On supervised bail, Linda Botchway must wait until 2006 for her hearing
York, PA, USA -- Linda Botchway of Ghana darted into the prison yard Monday, dancing, screaming, crying at her release. "I went down on my knees and said 'Thank you Jesus,'" the 23-year-old said after spending 3 years, 5 months and 14 days in prison. "I ran around screaming 'thank you, thank you.' Everybody was crying. Even the officers were crying."
Her steps faltered approaching the car waiting for her outside the fence. Her mind had to tell each foot to move, step by step, she said.
When she reached the International Friendship House on West Market Street in York, she remembered thinking, "Wow! I am finally in a house, a place that is not a prison. I feel kind of out of place. God is good."
Leeann Strine, a board member of the Friendship House, said she later picked up Botchway for a tour of the area. The house provides shelter for asylum seekers.
They drove to the York Galleria. Botchway had been to malls in Ghana. Her eyes widened, "but this one was big."
They drove to John C. Rudy County Park, walked around and stopped at Handel's in York Township for ice cream.
Botchway speaks easily, because English is her first language. She said she had been raised a Christian.
She fled her homeland at age 19 after learning that as a member of the Ghanian royalty she would be subjected to genital mutilation, a practice among some tribes in her homeland and 27 other African countries.
U.S. immigration officers took her into custody in 2000 and moved her several times between the York County and Montgomery County prisons, Botchway said.
Immigration court denied her asylum in January 2002, said Greg Gagne, spokesman for the Executive Office of Immigration Review. He declined to reveal anything more about an asylum case.
The Department of Homeland Security also refuses to release information on asylum cases.
York attorney Sandra Greene, who represents Botchway, declined to discuss the details of her client's case for fear of harming her next hearing in immigration court.
Greene said she had filed for a trial in federal court, but before it began, the U.S. attorney, Department of Homeland Security, and she decided to return the case to the immigration judge in Philadelphia. She hopes for a different ruling.
The immigration court in Philadelphia is so jammed with cases, though, that Botchway isn't likely to have her final hearing until 2006, Greene said.
On Tuesday, Botchway sat in the living room of the Friendship House. She said that when an immigration officer at the county prison asked her to come with him to the immigration office on June 17, she thought he was going to take another photo.
She heard him say, "I'm going to let you go."
"What?" Botchway asked.
"I have gone through your files, and I'm going to let you go," she heard him say.
She said she could not speak. She could not cry. She couldn't laugh.
"I was in shock," Botchway said. "I said 'Thank you. God bless you.'"
She paused to look at the sofas and chairs and note the steady hum of traffic outdoors.
"I still feel like I am dreaming," Botchway said. "It is not real yet."
Sleep eluded her Monday night. She said she thought of the friends she left behind in the prison. At 4 a.m., she rose to shower and pray, just as she had done before with several other incarcerated women.
Her supervised parole requires her to report, in person, once a month to the immigration office in Philadelphia, she said. She's not permitted to leave Pennsylvania. She received a work authorization application.
She said she has no fears.
"I got to find out that I had this strength I never knew I had," Botchway said. "I never knew I could stay in one place for all these years."
As the days passed, she said she cried out to God, but not as a complaint.
One night a guard asked her what was wrong. She told him she felt like screaming. He suggested she cover her face with her pillow and scream into it. She did.
She softly confided, "God willing, if I am granted asylum, I would like to go to a Bible college."