Life in the Time of the Coronavirus

I’m Being Held at a Border Detention Center. I’m Scared They’ll Let Us Die.

The virus spread quickly in San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center. Detainees were given one mask and cleaning spray.

Gabriel Thompson
Published in
6 min readApr 22, 2020

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Photo illustration. Photo sources: The Washington Post/Getty Images, 4x-image/Getty Images

Life in the Time of the Coronavirus is a GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or are experiencing the stress of the unknown.

This anonymous, 37-year-old Honduran man has been detained in the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California, since August 26. The virus has spread quickly in Otay Mesa, with ICE now reporting that 20 detainees and eight ICE employees have tested positive for Covid-19. The outbreak, along with complaints from detainees about the impossibility of social distancing and lack of protective equipment, has sparked a hunger strike.

I’m from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, but had to flee in 2016 because gangs threatened to kill me. I had a shop where I fixed and sold cellphones. Twice I missed the rent payments — what the gang would collect every week — and they started looking for me. They showed up, armed, at my mom’s house and said they needed to talk to me. I escaped out the back and called a friend, who picked me up, and I headed to Mexico with my girlfriend at the time.

In Chiapas, another group of armed men kidnapped us and brought us to an abandoned house. I’m pretty sure they were part of a cartel. They beat us until my girlfriend’s family in the United States sent them money. After they released us, we filed a police report and left for Tijuana, because we knew that if you file a complaint your life is in danger.

In 2019, a man showed up at my work as a parking attendant in Tijuana. He knew my name, where I was from, how much money we had given the kidnappers. He wanted me to come with him. I said I couldn’t because I was working, but he said he would be back. I knew I was in…

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Gabriel Thompson
GEN
Writer for

Journalist; most recent book is Chasing the Harvest, an oral history collection of farmworkers. www.gabrielthompson.org