time in his life, but after three days he was already sitting at the board with the strongest players. Although he still had some childish diseases like overuse of knights.
I never got antidepressants. Overall, I felt like an annoying hamster in a cage with a wheel and a bunch of levers that are not connected to anything. To be prescribed medication, you have to see a general practitioner, then a psychotherapist, then a psychiatrist, and then, after receiving a prescription, wait for it to be filled. Even in ideal conditions, this chain cannot take less than a month.
For the first time, an officer from ICE came to us. He was instantly surrounded by 150 migrants. He looked like the unhappiest person on earth, something like a donkey, Eeyore. He said that there were literally millions of us and we would have to wait, the average detention time is from 20 to 100 days, took the papers and left.
The Chinese stole cards from Monopoly and drew their own cards on the back to play their own Chinese games. We had to ask them to return them and not to do it again, which was extremely difficult considering they didn’t speak the language. Their community was the only one without any bilingual individuals, so they were always the main troublemakers during their time of confinement.
The news went around the entire institution that the Kurd had been released. We suspect that he was moved ahead of everyone else on the list because of asthma. After that, they started releasing two to four people every day. They usually came to them at night or in the morning and told them to pack their things.
But there were also refusals. For example, a guy from Sri Lanka was denied because they could not verify his identity.
One of the Indians had an allergic reaction, apparently to peanut oil. He was quickly put on a stretcher and taken away. He returned the next day.
Monopoly continued to have some success, despite the lengthy games. One bonus of playing is that it’s relatively easy to gather a team – it’s very difficult to refuse, saying you have other things to do, because nobody has any. I don’t remember playing with a team of less than four people. Players who drew the “Go to Jail” card and were put in jail received special attention.
The staff was kind and terribly overworked. They pretended to be police officers and wore badges, although they were employees of a private company. Male security guards are much nicer than women, and they like to joke around.
Because I had around $100,000 in my Raiffeisen account, one day of confinement cost me about $30 due to commissions on dollar accounts, which annoyed me slightly.
Since I got tired of watching movies, I switched to a course on American history at the “Hana Academy”, especially since it’s free. I remembered a joke from the teacher that all people are born equal, of course, unless they are black, women, or poor.
The Indian man had an allergic attack again and he was taken away again. He never returned to us. I have vague doubts that he deliberately provoked the attack.
Towards the end of the second week, Latin Americans began to pray collectively with sixty people, and they even managed to do so shockingly loudly. If it weren’t for earplugs, I think I would have gone crazy. Overall, most institutions recognize the right to religious practices, so Muslim and Jewish customs are also being taken into account.
I celebrated my birthday in prison. They could have released me earlier in honor of it, since I have already been rehabilitated, but I won’t see freedom for a long time.
The third week of detention
I received the second order: it contained a thermos mug, candies, six bags of popcorn, three Snickers bars and three Hershey’s bars, chips and Sprite. In hindsight, the most profitable purchases were tea bags and sugar, cards, peanut oil, note paper, and earplugs.
On the very first day, luck finally smiled on us: they released the first Russian-speaking boy from Azerbaijan. So, our affairs are also in progress and liberation is near.
Maxut, a guy from Krasnodar, regularly called his brother and blurted out complete nonsense to CFI like “I came to America because I could be drafted, and it’s hard to find work in Russia.” Apparently, his brother has already hired a lawyer for him, so everything should be okay.
I hate damn peanut butter. I hate how it looks, how it smells, how it spreads on bread. Everything it touches also starts to smell like peanut butter and have the same disgusting properties. If you engrave the word “hate” on every cell of my body, it won’t express even a billionth of the hatred I’m feeling right now. Hate. Hate.
On a tender evening of fading summer, ICE published a huge list of approximately 60 people. At first, people thought it was a release, but then they were all sent for PCR testing. It became evident that those who failed their CFI were to be sent to a new facility with an immigration judge, to either set bail for them or marinade them there for another month or two in case of refusal.
In general, ICE has no time limit on the detention of migrants. I have heard that the detention can last up to six months, especially if the migrant is problematic: has a criminal record, lacks documents, has no sponsor, failed the CFI. Particularly unlucky individuals are held in detention until their court hearing, where they, without a valid case or clear history, receive deportation papers. The cost of holding one person, according to my lawyer, is approximately $500-$1000 per day, so they try to resolve our fate as quickly as possible.
I was woken up and told to leave. I quickly packed my things, but kept my “Aviator” cards with me. I also asked and was allowed to leave my notes – about 15 pages. To be honest, I don’t remember this moment very well, as I felt like I was hit with a dusty bag. On the way out, all my things and money were returned to me. The only thing they didn’t return was my Victorinox knife.
In the end, all five were released, but only one was required to pay bail – 10,000 $. I found out about it later when I contacted them. As far as I know, such kindness is no longer available, as the people rushed in like a full river after the mobilization began, and the screws were tightened.
“A summary group of about 20 people was formed among us, there was one more Russian-speaking person besides me. The guards escorted us very friendly, wished us luck and helped us arrange our things. The guy didn’t speak English and asked me:…”
– Why are they so kind?
– It’s just the norm here.
– I don’t think all immigrants will repay America with kindness.
– Yes, but by default, you’re a good person until you break any rules.
– I think it’s some kind of cuckolding.
We were taken to the exit and escorted to a taxi.
How I Got Free
The taxi cost $300, four people got into it, and we set off. The released ones are sent to a sponsor, who pays for tickets to his city and is responsible for the ward.
The state of Mississippi still looked beautiful, and it took us about two hours to get to the airport, so we stopped at a gas station. We got out of the car to take a little walk. I saw a girl who looked like an elf come out of the woods, go into the store, and then return to the woods. And I also found a penny.
We reached the airport, I took my things and proceeded to the plane. Getting on the flight was very difficult because I didn’t have any identification – only my release form. Therefore, the staff put a No ID mark on my ticket and I was searched probably three times.
Right now, I live in San Francisco. I like this city more than others because of my profession, climate, and the fact that there is practically no Russian community here, so Russians are treated much better. In a few months, I will have the right to work legally and, of course, I have already submitted Form I-589 for an official request for asylum.
Almost everyone I knew in Russia has left the country or is sitting on suitcases. For me, this project is closed forever, I hardly remember how I lived in Moscow. And in general, everything is not so straightforward, we will not know the whole truth, believe me.