Recommitment

Rachel Winch

Rachel WinchJune 3, 2012

Good morning.  It is a true joy to be with you this morning, to be reconnecting with a community that has played such a strong role in the formation of my faith and of my life.  It is a special joy to be here on Recommitment Sunday.  I love the tradition of recommitment at 8th Day.  Of taking the time and intention to individually and collectively discern our roles in the community.  So often this seems to only happen during times of crisis or discontent.  By having recommitment as a regular practice done every year and done publically, I believe the community is made stronger.

I remember my first experience committing to this community.  I had started coming to the church with my roommate, Hayley Hathaway.  I was going to the Unitarian Church and was pretty cynical what I perceived Christianity to be.  But I trusted Hayley and she was excited about what she was hearing and the people she was meeting in this small coffee shop church, so I joined her one Sunday and kept coming.  Coming to 8th Day I felt for the first time in a Christian community a place where I could fit ideologically.  A place where people were supporting and challenging one another to live their faith more deeply, where people were open about their struggles

and humbly walking with others on the journey.  A place where people were willing to open their homes, to share their lives, to share their money, to take care of one another, and to show their faults.  I knew there was something special about this community and wanted so much to be more deeply engaged, to make a commitment.

 I am incredibly grateful that I joined as a member.  While I knew early on that this was a special place, I could not have imagined when I first joined how much this community would impact my life.  By making a commitment to the community I found people making a deeper commitment to me as well, sharing of themselves and inviting me to share without judgment.  Particularly as a young person and a new member, I found it liberating that people did not pretend to be perfect or have it all figured out, but rather were letting themselves be known and allowing me to open up as well.  To know each other, pains and faults, and to love anyway. 

8th Day feels like family to me, and coming here is like coming home.  I am deeply committed to this community, but will not be recommitting today.  In some ways it feels strange to be sharing about recommitment when I will not be recommitting.  In other ways it feels quite fitting, as recommitment Sunday is a time of affirming the value of everyone in the community–members and non-members.  Committing to 8th Day is beautiful.  And not committing to 8th Day means being able to say yes to something else that may be a priority at the moment.  For me, by not committing to 8th Day, it means I can say Yes to another call.  A call that 8th Day has actively supported.  To continue to work and live at the Restoration Project at Casa Mariposa in Tucson, AZ, from which I come to visit you today. The Restoration Project at Casa Mariposa is an intentional, ecumenical community that has a special focus on being with those held in immigration detention, providing housing upon release and organizing against this oppressive and dehumanizing system.  Our mission statement is: “Nourished and empowered by the Spirit, the Casa Mariposa community seeks to live in right relationship with one another, the community, and the earth through hospitality, simple and sustainable living, playful spirituality, and peaceful, prophetic action.”   Living and working at Casa Mariposa is a beautiful experience, filled with spirit and love and struggle.  One of the major works of the community is to welcome people who are being released from immigration detention into the house and to provide hospitality, whether for a night before they buy a bus ticket to be with their family elsewhere in the country or for many months.  In the impromptu parties in the kitchen at midnight celebrating a recent release, an asylum case won, a first phone call to a family member, the house is often a place of joy and sanctuary after a very difficult and dark time.  It is also a place of sorrow as it is just a likely that the voice on the other end of the phone is a friend telling us they are getting deported, a wife saying her husband got picked up, a high schooler trying to get together bond money because both of his parents are detained.

It is hard to describe a typical day in the community as life is quite varied and dynamic, but I will do my best to give you a sense of the community and our work and life.  Thanks to Mike Smith for setting up the AV I have some pictures to share as well. 

Currently there are 7 people living at Casa Mariposa, and about 15 who are actively involved in the work and life of the community.  Of the live-in members, Kate and Carol have been there the longest.  They are a married couple and 2 of the co-founders of the community.  Kate is an Episcopalian priest in her early 30s and is the vicar at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, just around the corner from Casa Mariposa.  She is an inspiring preacher and has a talent for creating creative liturgies.  She and Carol were the main creative forces behind our annual all night Easter Vigil, a night of liturgy and stories of resurrection around a campfire, walking a labyrinth, meditation and fellowship culminating in a sunrise Easter service on the front lawn and an Easter Feaster. 

