This African Mother Is a Lesbian and a 'Criminal'

By daring to speak and live her truth as a lesbian, Zimbabwean immigrant and mother of two Ruth Marimo knew she was endangering her life.

BY Ruth Marimo

July 23 2014 6:01 AM ET

On December 31, 2008, I was awakened by a ruckus outside my bedroom window. The noise of people talking had also awakened Chrissy, who lay next to me. I got out of bed and walked to my bedroom window and looked out. Two black cars were parked behind my Red Nissan and Chrissy's white Honda. On the street, an SUV was also parked. I couldn't tell how many Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were out there, milling about, wearing badges and bulletproof vests.

My heart immediately sank. I knew exactly who those people were and, furthermore, who it was that they were after. The knock came. Chrissy, bewildered and worried, demanded to know what was happening.

"I don't know. Stay here," was all I could say. When I answered the door, an imposing redheaded man had a large image of me on his clipboard.

"Are you Ruth Marimo? Can we talk to you about the protection order you have against your husband?"

This was an unnecessary lie for him to tell. It was Ted who had brought them to my door, so I knew they were not at all concerned about the protection order I had against him.

When three of them let themselves in, two men and a woman, one man remained outside. In case I tried to run for it, I guess. Before they even began to interrogate me, I begged for them to let me tell my sleeping friend to leave. The red-haired men, instead, demanded she join us all in the kitchen.

"No, I insist this has nothing to do with her. I want her to go," I stressed.

The lady interrupted her colleague. "Okay, tell her to go."

I went back to the bedroom and said, "I'll explain everything later. Please do me a favor and leave."

Chrissy tried to protest; but from the look on my face, she seemed defeated and threw on some clothes. She made her way out, passing through the demeaning figures who stood in my hallway. I managed a quick hug. I could see the guy outside go after her toward her car.

I took a seat at the kitchen table. My heart was pounding; my rib cage was almost giving way.

"What's your legal status here, ma'am?" was the first question.

I answered honestly, telling them all about where my status was and my recent attempts to adjust it through Catholic Services.

They next inquired about my job. Again, I was stupid enough to be honest.

When a person is arrested, the police usually say, "Whatever you say can and will be used against you." I found out the hard way that this was true.

***

Before this, I was working as a [registered nurse], saving American lives. I had paid taxes since my very first job in this country. I had worked long and hard and put all my heart into every job I ever had. Besides my immigration status and my inability to disclose the truth about that — in order to survive — I had always been honest about everything else I did.

I was a model worker — ironically, a model citizen. I had even saved a choking baby! I had made people's lives better with my care as a nursing assistant, then as a nurse. Still, here I sat, not having killed anybody or stolen from anyone, having been legally married and still married to an American citizen for almost six whole years. My husband had the power to put me in a cold room with nothing, and it would require $25,000 for me to even get out of that situation.

On borrowed paper, the day after my incarceration, I had written a letter to my new best friend and the very first woman in my life, Chrissy. I apologized frantically for the scene that had taken place in her presence, somehow trying to explain the situation and my innocence. I pledged my love, but I also admitted that it was possibly over, voicing my understanding if her decision was not to continue this anymore. I was sure that was what she would be forced to do. …

That day, with my calling card, I dialed Ted's cell number. After the recorded warning by the message, informing him he was receiving a call from an inmate, he answers.

"What do you want?"

"I just need to tell my kids I love them."

"Well, now you know how it feels, don't you? I went two whole months without seeing them—"

I cut him off by saying, "Look, you won. You got me here. All I'm asking is to tell Chido and Simba that I love them. I don't have much time."

He hesitated, then called out their names.

Chido came on the phone. "Mom, are you in jail because you broke the law?"

"Yes, honey, I am in jail, but listen to me, okay? I want you to know that I love you so much, and I'll always love you, even if you don't see me for a really long time, okay?"

I couldn't push back the tears. After saying she loved me, too, she worriedly gave Simba the phone.

"Are you in jail, Mommy, cuz you're a bad person?"

"Handsome Boy, I need you to know that Mommy loves you so much, and that I'll always love you for as long as I live, okay?"

"But why are you sad, Mommy? Why are you crying?"

"I am crying because I miss you so much, and I wish I could hug you and kiss you."

"I love you, Mommy."

"I love—" Before I could finish, someone hung up the phone.

***

Excerpted with permission from OUTsider: Crossing Borders, Breaking Rules, Gaining Pride by Ruth Marimo. Copyright 2014, Scout Publishing LLC.

Tags: Books, Women

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