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Give Detainees Hope – Be a Friend on the Outside

By Jeanne Finberg

The Kehilla Immigration Committee is organizing a contingent to help support immigrants who are currently being held in ICE detention. We are working with Friends Afuera, which is a project of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.  Through this program, volunteers write letters to people in detention and contribute a small amount to their commissary fund to use for incidentals. Many detainees don’t have friends or family in the country who know where they are or how to support them. The Friends Afuera (Friends on the Outside) program matches up each volunteer with a detainee. Letters can really lift the spirits of a detainee because that person realizes that someone outside of the facility knows that they are there and cares about them. Detainees have reported that receiving such letters helped prevent them from losing hope and even from self-deporting back to the country they fled from due to violence or some other unsafe condition.

Detainees need their own funds to make phone calls, buy stamps and writing paper, soap, deodorant and other toiletries and snacks. Jails and detention centers don’t make life easy. The food is often terrible, and personal supplies are non-existent. It is critically important for each person to have some discretionary funds for incidentals, or their lives become very bleak — even more oppressive than just being confined against their will, which is hard enough. The Friends Afuera program asks volunteers to contribute $25 to the commissary for the detainee they write to. (Kehilla members who cannot afford to do this can let me know, and I’ll request discretionary funds so you can participate.) This is a small gesture of great kindness.

I am coordinating Kehilla volunteers for the Friends Afuera program, so let me know if you are interested, and I’ll send you all the information you need to participate. Letters can be translated online, so no special language skills are needed.  Spanish is always helpful, because many detainees are Spanish-speaking. Others speak many different languages. Letters can be simple or eloquent, depending on your interest and ability. The most important thing is to make contact with detainees who need support. You can write letters at home on your own on your own schedule and send them whenever you have the time. If enough folks are interested, I’ll organize letter-writing parties, and we can write letters together over snacks.

Many of you are assisting immigrants in various ways already. Others would like to do so but are too busy with other commitments. This is one way to put out a small amount of effort and possibly make a big difference. To join our Kehilla Friends Afuera contingent, or to ask questions about it, contact me at I hope to hear from you. Thanks, Friends!

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