julia foulkes

Chancers

What a story. This book is a chronicle of two people bound together by addiction, imprisonment, immigration—and love. Theirs is not the only love story that has those elements but what is unusual is to hear the experience from both sides. Told in alternating chapters, Susan Stellin (a journalist) and Graham MacIndoe (a photographer) detail their falling in love, his addiction, imprisonment, and detention, and what they learned along the way about themselves, each other, and some good ‘ol American injustice.

The injustice part is the most infuriating. After serving his sentence for a misdemeanor drug charge with a few months at Rikers, on the day of his release Graham is taken by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) without explanation and winds up in a prison in Pennsylvania. It’s by a few chances of good fortune, the ongoing concern of Susan (“just wondering if you’re alive…”), money for a lawyer, and the powers of white skin and the English language, that Graham’s request to stay in the U.S. was allowed. Still, the injustices are enormous:

we criminalize addiction when if we looked instead at who is being harmed, the addict is the most obvious victim;

we allow an immigration detention to form in the years following 9/11 that swallows up innocent, hardworking Americans into a system of invisibility, obscurity, and deeply flawed logic that immigrants (often those with green cards, like Graham) do not belong here; and

we uphold a criminal justice system that is unquestionably racist and unfair and has no real investment in rehabilitation.

Their story deserves to be heard because it exposes the personal ramifications of these injustices so vividly but also because it is a rare tale of recovery. Graham remains drug-free and is a thriving photographer and teacher; they remain in love. That’s not just heart-warming, it’s proof that people can change and still love one another. It’s hope.