Thursday, October 23, 2008

I was in Prison...

Lumpkin Georgia is a quiet little town of about 1400 people. As its' claim to fame, Lumpkin is the seat of Stewart county, which lies in SouthWest Georgia - right up against the Alabama border.

Interestingly, the population numbers for the town of Lumpkin do not include the 1900+ Latino men that are detained in the CCA (Correction Corporation of America) private prison that is located less than a mile out of town. These men were arrested by ICE agents in the anti-immigrant sweeps that have been cleansing the Southern USA from “illegals” for the past 3 years or so. For those of you who are not yet fluent in Newspeak, ICE stands for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which used to be the INS - or Immigration and Naturalization Service - before the GW Bush era of fear and xenophobia.

What were we doing out in Lumpkin? Well, it turns out that Koinonia is associated with Alterna, which is a faith-based organization that gives assistance to Hispanic immigrants and their families. Alterna has been monitoring this facility since it’s grand opening and trying to assist the people caught in this terrible trap. To learn more about Alterna and the Lumpkin detention center, you can click on this link:

From a more personal perspective, Jan and I went along with Sanders and Kurt from Koinonia to join a vigil at the detention center. It had come to the attention of Alterna that many of the men inside the facility were being denied access to counsel and due process of the immigration hearing process. Most of these men were swept up in workplace raids, or stopped for minor traffic violations. Without any delay, they were sent from all over the SE USA to fill the beds of this brand-new for-profit prison. Once they are safely in the Lumpkin facility, the men are offered a choice. Those with a claim to US residency or citizenship - through family, marriage, etc. are given the opportunity to live inside the Lumpkin facility for several months, or perhaps years, until their immigration hearing date arrives. For those who wish to stay elsewhere, they are promised if they sign a “no-contest” deportation order that they will find themselves free and outside of US territory within 8 days. Problem is that many of these men are still in the Lumpkin prison up to 6 months after they have signed the “no-contest” deportation agreement.

The inmates are allowed one visitor per week - with a maximum stay of 1 hour. There is no physical contact, as a soundproof plate glass window separates inmates and “guests”. We had the opportunity of visiting with Jose, who was arrested a few states away. Jose has family there, but they can’t afford to travel to Georgia to visit him. Jose signed the deportation order as soon as he arrived in Lumpkin. When we spoke with him, he had been inside almost 2 months - and he was very concerned about getting his car, which is being held at a impound lot up north - and it will soon be sold at public auction.

I guess these folks have committed a crime by coming to America to look for work. Obviously they are taking jobs from hard-working Americans and that can’t be right. The good folks at CCA are doing a fine service for the American tax payer too - as their signs on the reception area walls attest. While the US taxpayer spends an average of about $88/day to keep a person in prison (from, these generous folks are doing the same work for only $ 56.69/prisoner/day (from CCA June 2008 annual report). As a further lesson in private sector efficiency, the kind people at CCA are employing the detainees to do the janitorial and food service work inside the prison. Their wages range from $1 to $3 /day. This innovation helps CCA keep their costs down to $39.46/prisoner/day (an operating margin of 30.4%) so they can provide a good return for their share holders. CCA's Net income was $37.5 M for the 2nd quarter of 2008 - not bad for these troubled economic times!

On the other hand, the jobs that were promised to the citizens of Lumpkin have not yet materialized.

Sorry for the rant. Perhaps I am just being self righteous because I was trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. Didn't He say, “I has in prison and you visited me”.

Perhaps CCA are simply fellow Christians. After all, didn’t Jesus also say, “I was a stranger and you took me in”?

(Matt. 25:35-36)

1 comment:

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