Carol is in her early 40s and studied along with Kate at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.  Carol has a gift for creativity and welcoming hospitality.  A person of deep faith, Carol identifies a Church-of-the-Saviour-inspired community, St. Hildegard’s in Austin, TX, as the faith community that most deeply shaped her.  Carol has a gift for creative spiritual practice.  She created a wonderful Stations of the Cross this past Good Friday, starting at the Operation Streamline Mass Deportation trials and walking around town at different sites related to immigrant justice and injustice. 

John Heid moved into Casa Mariposa nearly 2 years ago from a nearby Catholic Worker.  John has been living in intentional community--Catholic Workers, Jonah House in Baltimore, Community for Creative Non-Violence in DC--for nearly 30 years.  He has also lived in the community of the Federal Prison Camp at Schuylkillin Pennsylvania for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas and at the Rhode Island State prison for other political activism.  John is one of the most kind and gentle people I could ever hope to live with and is frequently the one making sure guests have coffee in the early morning hours and checking on the plants and sweeping the floor--the details that can sometimes be overlooked but are essential.  John regularly goes to the desert to put out water for people crossing the border. 

I moved back into the community nearly a year ago.  I had lived in the community previously while I was working for BorderLinks leading experiential education programs about immigration.  When I moved in I started to coordinate a writing and visitation program to the detention centers.  We now have about 40 people on the inside paired with people on the outside who write and visit with one another.  People on the inside have described this as an essential link to the world outside the walls of the detention facility that provides someone to call on in a time of crisis.  One man detained at the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America Detention Center in Eloy, AZ described how he had watched another man get progressively more and more sick, calling out for help and putting in medical requests.  Finally he was taken to the hospital but it was too late and he died within the day.  The man with whom we were writing asked for our phone number in fear that his declining health would worsen and not wanting to die while his medical requests were ignored.  The writing and visitation program has also been an important way for people on the outside who may not have direct experience with detention to understand the system more and to better organize against it, which ties into my other main works of continuing to design and lead experiential education programs about immigration and to work with the Fuerza Tucson! Coalition organizing against privatized detention centers. 

The next member of the house to arrive is Haregewoin, who came to the house just a few months after I did.  Harege is from Ethiopia and came to the United States fleeing political persecution.  When she arrived in the United States and declared that she was seeking asylum, she was brought to Eloy, AZ where she was put into a for-profit privatized immigration detention facility where she was held for 9 months.  During that time she received legal assistance from the Florence Project, which provides limited free legal service to people held in immigration detention in Arizona, and was granted a pro bono lawyer from the University of Arizona law clinic.  A few weeks before her asylum trial Harege’s deportation officer called her lawyers and said they would like to release her, but she would need an address in order to be released.  Her lawyers approached us and we wrote a letter of support and within a few days she was at Casa Mariposa.  With a few bumps along the road she won her asylum case, got her Social Security card and work permit, her state ID, and just last week her family received approval to join her in the United States!  She will be moving out of the house into the guest house of one of the extended community members of Casa Mariposa where she and her husband and 2 children will have more space and privacy. 

Karolina came to Casa Mariposa at the beginning of April.  Her lawyer contacted us in January asking if we could provide housing upon her release.  We wrote a letter of support and did not hear anything for months until Monday, April 2nd when we got a call that she would be at the bus station at 3pm.  When we initially talked with her lawyers we thought she would be staying with us for a week, but it soon became clear that she did not have another good option and she was very stressed, so we invited her to stay until our lease was up on June 30th to have a little more time to figure things out.  It is a joy to live with Karolina.  She is very perceptive when relating with people, a gift she has shared by going to the bus station nearly every night and greeting people who are being released from detention, many of whom she knows as she was detained with them.  While she had never spoke in public before, she has begun to speak at events and with student groups about her experiences in detention, including her experience as a transsexual being the only female in an all male portion of the facility.  She has a talent for public speaking and has found it an empowering experience to be able to share some of her experiences to be helping to change the system so others won’t have to go through what she has gone through.  Last week she moved into her own apartment in Tucson.  She is excited to feel more independent and to be able to continue to participate in the Mariposa community.

Marco is our most recent live in community member, though he has been writing and visiting with people from the community for over two years.  Marco is from Brazil and came to the United States on a temporary visa and, fearful of returning to Brazil because of persecution he experienced there based on his sexual orientation, remained in the United States.  When he came into contact with the police 7 years ago, they discovered he had overstayed his visa and he was put into immigration detention, where he was held while he fought his case for asylum.  Like the vast majority of people in immigration detention, he did not have a lawyer for his trial.  He lost his first asylum hearing and appealed, again without a lawyer, and lost his appeal.  Finally he was able to receive pro bono legal assistance and is now fighting his case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  After nearly 7 years detained Marco has become skilled at preparing court documents and has become a well-known “jail house lawyer” among the immigration detention centers in Florence, AZ. 

