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rajashree

Rajeshree Roy with Carolyn Miller, a close friend, on a visit at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).

IN SOLIDARITY

Something very significant is brewing in California right now. Female prisoners in the Yuba County Jail are organising in solidarity with immigrants in detention.

Yesterday (Monday 14th December) a group of women began a hunger strike, joining hundreds of other detainees taking part in hunger strikes at facilities across the country.

You may or may not have heard about the fasting and hunger strikes going on in immigrant detention facilities across the country. Up and down the country–in the Hutto Immigrant Detention Center in Texas; in an immigrant detention center in the high desert city of Adelanto, California; in the Krome Service Processing Center in Florida; and in Alabama, in El Paso, Texas and in Lasalle, Louisiana, too.

Vikki Law has covered these as a trend. And they are. Collectively, the strikes are known as the #FreedomGiving Strikes and they were launched on Thanksgiving by hundreds of South Asian and African detainees at three separate facilities. The movement has grown.

Never before (to my knowledge) has the political resistance of detained immigrants run in cohort with the political action of citizens in county or state facilities. The Yuba County Jail rents space to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain people. For the first time, women in criminal custody are fasting with detainees in immigration custody as an act of solidarity. Phenomenal. Principled. Inspiring.

The Yuba Co. Jail hunger strike is led by, and in support of, Rajashree Roy (above). You can read a longer detailed account of Roy’s journey here.

To be brief, Roy faces deportation back to Fiji where she has not lived since she was 8-years-old. As a child, Roy suffered sexual abuse and upon relocation to the United States never received counseling or help. By the time she was in her teens she was both attempting suicide and robbing and beating people. She was very troubled and the undelrying causes had never been addressed.

Sentenced as an adult at age 16, Rajashree spent 17-years at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). Nine years later, struggling to survive and feed her children while in an abusive relationship, she stole a garden hosepipe from a store, a misdemeanor petty theft.

Due to her priors, the District Attorney set bail at $1million and offered a 25-to-life sentence. In 2011, Roy accepted a plea bargain of seven years. In November 2014, she qualified for release under Prop 47. When Rajashree Roy stepped foot out of CCWF, she was picked up by ICE and slated for deportation back to Fiji, away from her children.

After years of silence due to shame and stigma as an abuse survivor and ‘criminal’, Rajashree Roy has gained confidence through peer and advocacy support and decided to be public with her story and fight for herself and others.

“We are locked up together and refuse to be divided into immigrants and citizens. None of us belong in this cage separated from our families. We join the brave immigrant hunger strikers across the country in fasting to force recognition of our humanity,” says the staement of Roy and her fellow hunger strikers at Yuba County Jail.

WHAT TO DO

  1. Join community organizers at ASPIRE, the nation’s first pan-Asian undocumented youth-led group, at a fast in solidarity outside Yuba County Jail.
  2. Support the #FreedomGiving strikers by signing the petition.
  3. Help raise funds for Rajashree’s $10,000 bond.
  4. Write letters of support to the women on hunger strike:

Rajeshree Roy
Booking No. 229860
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Jessica Bullock
Booking No. 235161
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Tisha Sartor
Booking No. 233892
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Kyra Beckles
Booking No. 234664
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Juanita Thomas
Booking No. 235553
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Ana Marquez
Booking No. 235550
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

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macindoe

Susan Stellin and Graham MacIndoe are raising money to fund the exhibition of their project American Exile at Photoville this autumn.

DONATE TO AMERICAN EXILE HERE

American Exile is a series of photographs and interviews documenting the stories of immigrants who have been ordered deported from the United States, as well as their family members – often, American citizens – who suffer the consequences of the harsh punishment and are sometimes forever separated from a parent or partner transported to foreign lands.

These are people who, ostensibly, have — just as you or I — lived, worked and paid taxes in the U.S. for extended periods. Bar fights that occurred 20 years ago, Visa paperwork deadlines missed, and other minor matters have sometimes led to deportation.

The tumorous growth America’s prison industrial complex goes back four decades whereas the focus of Graham and Susan’s work — the establishment of an extended archipelago of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities — is a much more recent, post 9/11 phenomenon. It is utterly contemporary and it meets the desperate need for journalism that probes ICE procedures.

DONATE TO AMERICAN EXILE HERE

MacIndoe spent five months in immigration detention in 2010, facing deportation because of a misdemeanor conviction – despite living in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident since 1999. After winning his case, he and Susan began gathering stories of families caught up in deportation proceedings, including asylum seekers, green card holders, and immigrants trapped in the bureaucracy of adjusting a visa.

I love Graham and Susan. They have a very comfortable couch. We’ve been friends for several years. Susan has a keen sense of justice and nous for a story and the will to bend an industry to our needs, not its. Graham is an addict who got clean, a street shooter, an artist, a great teacher (by all accounts) and a bit of a curmudgeon for all the right reasons.

