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Niberd Abdalla: Tell the people out there I love them

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. (Niberd has an injured hand and it is wrapped with torn cloth.) —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla during an interview at the Suffolk County House of Correction on Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. Abdalla's notes of his medical treatments. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla, 57, is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8. On Friday, Abdalla spoke of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing. Below, Abdalla sorts through letters and other papers with an injured hand that’s wrapped in torn cloth. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR PHOTOS

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. Abdalla's wheelchair waits outside of the meeting room. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Niberd Abdalla is being held in the Suffolk County House of Correction under the control of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained during a regular meeting with ICE on June 8, 2017. Abdalla speaks of his experiences within the correctional facility, his medical difficulties, and the possible deportment to Iraq he may be facing, Friday, August 4, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR



@amandadrane
Friday, August 04, 2017

BOSTON — Though Niberd Alzendi Abdalla is confident his deportation to Iraq would be a death sentence, it’s not the dying that scares him.

Instead, he said during an interview at the Suffolk County House of Correction on Friday, it’s the idea of his grandchildren growing older without knowing him. Talking about it reduced him to tears.

Abdalla’s voice was barely louder than a whisper as he talked about his past, his hopes and his fears. He said he’s not getting the medical treatment he needs for his damaged vocal cord, respiratory and heart issues. He also has a hernia, he said.

“They know I’m going to my death,” he said of officers guarding the jail.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s department said he couldn’t comment on Abdalla’s medical information. 

“We can’t comment specifically about the status of a particular individual, but I can tell you that everyone in department custody — that would be sentenced people, people awaiting trial and ICE detainees — has equal 24-hour access to comprehensive medical and mental health services,” said Peter Van Delft, senior public information officer for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. “Medical rounds are preformed two times daily, and inmates and detainees also have the option of utilizing a system in which they fill out ‘sick slips’ to request additional consultation by medical staff.”

Abdalla’s breathing was labored as he inhaled sharply between phrases. His wrist was wrapped from a broken bone, shattered during a fight, that never healed properly.

“I’ve been in many fights,” he said. “People hate my name.”

Abdalla, 57, who has lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years — including two decades spent in Hampshire County — came alone at age 15. He said the last fight he got into was at a 7-11 store in Holyoke circa 1995. He said a guy threw a hot dog at him and came at him, so he defended himself.

“The fight ended in a couple minutes,” Abdalla said, gesturing wildly. “His brother was seeing stars. I was bloody … he chipped my tooth.”

Abdalla said life forced him to learn to fend for himself — from running from Iraq’s Ba’athist party and dodging bombs and bullets, to finding ways to make money as a homeless youth on the streets of New York City.

“And believe me — nobody wants to be homeless in New York City,” he said.

His parents sent him to the U.S. in 1975, hoping his aunt in Connecticut would be able to care for him, but “financially she was not able to do that.” So he went to New York City and made money repairing air conditioners. Still, he said, it was difficult to find reliable gigs without having a place to keep clean.

Then he met a group of guys who’d play backgammon and chess. He said they showed him a way he could earn enough to rent a room where “the night ladies hung out.” He said he didn’t like gambling, but “it was the only way to get out of that poverty.”

As a result of the strange and dangerous experiences he’s had, Abdalla said, “I’m not a normal person.”

“I don’t have respect for authority,” he conceded, blaming the character defect on Saddam Hussein.

Abdalla said he applied for legal status several times, but never realized he had to follow up. Each time, he said, he patiently awaited a response that never came. From 1987 until 2003 he said he’d been able to update his work visa each year. But then the Iraq war began and, in 2003, the policies changed.

He said that’s when he went to renew his work visa and immigration officials arrested him the first time. When they released him, they instructed him to report in regularly, he said.

“I never in my days missed an appointment with immigration,” he said.

It was during a standing twice annual appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on June 8 that officials arrested him again for his lack of legal status.

Now, he’s struggling to adjust to life in prison. He is a vegetarian, he said, and so he must often forego a third of his given meals because they contain meat.

His big life regret, he said, is that he obeyed family wishes and didn’t marry the love of his life and mother of his son, his fiancee Ellen McShane, when they first fell in love decades ago.

For many years, he said, he’d forsaken the idea of God. But after reuniting with McShane seven years ago, he said they went to church together. That first sermon was about escape from Adolf Hitler. He cried, he said.

He said there’s nothing but death for him in Iraq.

“I’m Americanized,” he said, gesturing with air quotes and emphasizing each syllable. “I will be targeted. They will bury me alive. I’m not afraid of death, really, but it’s a shame what is going on.”

He said his mother, whom he cared for in Easthampton for decades, died while he was in detention, where he’s been since June 8.

“I really have no time to grieve, yet,” he said.

Abdalla and his attorney, Buz Eisenberg, are pursuing every avenue that could keep him in the country, and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center is rallying the public on his behalf. ICE officials have said he will remain in jail until he is deported to Iraq.

Unfolding a packet of newspaper articles and handwritten letters, he expressed his gratitude for the support pouring in from Hampshire County.

“They show me there’s people out there who love me, who care,” he said, removing his glasses and wiping tears from his eyes. “Tell the people out there I love them.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.