Marco had an incredible story.  For his first 6 years in immigration detention, Marco did not have the opportunity to leave and fight his case from the outside.  Finally after all those years of being imprisoned while he tried to apply for asylum, he had the opportunity to leave--if he would post a $10,000 bond, money which he did not have. 

Marco did not want to spend a 7th Christmas in detention, so we made a big push to raise the $10,000 to get him out in time, but within the month only raised a few thousand dollars.  Marco wrote hundreds of letters, but turned out only one response with a $50 donation.  After all that time to finally have the chance to leave and to continue to be held because of lack of funds.  We did more fundraising and $10 by $20 by $200 were getting closer, but as of just over a month ago, were only halfway there. 

---PAUSE---

Then something incredible happened.  My housemate Carol and I were giving a talk to a group of no more than 15 people at a church in a suburb of Tucson.  We told them about Marco’s situation and one woman asked about making a larger contribution.  She pulled out her checkbook and said, “I’d like to give $5000.  Who should I make the check out to?”  I was floored.  We explained that it might be years until she got the money back.  She said she understood and started to write the check.

It was surreal holding this check that made the difference between Marco’s continued dehumanizing captivity and his freedom.  We quickly rearranged our schedules--Carol took my 2pm meeting and I cancelled dinner plans with a friend, and after a quick stop at the bank to get a $10,000 cashier’s check, drove straight to Florence, still shaking half the way.

By the time I got there it was already almost closing time for paying bonds so I did not want to take the risk of visiting Marco first to tell him the news because then I might not be able to pay the bond.  So without any pre-warning Marco was told to pack up his belongings, he was leaving. 

Our first hug outside the gates, first meal at a Chinese restaurant, driving with the windows down feeling the fresh air, arrival at Casa Mariposa.  Moments of resurrection.

Marco is adjusting well to life on the outside.  He is a Mormon and the local Mormon church has been supporting him with some of his expenses like new glasses and medications.  Marco is very talkative and wants to share his story with whoever will listen.  The first week he was out he spoke to a 100-person undergraduate “Intro to LGBTQ studies” class about what it was like to be homosexual in detention and was eager to talk with media at press conferences about immigration detention. 

In addition to the 7 people, the live-in community also consists of 2 dogs, Rocky and Houston, a cat named Perry, and 4 chickens. 

Daily rhythms of the community includes daily morning prayer, a weekly open community meal, nightly trips to the Greyhound station where people are released from immigration detention, trips to doctors offices and the Motor Vehicle Department and the library and community organizations to help guests get settled in Tucson.  Cooking meals and preparing presentations for BorderLinks groups who come to the house about 1x a week.  Driving lessons with Harege.  Fundraiser concerts.  Press conferences outside the office of Dennis DeConcini, a well-known lawyer and former Senator in Tucson who is on the board of Corrections Corporation of America which is profiteering every day off of the incarceration and detention of thousands of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers across the country.  Cribbage and late night conversations.  Watering gardens and feeding chickens.  And meetings.  Lots of meetings.  Many of which are right now focused on making a community transition from a rented house to a house that we are looking to purchase with the assistance of a $25,000 grant from 8th Day and a gift from a Quaker woman in Tucson.

Like any community we have joys and struggles, days when people do not wash their dishes and days when someone stays up late cleaning and sweeping and mopping the floor.  Days when people in the community yearn for a little personal space and days when we are so glad to be living so closely with others.  But in the grand scheme of things, I know it is the place to which I am called at this time and there really is something special happening.  If you’d like to come and visit we would love to have you.  Hopefully we will soon be in a new space and planting gardens and fruit trees and getting rooted in a more permanent location.

I am deeply grateful to the 8th Day community for your support of this mission, for the long conversations about this call and how to discern and follow it.  For modeling that great things can be done by small groups of people and the first question does not always have to be “How will you make money?” or “How will you get health insurance?” 

On this day of recommitment I am grateful for the way that this community has shaped and supported me and am excited to see the ways that this community is continuing to love and support one another.   .