For the past few months I have been shadowing/helping out in an ESL classroom at Academia Cesar Chavez twice a week. It has truly been a blessing and I can honestly say it will be very difficult leaving the kids I work with at the end of this week because I hold each of them very close to my heart. From getting “mustaches” painted on their faces during “Dia de Los Ninos” (translated more or less as “Kids’ Day”) or having students curiously ask me why a mother deer is “pooping” out her baby, the 2nd grade students I’ve been working with make sure every day I show up there is something new and exciting to talk about!
And today was no different. One of the more shy students, *Edgar, started sharing how much he loved video games with the most talkative boy in the class. So, naturally they got off talking in no time about their favorite video games, how late they stayed up playing, etc.
Just as I was about to redirect the boys’ focus back to their school work, Edgar shared why he loved video games so much.
He cheerfully sad, “they play lots of video games in jail. they get a special time everyday to play, so I want to go to jail”.
Of course, his friend chimed in quickly, “ooh, video games! I want to go to jail too!”.
I was awestruck. Then, I was horrified. No! What were they saying?! They actually want to go to jail? I didn’t take Edgar’s friend too seriously. He seemed like he was just jumping on the bandwagon. But, Edgar’s comment seriously disturbed me. Why would Edgar rather be stuck in a suffocating space, isolated from all of his friends and family with only a little bit of time to play a game he desperately loved when he could freely play his video games in the comfort of his home instead?
Bursting with confusion and frustration I cried out, “No! You don’t want to be in jail. It’s not a good place….”.
The boys seemed to have not heard my response, as they kept chattering on about jail. Edgar even drew out a sketch quickly as the rest of the students walked out the door showing me a picture of jail.
He admantly told me, “see, jail is just like a castle!”.
I was still so confused. Then, it hit me. “Edgar,” I asked, “do you know anyone in jail?”.
The first time I asked he kept talking, determined to drown out the weight of reality that came with the question I asked.
“There’s even an xbox and it’s really not that bad in there at all”, he said to his friend.
Again, I asked him.
This time I could see the pain in his eyes as he told me hesitantly, “My dad. It’s my dad”.
I suddenly felt a huge lump in my throat. I wanted to hug him right then so badly. So much pain in such a young boy’s eyes was hard to swallow. I could not stop thinking about it. Why was his dad in jail? Was his dad truly a criminal…or was he among the hundreds of thousands of Latino/as that continue to be arrested, incarcerated and essentially “criminalized” because they do not have the same access to gain legal immigration status in this country as their white counterparts.
I knew right then that it was all a facade. Perhaps his dad had told him prison was fun so he wouldn’t be so terrified when he saw his dad so depressed and disturbed. Perhaps Edgar decided prison was like a “castle”, trying desperately to cover up the painful truth of the horrific place where his father was sent away.
Unfortunately, in this “castle” there would most likely NOT be a happy ending. Many immigrants waits months, even years in jails where they were only supposed to be held for a few weeks. Often times family members are moved to different jails half way across the country without notifying the families. Or other times, family members are just simply deported back to their home countries without being able to say even a simple “good-bye”
Prisons are not simply a place where “the bad guys go” like I was taught when I was little, but often times the real “bad guys” are the ones who control the private prison industry.
Yes, prisons are a business. One of the biggest businesses in the country actually. According to a report done by Cuentame, three major private prison industries (The GEO Group, Inc., Corrections Corporations of America and Management & Training Corporation) make close to 5 BILLION dollars every year from the profits gained from prisons across the country. These three private prison corporations not only have great monetary power, but they have much political influence in what laws do or do not get passed in their favor. Most recently, this can be seen in Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB1070 (read this for more info: http://www.npr.org/2010/10/28/130833741/prison-economics-help-drive-ariz-immigration-law).
This summer, I will begin my research for my Spanish Senior Seminar class that I will be taking next fall to investigate more about the private prison industrial complex and its role in criminalizing, terrorizing and above all else dehumanizing, immigrant communities across the country.
Today reminded me why the role of the private prison industry in the destruction of immigrant communities must be exposed. The livelihood of immigrant communities depends upon it. The truth needs to be brought to light. And Edgar needs to be able to see his dad, face-to-face without bars in front of him, as a free human being full of worth, dignity and value in the eyes of God.
If you would like to learn more about the private prison industry check out these links:
*The original name of the student was not used in this blog out of privacy