Former ‘Lost Boy’ Immigrant From Sudan Is Now A Cop Living The American Dream

This refugee has worked hard his whole life just to survive; now, he's joined the Atlanta police to help others.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Though it took Atlanta Officer Jacob Mach a total of 5 years to finally make it through the police academy and become an officer, this amazing feat is not the hardest thing he’s ever worked for in his life. As a ‘Lost Boy,’ in which he was amongst the approximately 20,000 displaced or orphaned boys during the Second Sudanese Civil War, Mach overcame obstacle after obstacle just to survive in the harsh political climate that left 2 million dead.

Mach first applied to the police academy in Atlanta, Georgia back in 2012 and was accepted after a grueling process that he nearly didn’t make it through. It wasn’t until earlier this year that he made it through his second attempt at the police academy, something which he worked endlessly to achieve.

Credit: Jacob Mach

The immigrant was first displaced and thought he was orphaned at the age of 7, when his father was killed and after his village was bombed by government planes and tanks. He and countless other boys trekked across Sudan barefoot, resorting to eating leaves and drinking their own urine when they ran out of resources. He lost track of his mother for 4 years and believed her to be dead, leaving him to fend for himself as he was forced to flee back to south Sudan when a new force took over, eventually landing at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Since the camp also had few resources for so many residents, Mach survived there for 10 years on just one meal a day, but the camp provided education that he didn’t have access to, so he also learned to read at the age of 13.

In 2001, the U.S. granted refugee status to 4,000 immigrants dubbed the Lost Boys, which included Mach, who was very excited to leave Sudan and make a better life for himself in the U.S. With one set of clothes and a promise to give Mach aid for just 3 months, he quickly set to work providing for himself, the wife he had taken shortly before leaving Kenya, and his family in Africa. He also quickly learned that making it in the U.S. required tons of effort and a less-than-glamorous lifestyle.

“All I knew was that America was the greatest thing in the world,” he recalled. “Nobody knew how people struggle in America.”

Credit: Béatrice de Géa/New York Times

Determined to succeed, Mach held two steady jobs that paid minimum wage, often getting only 4 hours of sleep as he worked his way up the chain at a Hilton. He eventually became the supervisor of security while also earning his Bachelor’s degree with a 3.3 GPA from Georgia State University—all while gaining citizenship, building his own house with the help of Habitat for Humanity, and sending money to his wife in Kenya, who was able to come to America and join him after 3 years.

It was his security job at the Hilton that inspired Mach to join the police force, something that was surprising to many. While African-Americans and immigrants, of which he was both, tend to have fewer opportunities, even where they make up the majority of the popularity, the south Sudanese people also tend to resolve disputes internally and not rely on police or military because of the corruption they experienced back home. Mach explained that the police are necessary, especially in America because of the different rules of justice when compared to his home country.

Credit: Luke Sharrett/New York Times

“It is a way of helping people who need help desperately,” Jacob said of policing. “Some will always have that feeling that the police are not trustworthy, but when they are in trouble, who are they going to call?”

Immediately after his wife arrived in the states, she became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, increasing the pressure to make more money without accruing more debt. After several attempts, 5 years since he first applied, and tons of work, Mach finally made it through the police academy and joined the force in Atlanta in February of this year. It’s his biggest accomplishment to date, not just because of the work he’s put in but also because he can now provide for his family both in the states and in Africa while paying off his debts, not accumulating more.

Credit: Luke Sharrett/New York Times

If he’s dreaming big, Mach would love to use this opportunity as a police officer to learn all he can about the justice system in the U.S. and eventually go to law school so that he can take his knowledge and help his people back in Africa. With his determination, the sky is the limit for Mach and there’s no doubt that he can accomplish this if he sets out to do it. When asked if he would settle into his role as an officer for awhile first, Mach said that he never wants to become complacent.

“You know,” Jacob observed, “American dream is a continuous process.”

 

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