DONATE TO AMERICAN EXILE HERE

Iris-&-Philippe copy

BIOGRAPHIES

Graham MacIndoe is a photographer and an adjunct professor of photography at Parsons The New School in New York City. Born in Scotland, he received a master’s degree in photography from the Royal College of Art in London and has shot editorial and advertising campaigns worldwide. He is represented by Little Big Man Gallery in Los Angeles, and his work is in many public and private collections. Follow Graham on Instagram and Twitter.

Susan Stellin has been a freelance reporter since 2000, contributing articles to The New York Times, New York, The Guardian, TheAtlantic.com and many other newspapers and magazines. She has worked as an editor at The New York Times and is a graduate of Stanford University.

In 2014, Susan and Graham were awarded a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation for their project, American Exile, and are collaborating on a joint memoir that will be published by Random House (Ballantine) in 2016.

DONATE TO AMERICAN EXILE HERE

2

Image: White Construction.

SMALL STEPS TO A BIG PROBLEM

If we’re ever wondering how and when we transformed into a society supporting a Prison Industrial Complex, then we can and should look to events in Karnes County, Texas this week.

Playing out in Karnes Co. this week is a scene that we’ve seen thousands of times before. And ultimately, we’ll see a decision to build or not to build.

For every one of the 6,000+ prisons in America (Federal penitentiaries, State prisons, County Jails, private prisons and ICE detention facilities) there has been a process of planning, discussion, budgeting and approval. The degree to which these political mechanics are visible and accessible to the public and the degrees to which public are aware or activated for and against prison in their earliest proposal stages, of course, differs wildly. But, I want to make the point here that prisons don’t simply emerge as a natural consequence of crime. Prisons are buildings with construction and operating costs. Prisons are places of labor and sites of capital. Prisons are designed and they are manufactured by men who want to assume some type of responsibility for them.

PRISONS FOR IMMIGRANTS IS A BOOMING BUSINESS

I argue that GEO’s motive, in Karnes Co., for assuming the responsibility of an expand family detention facility is profit. This autumn, GEO Group stock hit a 52-week high.

The GEO Group, a corporation with a long history of poorly-run facilities and abuse of prisoners on its watch stands to benefit most from the proposed expansion of the facility from 532 women and children to more than 1,300.

Watch Karnes Co. this week, because it is in its Commissioners’ offices that the absolute decision by some humans to put more humans behind chain-link and razor-wire will be made.

Watch Karnes Co. this week because this is one of thousands of current battle sites in the nation, right now, in which activists are intervening and slowing or stopping our insane march toward incarceration.

Watch Karnes Co. this week because those opposing the expansion are true American heroes.

Watch Karnes Co. this week because not since WWII internment has the United States put so many non-criminal women and children behind bars.

According to local channel KSAT, opinions are split, but in the VT those in favour were making simple arguments based upon the jobs the GEO prison would bring. Opposing views are nuanced and based in a broader and ethical perspectives.

When the family prison opened in 2012, NPR did its best to distinguish it from other places by describing it as “less like prison.” Well, such a *new dawn* and such an enlightened approach to the sick practice of looking up women and children has not yielded results. This new type of prison, apparently, leads to a bigger prison and not *a solution* to the perceived problem!

WHAT TO DO

Read up about the case.

If you’re concerned sign the petition. Your letter will go directly to the Karnes County Commissioners.

Watch a 30-minute documentary about the Karnes facility. Here’s the trailer.

If you would like to show the film in your commnunity, email tuff@grassrootsleadership.org

PETITION

Again, please, sign the petition.

Fatoumata, The Bronx, NYC. 2013

Last week, photographer Graham MacIndoe and writer Susan Stellin were awarded a $20K Alicia Patterson Fellowship for their joint project The UnAmericans: Detained, Deported and Divided.

The project is “a series of interviews and photographs documenting the stories of immigrants who have been ordered deported from the U.S. as well as their family members — often, American citizens — who suffer the consequences of harsh punishment of exile. The stories illustrate the wide range of people locked up while caught up in deportation proceedings: not just individuals who crossed the border illegally but asylum seekers, legal permanent residents and immigrants trapped int he bureaucracy of adjusting a visa.”

Immigration and deportation, are arguably, one of the most pressing human rights issues on American soil. Many people subject to immigration and deportation proceedings are not hardened criminals, they are not violent, nor are they a threat to public safety. The long reach of ICE can collar Green Card holders who have lived in the U.S. for years or decades and who have raised families, paid taxes and abided the law. It can take only a small misdemeanor. Frequently, there is no recourse. Loving spouses are separated and society is asked to assume responsibility for children whose parents are sent half-way across the globe. The collateral effect of inflexible deportation laws on families and communities is considerable. MacIndoe and Stellin’s subjects have lived firsthand at edge of legal territory where resources are squeezed, timelines are shortened and due process is compromised; it is here where we can fathom our health, or lack of it, as a just nation.

Stellin and MacIndoe are both seasoned storytellers and their fusion of text and image is a huge advantage when making connection with audiences. The work is needed and it will shock you.

