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Virginia Rendler

  • Stewart Detention Center

    by Virginia Rendler | Feb 03, 2017

    During my January Term trip, my classmates and I had the opportunity to each visit a detainee at the Stewart Immigration Detention Center. The Stewart Detention Center is a private prison located in Lumpkin, Georgia, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America where immigrants seeking asylum in the United States are held to await deportation. The CCA is the largest for-profit prison company in the United States. This particular detention center houses about 2,000 men and has the highest rate of deportation in the country, about 97% of the men there will be deported. They end up there for a variety of reasons, detained in airports, receiving a speeding ticket, any brush with the law, no matter how minor, can land then in a state prison for years.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has identified the Stewart Detention Center as one of four Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers that has “consistently shown that it is incapable of protecting the basic human rights of the immigrants under its care.” The average time that a man will be held before being deported is 2-3 months, but many of the men we spoke with had been there for 2-3 years.

    We were able to speak to men in the detention center due to the services of a volunteer organization called El Refugio. These men are allowed one visit a week, which rolls over on Saturday nights. El Refugio provides housing and food for families of the detainees who may be traveling from far away and not have the resources to stay overnight in Lumpkin. They visit their family member on Saturday, and then are allowed again on Sunday because the week starts over. El Refugio also provides books and clothing for detainees if possible. Detainees contact El Refugio and let them know they would like a volunteer visitor, if they don’t have any family that is able to visit. El Refugio takes groups like ours to visit these men, just to hear their stories and hopefully provide some comfort.

    The volunteers at El Refugio made the process very easy for us. We signed confidentiality agreements so as not to endanger any of these men or their families further. At the detention center, we had to sign many more papers ensuring that we weren’t bringing anything in to the prison. We had to wait in the lobby, some of us for over two hours, to meet with a detainee. We were not allowed to bring anything in except car keys, not even cell phones or wallets. We filled out paperwork, and waited next to families visiting their loved ones in prison. After a few metal detectors, we were ushered in to individual concrete rooms with just a chair facing a glass pane. Detainees filed in, showing me their name tag to see if they matched up with the detainee I was assigned to speak with. We talked through a phone through the glass, and I couldn’t help thinking that this was just like prison on television, except these men hadn’t done anything wrong.

    I met with a gentleman from Africa, who told me how he had ended up at Stewart. His life story was very difficult to hear, and eventually we both had to end the conversation because he was so emotional. He is able to work in the detention center for $2 a day to pay for phone cards to call his family, who are not in the United States. He has gone through things that I know for a fact that I would not survive. He had been at Stewart for almost exactly one year, and I was his first visitor.

    Organizations like El Refugio are inspiring and heartening to remember when considering this problem. However, each body in these prisons means more money for the government agencies that operate them. This is not about protecting anyone; this is about profiting off of human suffering. These men came to the United States looking to gain nothing but safety, and our government has thrown them in jail in order to make money. Many of them will be forced to return to unsafe homes and war torn countries after enduring human rights abuses at the hands of our own government. There are detention centers like this all over the United States, including in Indiana. I highly encourage anyone interested to look into visiting a detainee, because it really is the least we can do.

    Clay County Jail:

    Virginia Rendler ’20 is a Peace Studies major, and is hoping to double major in English, as well as double minor in Spanish and Visual Art. She loves animals and is a Leo.