Once released from already oppressive and abusive conditions in the prison system, immigrant women are held in U.S. jails to face deportation proceedings and possible torture. I had the opportunity to interview one such woman. She will be referred to in this interview as ?sister? to protect her current status as she continues to fight deportation and thus separation from her family.
Q: Sister, please tell me what happened to you after you completed your prison sentence?
After completing a lengthy prison sentence, I was sent to a county jail in California that is contracted to incarcerate people facing deportation.
Q: Were you able to see your family while you were there?
No, I chose not to have my children visit me at the jail because after 13 years of visiting me and touching me, I would have had to endure the pain of seeing them behind a glass partition and talking to them through a telephone line.
Q: Were you able to call your family on the telephone?
The telephone is available for use most of the time. However, the calls are all collect and very expensive; our families are charged anywhere between thirteen and fifteen dollars for a short local call. The expense of these calls prohibits most of the women from connecting with their children and loved ones by phone.
Q: What was the average day like?
It was not easy to live there; breakfast was delivered at 5:30 a.m., lunch around 10:30 and dinner at 5:00 p.m. You could not keep any food items in your cell, not even a piece of fruit. You were allowed 1-hour daily recreation where you were herded to a covered inside space that had a basketball hoop in it. There was a television, however, the programming was monitored. You could watch the designated programs after lunch from about 11am to 11pm. However, if any woman was accused of the least infraction, television ?privileges? were cut off for everyone. I could see this potentially causing division between us because the television, no matter what the restrictions were, was an escape from the daily routine.
Q: How many women were housed together?
There were about 20 women in each cell area, between 60 and 80 women in that particular jail.
Q: What would you say was the ethnic breakdown of the women being held?
In that place about 65% of the women were of Asian decent, 30% from Spanish speaking countries, (primarily Mexico) and 5% were from various other countries.
Q: Were you able to wear your own clothes?
Oh no, we were issued everything, a top, pants and a sweatshirt. We even had to wear the jail issued underwear. This was most difficult for me, as I didn?t understand why women were not allowed to keep/wear our own underwear. The panties/bras issued were not brand new; others had worn them. You had to wear those items for 2 days and then they were washed. You had to sleep in them also.
Q: Were you able to purchase hygiene items?
Upon arrival you were given 1 towel, 1 toothbrush, a sample tube of toothpaste, a comb and a ?hotel sized? bar of soap. If you had money on your account, you could purchase a limited selection of hygiene items from the commissary at exorbitant prices. A bar of soap would cost $2.00, as would a sample size container of lotion. If you purchased a bottle of shampoo on the commissary, you would have to wait 2 weeks to buy hair conditioner, as those 2 items weren?t sold at the same time.
Q: What do you think was the worst part of being in that situation?
I really have to say that the thing I disliked most was that you could not receive any medication unless you paid for it; they sell Tylenol for 50 cents each. If you needed to see a doctor, it would cost you $3.00; if you were indigent (not having any money) they would see you but if your family sent any money for you to purchase needed hygiene items, the jail would first take out any amount that was charged for medicine or doctor visits. Also, they would not accept medication that came in with you from the prison that released you. I really felt this practice was most cruel because there were women who needed medication for chronic illnesses that could not afford to purchase it.
Another thing that was really hard for me to accept was that we were given absolutely no real help in fighting our cases. If you did not have support on the outside, you basically are in a hopeless situation. The jail issues a list of attorneys who represent people with immigration problems that is 15 years old and of no real help. The contact information for many of the attorneys on that list is not valid or they cannot help you. This is most distressing for immigrant women who have no other support.
Q: Are there any last words you would like to share?
I appreciate this opportunity to express what is happening to women who are supposed to be free. Please keep us in your prayers and write your politicians about our condition. This treatment of women has to change. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for taking this time to educate our readers about the plight of women facing deportation.