Dante's-Paperwork

INVISIBLE PROCEDURES

I’ve barely talked about Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) prisons here on the blog because they are very, very rarely photographed. ICE detention facilities are as unseen as ICE surveillance is broad.

Due to extended legal definitions and new laws, President Obama is deporting more people than any previous president. ICE facilities are often strategically hidden, nondescript buildings in urban hinterlands. ICE facilities also oversee near-permanent media shut out. With access so problematic, Stellin and MacIndoe’s decision to meet, interview, photograph and tell the stories of those who’ve been imprisoned is both wise and practical. The prison conditions will be described through first-hand testimony as opposed to literal photographic description. MacIndoe’s respectful and intimate portraits are our starting point.

Stellin brings years of reporting experience which has recently turned toward stories about Homeland security, border technology & search and the legal grey area for Green Card holders with minor offenses.

KNOWING YOUR SUBJECTS

MacIndoe was once subject himself to the Kafkaesque immigration and deportation system. I contend that from personal insight may grow public awareness.

Stellin and MacIndoe have already met, photographed and interviewed subjects. Many are fearful to go public. Scottish-born MacIndoe understands why non-citizens may be reticent but he has the personality to reassure, and understands the small margins on which our comfort rests. MacIndoe has become a friend and mentor to some of the family members he has met in the preliminary stages of the work. He understands that current immigration policy — in it’s inability to be flexible case-by-case —  impacts step-children, the poor and the already marginalized more than other groups. He knows that gay couples have not the same legal qualification and therefore protection. MacIndoe and Stellin are looking to hold a mirror to everyday people that have been harshly punished by very new laws. The laws are young, somewhat clumsy, inelegance and overly punitive.

The tumorous growth America’s prison industrial complex goes back four decades whereas the focus of The UnAmericans: Detained, Deported and Divided — the establishment of an extended archipelago of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities — is a much more recent, post 9/11 phenomenon. MacIndoe and Stellin’s work is utterly contemporary and it meets the desperate need for journalism that probes ICE procedures.

Highland-Park-NJ

All images: Graham MacIndoe

One glaring omission from Prison Photography is ICE detention centres and the prisons specifically designed for immigrants. Apart from the public stunts of Sheriff Arpaio (here and here) I have not featured any photography of immigrant detention or prisons.

This is partly because immigration policy and deportation infrastructures aren’t an area I know much about, but mainly because immigrant jails and prisons are the most invisible of all prisons in America. The media simply cannot get access like they can into state and county sites of incarceration.

As a course of policy, ICE detention sites are kept hidden. Allow me to push back against that a little:

Map courtesy of Global Detention Project.
More resources at the Detention Watch Network

In an attempt to redress this dearth of immigration coverage on Prison Photography, I point you in the direction of Tom Barry’s interview on Fresh Air yesterday. Thanks to Bob for the tip-off.

Here’s some things I learnt:

– Over the past five years immigrant imprisonment has increased 400%
– The policy of immediate deportation for illegal immigrants was replaced by imprisonment and deportation; a deliberate tactic intended to punish and deter future attempts to cross the US border illegally.
– Legal definitions of crime have broadened since 1996. Couple this with a syncopation of agency databases means constant threats of stop, search, detention and deportation of immigrants (both legal and illegal) now exist that did not 5 years ago.
– In this new era distinctions between legal and illegal immigrants have shrunk.
– Legal immigrants are subject to “a separate penal system”.
– 30% of deportees to Mexico don’t speak Spanish.
– The 11 border prisons are intentionally remote and located in economically depressed towns along the US/Mexico border.
– Immigrant prisons have a structure of financing and ownership that is unique. Tom Barry calls it “The Public/Private Prison Complex”, in which tax dollars and private corporations mix and match the funding. In many instances, administrators could not actually state who owned the facilities. This results in diluted accountability.
– The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Geo group are the two largest private prison companies involved in immigrant detention.
– Privatised prisons were once a rarity in America. CCA and Geo got their start under Reagan winning contracts to house immigrants.
– CCA and Geo have enjoyed record profits over the past 8 years. 45% of their income derives from from state and federal contracts outsourcing immigrant detention.
– The perversely named ‘Operation Reservation Guaranteed’ means that detainees will always be sent to a bed/cell even if it is on the other side of the country. The transportation costs are met by the tax-payer.
– Wackenhut, an arm of Geo group, is the sub-contractor for these long, expensive and unnecessary transportations.
– It is common that detainees are moved without warning or reason. It is common that detainees cannot be located by the private prison companies for long periods.
– And much, much more. Listen, I highly recommend.

Tom Barry covers border security and immigration issues as the Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for International Policy. He has written several books, including The Great Divide and Zapata’s Revenge.

Tom just published A Death in Texas a piece for the Boston Review about a riot at an ICE prison in Texas. The riot was an “act of solidarity” by the detained population following the death of a young prisoner.

Tom maintains the Border Lines blog for the TransBorder Project is a project of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City and the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC..

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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