R&B singer Miguel will perform in Adelanto, Calif. today as part of the #SchoolsNotPrisons tour, a series of concerts that aim to bring attention to the treatment of immigrants being held in detention centers across the country. According to Californians for Safety and Justice, the group behind the #SchoolsNotPrisons tour, there have been 22 prisons built since the 1980s in California, as opposed to one university during the same time. Californians for Safety and Justice want Californians to activate for more investment in schools and less investment in for-profit prisons. Adelanto Detention Center, which is owned by private prison corporation GEO Group, has been faced with several lawsuits. They were accused of breaking anti-slavery laws by pushing inmates into forced labor and breaking federal law by donating to the Trump administration as a governmental contractor.
“I was held for a very long time, almost ten years, and I can tell you this: these ‘detention centers,’ as they call them, they’re prisons without a doubt,” said Sylvester Owino, who was incarcerated for more than nine years and is speaking at Friday’s night’s event, says in a press release. “I came to the U.S. from Kenya, where I was afraid for my life. These prisons are profiting off of people like me, holding them for years for no good reason. We have to end it.”
The event is free to attend and will include performances by Los Rakas, Ceci Bastida, and Buyepongo. Comedian and actor Cristela Alonzo will be the emcee for the event. People who were formerly incarcerated at the Adelanto Detention Center will also be in attendance to speak to the audience.
“It’s important now, more than ever, for us to recognize humanity in one another,” Miguel said in a press release. “I’m just hoping to help educate myself on the realities of our immigration policy and also shed whatever light I can on the families dealing with cruel and unjust treatment in Adelanto.”
Activists have been protesting to end the for-profit prison system. While there hasn’t been a lot of movement there, there is finally some news that shows the mounting pressure is working. Two major private prison companies, GEO Group and CivicCore have lost all of their major bank partners shutting down crucial credit lines. People are celebrating the announcement.
Infamous private prison companies CivicCore and GEO Group are in a lot of financial trouble.
According to Forbes, GEO Group and CivicCore are losing $2.4 billion in credit lines from the banks who were still doing business with them. For reference, that is 87.4 percent of all of their future funding. This is major news as the private prison system has relied on the investment and funding from these banks.
The two companies are behind the growth of the private prisons and detention centers littered throughout the country.
JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, SunTrust, BNP Paribas, Fifth Third Bancorp, Barclays, and PNC have all pledged not to renew their business with the two incarceration-based companies. Private prisons are a rather new phenomenon in the U.S. and has led to questionable practices. Many critics question the business model that strives to increase the population and time of those incarcerated to make money.
People are celebrating this news as a move in the right direction.
While the big banks have walked away, some smaller regional banks are still supporting the companies for now. Those banks include Regions (based in Birmingham, Alabama), Citizens Bank ( based in Providence, Rhode Island), Pinnacle Bank (based in Nashville, Tennessee), First Tennessee Bank (based in Memphis, Tennessee), and Synovus Bank (based in Columbus, Georgia).
Some folks took to Twitter to share dismay int he banks stepping away from the companies, but their arguments fell flat.
It’s interesting that some people want private businesses to do what they want only when it benefits their views. It is hard to argue that these private companies should be sued for ending their business when you want private prison businesses to thrive.
The bottom line is that people do not want to know that people are financially profiting off of keeping people in prison.
Polls show the Americans favor rehabilitation over tough penalties and punishments. The mood is so favorable toward rehabilitation that even President Trump spoke about criminal justice reform.
Now, it seems activists might move their focus at for-profit bail companies.
The for-profit cash bail bond industry is notoriously racist and classist. The concept of making people pay cash to be released from jail as they await their court date disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color.
Between June 2018 and January 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services detained more than 6,000 teenagers from Central and South America in a tent city 40 miles south of El Paso. It was called the Tornillo Children’s Detention camp and was the largest detention center for children in the United States. While detained there, the teenagers, aged 13-17, were asked to participate in a social studies project to create art that reminded them of their home. Their art was on display around the tent city until a story by The New York Times shined a light on the teens’ paltry living conditions, and the government shut the facility down in January 2019.
As Tornillo Children’s Detention Camp was being shut down, workers trashed nearly all of the 400 pieces of art. However, one priest and several community organizations came together and were able to save 29 of the pieces.
Father Rafael Garcia, a Jesuit Priest, was one of the few outside visitors allowed into the camp.
“It is hard to describe the mood there; some kids were very glum and sad, others had no expression,” Father Garcia told NBC News. “Then there were others interacting like normal kids.” The artwork was on display until January 2019, when the U.S. government decided to close the camp. As officers were tossing the artwork, Garcia asked for permission to redistribute the art to others who may want it.
“If I hadn’t been there, and received permission to keep some of the pieces, it probably would have all been thrown in the dumpster,” Garcia said.
With the artwork in hand, Garcia called Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Ph.D., University of El Paso Texas Professor and co-founder of El Paso’s Museo Urbano.
Leyva would go to the Tornillo Children’s Detention Center on her days off to visit with the kids. Garcia knew that she co-founded El Paso’s community museum known for preserving borderland history. Garcia wanted the museum and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to protect the artwork. They did one better and put all the art on display at UTEP’s Centennial Museum.
Father Garcia sees the final outcome–an exhibit featuring their work–as “a ray of light from a grim experience.”
The Museum website describes the exhibit as reflective of “the resiliency, talent, and creativity of young men and women who trekked 2,000 miles from their homes in Central America to reach the United States.” The exhibit, titled ‘Uncaged Art,’ “provides us with a window into the personal world of migrant children whose visions and voices have often been left out of mainstream media accounts,” reads the website.
Still, the art is on display behind a chain-link fence, to remind visitors of the conditions the young artists were in at the time.
The social studies teachers allowed the students four days to create the art and allowed them to create individually or in groups. There were no other instructions other than to think of their home. Those instructions resulted in an array of mixed media art including dresses, sculptures and hundreds of drawings and sketches. Then, “camp officials” judged the art and selected their perceived best works to display around the camp.
Human rights attorney, Camilo Pérez-Bustillo thinks that the camp released the artwork as a PR stunt to look good.
Pérez-Bustillo had interviewed about 30 children from the camp and believes the artwork was essentially curated by the facility. “I think they released it to look good,” Pérez-Bustillo told The Texas Observer. “They had so much negative publicity at the end from the national media, especially after news reports that their employees did not have to submit to FBI checks, they decided to shut it down and cut their losses.”
For now, we don’t know the faces behind the artwork.
In June 2018, Beto O’Rourke led hundreds of protesters to the tent city demanding humane conditions for the ever-expanding tent city. Temperatures were over 100 degrees while the children were living in tents. A DHS spokesperson told the public that the tents were air-conditioned. Some of the children told an attorney that the worst part of the facility was never knowing when they’d get out. Some kids would keep track of the days that passed by scribbling numbers on their forearms.
Still, the government’s response to the problem was to loosen the strict requirements for sponsorships. All of the children are now sponsored by people around the country.
Wherever they are, we hope that they see their artwork is cherished by our community.
We know that the symbol of the quetzal bird created in this artwork is a symbol of freedom for Guatemala. In the words of one of the artists, as told by The Texas Observer, “The quetzal cannot be caged or it will die of sadness.”