The Pinal County Jail is run by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. Sheriff Babeu has recently been in the news over allegations by the Phoenix New Times and ABC 15 that he has engaged in inappropriate behavior with students from a boarding school he used to help manage in Massachusetts (http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2012-03-01/news/babeu-s-reckless-behavior-has-enmeshed-him-in-what-may-be-a-career-killing-scandal/).
Prior to these recent revelations, the mistreatment of inmates was surfaced in 2011 by a report from the ACLU which cited a number of human rights violations. On the ACLU website (http://acluaz.org/issues/immigrant-rights/2012-01/1693), the issues cited were "inadequate medical care, insufficient hygiene supplies, no contact visits with family, no outdoor recreation and verbal abuse by jail personnel.
"These problems have persisted in the jail for many years. For example, in the winter 2010, ICE transferred hundreds of immigrant women out of PCJ after the women submitted petition letters complaining of abusive treatment. In the spring 2011, men detained at the same jail began a hunger strike to protest many of the same problems."
In addition, they released a nearly forty page report (http://www.acluaz.org/sites/default/files/documents/detention report 2011.pdf) detailing many of the abuses and shortcomings specifically about Pinal County Jail. Some of the complaints detailed vulnerable populations such as LGBT detainees who had been assaulted while in the care of Babeu's prison system. In addition, there were numerous complaints about sub-standard medical and mental health care.
On September 7th, 2011, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit (http://www.acluaz.org/issues/prisoner-rights/2011-09/1159) against Sheriff Paul Babeu accusing the Pinal County Jail of not allowing inmates to receive books, magazines, or documents exceeding one page long. According to the ACLU release about the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs, Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, stated "Publishers have a well-established First Amendment right to send their publications and books to prisoners, and it is unfortunate that rather than respect the rights of publishers to communicate with inmates Sheriff Babeu continues to try to defend the indefensible by banning our books and magazines."
I spoke with Leah Carnine in December 2011 at the third vigil and interviewed her about the conditions at Pinal County Jail (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42IxI6DVkQA). Some examples she gave were the lack of quality food, the lack of outdoor recreation areas, medical neglect, and the lack of contact visits between inmates and visitors. She mentioned that when these vigils were held, they would lock down the jail while they were out in the parking lot.
Leah suggested that at a minimum she would like to see a reorganization of the way the facilities are run along with incorporating community oversight. Leah mentioned that it should include an advisory board which would keep track of the conditions, regulates, and evaluates to make necessary changes. The advisory board would include input from people outside of the system.
At Saturday's vigil, Dorien Ediger-Seto of the Florence Project described that there were multiple facilities in the area which housed immigration detainees. There were approximately 1,500 immigrant detainees in Florence and 600 in Pinal County Jail. She stated that Pinal County Jail has the worst conditions of all of the facilities.
Dorien went on to say, "Unless you are an attorney of a clergy member, it is very difficult to get in for visits. Any visits you will have are by phone with a video screen. The food is really bad. Medical care is bad.
"That is the reason we decided to make PCJ our target in this campaign. The other reason we really want to talk about PCJ is because there is a really rich, strong history of folks on the inside organizing for better conditions.
"Pinal County Jail used to hold women and over the course of a couple of years, the women organized themselves, wrote letters, petitions, describing their experience inside. They sent them to the Florence Project, the ACLU, and anyone they could think of.
"Ultimately, after two rounds of this, PCJ was investigated. And mysteriously, a few months later, the women were released or sent to Eloy. So we wanted to honor that struggle, Today there are people organizing and going on hunger strikes all the time that we don't hear about because they are so far away. So we wanted to recognize that today."
Dorien has worked with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (http://www.firrp.org) since July 2010. As an intern in 2009, she co-authored a thirty-five page paper detailing the abuses of unaccompanied children by the Border Patrol (http://www.firrp.org/media/BPAbuseReport.pdf). The Florence Project provides free legal services to people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona.
