Listen to or read Lamin's story
Before I came to the UK, I lived in Gambia. Life there was really hard. It was hand to mouth. I’ve studied. I’ve been in primary school, junior school, graduated from secondary, then I did a two-year Pitman course. But it was really hard to find a job even after doing all my studies. You see, in Gambia, you have to know someone who knows someone to get a job in any field you want to work in. So when I was 31 years old, I came to the UK. And now I have a wife, and I have a son with my wife, and I have two step-daughters. I also have a daughter from a previous relationship. Now my family life is here.
I've been in three different detention centres. I started my journey in Dover detention centre, I was there until it got closed down. Then I was transferred to Brook House in Gatwick. It was just an inside thing, you can't even see the sky. When you come out in the smoking area, it’s just a tiny place and everyone is in there. And above, is a net, so instead of looking at the sky, you see a net. I felt very uncomfortable there, it was not a good place for me. So I asked for a transfer and I was sent to another one in Portland in Dorset.
I would love the whole world to hear this: detention centres destroy people's mental health and they destroy families. Detention centres are mental destruction. They’re similar to prison, but it’s worse than prison. In prison, you have a one year sentence and you're coming out. But in a detention centre, you don't know when you’re coming out. And this isn’t doing no good for no one. These people are not criminals. They’ve come here to better themselves. Some of them have their sadness because they miss their family, or they’ve lost their family because of being there. The sadness inside them is that they’ve lost their way – they’ve lost their husband, they’ve lost their wife, they’ve lost their kids – because they’re captured in detention centres.
There was this guy I knew in one of the detention centres called Lucky Mo. His cell was next door and we were very close. They took him three or four times to the airport, but then never sent him back. They always take him to the airport and bring him back to detention. It’s like, “Pack your stuff and say bye bye to your family”, and he’s thinking “I’m not gonna see them for a long while”. And they do it again and again making him weak, making Lucky Mo depressed and sad inside. What they were doing was destroying him mentally. And this is something I'm really grateful to Hear Me Out for. The work they're doing really helps.
"Lots of people inside want their voice to be heard outside – they want their cry to be heard."
But there is no way to do that in a detention centre. You don't have no means of talking to the outside world – to make people outside hear your pain. For example, if you send a letter outside, the letter goes through them and they will read it before it goes out. Of course, they say they don’t. But inside, we all know every letter gets read by them.
However, music and lyrics is not a letter – it’s a song. And these lyrics will be heard by thousands of people. And just that itself is a big, big help for detainees.
People inside have lots of things to say. We all have ways of expressing ourselves and we feel different pain which we need to release. Some people have their missus left them, some people lose their kids, some people lose all their assets and the goodness they’ve built for themselves. They end up in detention. So they want to sing. They want to sing from their heart what they want the world to hear.
I've only actually seen one person in detention that sing a love song, and that was for his wife who had left him, and he sang about how he cares for her still. But most of the other musicians chant their song, crying about their pain from being inside and how that makes them feel. So this is a common thing among all detainees and why they come to the Hear Me Out sessions. Here, people are allowed to release their feelings, their own way. You release your anger through your music. You record it, you put it on the CD, you go back into your cell, and you can listen to your music which is going out of detention centres for the outside world to hear. It lifts the strength.
After I came out, I saw this advert from Hear Me Out. So I decided to apply for the position. And I was given the role and I joined the charity’s board of trustees. I’m really thankful for having this position because it teaches me a lot. I’m also extremely happy to be part of this work because anything to do with helping people inside is important to me. And I know how important music is for them.
Since then, my deportation order has been revoked. But I must apply for EU settlement status. I'm still waiting to hear from them. First, they said to me to apply with the online application, which I did. And now they said to me, the online application is not genuine, so I use a paper application.
When I came out two years ago in 2018, they gave me a work permit with economic use, which is called the shortage occupation work permit. But you have to earn like £33,000 or £34,000 a year. And you have to do specific jobs, which I wasn't qualified to do, like being a doctor or an engineer. So now I'm here waiting for the work permit and waiting for them to make confirmation of my settlement status. Everything is hanging up there.
Everyone can take certain things to a certain limit. But I'm a healthy man and I can’t work to support my family. Imagine how that makes me feel? It's not right. I feel I’m not counted as a human.
And when is all this going to end?
Photographer: Julio Etchart, and a selection of Lamin's personal photos.