BOURBONNAIS – To say this year hasn’t been stressful would be the understatement of a lifetime. But could you even begin to imagine going through it as a child?
How about as a kid without your mother or father? Those are exactly the sort of traumatizing stress increments put on children of detainees across the United States, including those detained an hour south of Chicago in Kankakee County.
Last year, Johannes Favi experienced the 2019 holiday season as a detainee himself in Kankakee. That’s when the now father of three missed out not only on the holiday season but the birth of his third-born child.
Favi was released from the Kankakee facility in April during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic after winning a federal court case ordering his release from ICE custody. An at-risk individual himself, reflected earlier this week on his detainment last season and how he plans to aid organizations helping detainees in Kankakee this holiday.
“The fact that my wife had to provide for the whole family was putting a lot of stress on me,” Favi said Thursday of last year’s events. “Based on my personal experience, I was very, very disturbed knowing that my kids will not be having jackets for wintertime and toys because I was in detention.”
All that changed when Favi learned last December the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) had arranged donations for detainees’ families, who lived in the surrounding area.
“It was a very, very big relief to know that people thought about them and went all the way to Indiana to give them gift cards, toys, jackets, and boots. This is why today I’m trying to return the blessing, you know by organizing something that would be helping all the folks.” He explained Thursday morning. This holiday season, Favi is returning the good grace by working with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants (ICDI) and Connect Kankakee to give children of immigrants something to smile about.
“NIJC and ICDI are helping us target those people in our community. The ones that have kids that are willing to participate in the program will be signing up on a sheet. So once the fundraiser is done, we will portion the gift cards and ship them to the families of the detainees.” Favi told me, laying out the plans for distribution of this year’s items. He explained donations are not the only way to support the program. “Donate whatever you can, or share with your family or friends so they can help us.”
While this year’s program is eager to spread good grace, not disease, physical items delivered in the past will instead be substituted with gift cards in the mail. “Because of the pandemic, we’re trying not to put any family at risk. It would be better for everyone that we just ship out gift cards, so they can purchase whatever gifts they want for their kids.” Favi elucidate.
Saturday morning, the group was nearly halfway to their $3,400 goal, so far raising over $1,500.
For a man who had no connections with the Kankakee area before his detainment, his devotion to his fellow man keeps him actively involved in the community. With the holidays upon us, Favi does have a word of advice for detainees who are looking for hope.
“Hang on tight,” Favi stressed to detainees now residing in the Jerome Combs Detention Center. “Right now we are trying to work with Connect and NIJC helping them, providing them with mental health support once they get released into the community. They just need to hang on tight, don’t give up.” Favi stressed. “I know it’s very very hard to be in Kankakee. Not being able to see the sun, living in cells without water. Just hang on tight. We’re here, we love you, and we’re working very hard so you get the best when you get back out into the community.”
Last year, the US Government detained over half a million people, spread out across over 200 jails run by ICE. Kankakee’s Jerome Combs Detention Center can hold over 200 detainees at any given time. Kankakee County earns on average $90 per day, per detainee. According to the Sheriff’s Department, Kankakee appropriates over 10 million annually for the “Out of County-Rental” agreements with ICE.