Organizer Carlos Garcia said, "I wanted to remind people that this may not seem like a normal protest with a lot of us here, chanting and running around. It's just significant how we took a whole Saturday to come out here to a place that most of us didn't even know existed.
"Even some of us who work on immigrant and migrant rights didn't know this place was here. We often forget what these folks go through. Every person who is in here has someone somewhere missing them.
"Their family members may be in there or their family members may also be undocumented and they can not come visit. There is no way that they have contact except by phone which also costs money. They are trying to raise funds for lawyer fees and so there is not much there."
Local Hip-Hop MC, Vpro Lific, then performed several spoken word rhymes for the group. Vpro Lific has been active in the Phoenix area with civil rights causes and is a regular performer at local actions.
Following Vpro Lific was local activist, Fernando Lopez. Fernando has been active working with Puente Arizona, performs spoken word rhymes, and also is a photographer. Recently, he spent a month inside Pinal County Jail and was at the vigil to speak about his experiences.
He described it, "I was just telling my friends daughter." She asked "How is it inside?" Fernando replied, "Can you feel the wind right now, and the warmth of the sun?" And she said, "Yeah." "Well those people can't feel that. We are so privileged right now to be outside and to feel the wind. I think everyone deserves that, right? The people in there are not able to feel that way. Some of them have been like that for over two years."
"I want to share a story. I don't talk about it very much. I've told a few people. Three days before my court date, the seventh of July, it was one of my cellies birthday. He was up for deportation and had been locked up for over a year. He wanted to be in Mexico for his birthday and that didn't happen because they didn't work weekends and it was a holiday three day weekend.
"We organized a whole tank, about fifty to sixty people. And we said we were all going to save our bread and peanut butter and we were all going to buy soups. So the day we were making the food, we were up early collecting food, collecting plates, and all kinds of stuff. We got fifty or sixty soups. We even got sausage and coffee. We just everything together in bags and with all the bread and peanut butter we made a cake.
"It was really nice because we had nine to twelve tables and even if they didn't have anything, we were inviting everyone to join us, and eat with us. The week before a few people had just come in there. And when you get in there you feel alone and you don't know anybody. A few of us had just come in there and a few of us had court that week and so we were wishing everyone good luck. So we prepared everything. We lined up all the tables.
"And then they locked us up. We were so ready to have our dinner and we were really mad because we had been working for this dinner since last week. It was some kind of sergeant who was kind of new. He replaced someone who was really bad. He got so many complaints that he got moved.
"This new guy was really nice. He came up to us and said as long as you guys keep it clean and quiet you can do it. So we did it. We had all these soups and this big cake. We were all lined up and sitting down. So we all sat in there and there was this guy from Jamaica. We used to call him Brother. He was a Christian man. He did all these prayers. He did a prayer in English and another guy in Spanish.
"Honestly, I can tell you it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. There are not only brown people. There are Asian people, people from Vietnam, Jamaica, and Germany. It was all kinds of people, united in just one community.
"We all sat and ate and it was so powerful. These people still have hope. It's just the situation of having to be in there. It is all they are thinking. They can not talk about much anything else.
"Some people just want to be sleeping all day because they are so depressed. They also have homes and families and people they love that are outside.
"This guy that just had his birthday, he left his kid when he was just two or four months old. Just imagine. I'm not a parent but just imagine not being able to see your kid for months, even years. And those people have hope that someone is doing something outside and I guess that's us."
Fernando also described how that he was writing letters to someone he had known inside. Fernando asked his friend to try to get a list of the A numbers (unique ID numbers given to immigration detainees) of the other people inside so that they could write letters to them as part of a pen pal program. The guards found out about it and took away his list and restricted his phone and library privileges as a result.
He mentioned that we all have it good outside and forget that there are people inside who need our help. We have the privilege to see the sunset and the people inside do not. So we at least have the opportunity to ask for something better for them.
Photos of the March 3rd Vigil
Arizona Detention Working Group
Puente Human Rights Movement
Vigil for Dignity, Not Detention