Friday, August 14, 2015

Visit to Stewart Detention Center

By Claire Shin & Linghan Wang

Advancing Justice-Atlanta staff and Interns visited Stewart Detention Center, located in Lumpkin, GA, a three-hour drive from Atlanta. Operated under the Corrections Corporation of America-a company that owns and manages private prisons and detention centers. The Center is a corporate-run and for-profit facility, currently detaining approximately 1,700 men. The Center only holds males, whose families, if they lived or traveled with them, were separated from them and sent to other detention facilities.

The staffs and interns arrived at Lumpkin, GA around noon. We were welcomed by El Refugio, a hospitality house serving family members who came to visit their loved ones in Stewart Detention Center. Anton Flores-Maisonet, one of the volunteers there, introduced to us the history and the situation of Stewart Detention Center whilst giving us instructions of how to communicate with the inmates.

Each one of us was paired up with a detainee who had written request letters for visitors. The detainees spoke different languages, including Spanish, Bengali, Arabic, Nepalese, Hindi, Chinese, etc. After a long wait at the visitors’ area, we were eventually able to meet with our friends in the detention center. Several of the detainees had never had any visitors before us; separated by a plexiglass wall we could only talk with them through a telephone set on each side of the partition.

From the conversations we had, we learned that many of the detainees fled their countries in fear of political persecution or police brutality. They came to the U.S. with families and friends and turned themselves in at the U.S. border to seek asylum. However, upon detainment they were placed in Stewart and became separated from their families, who were detained in other detention centers. Other detainees were people who outstayed their visas or undocumented immigrants who were arrested by law enforcement for minor offenses, such as running a red light. Detainees stay in the facility for long periods of time that ranges from several months to two years or more, though 93% of them are eventually deported.

People spend the one-hour recreational time on working within the facility for $1 to $4 payment per day. They wash laundry, clean, work at the supermarket, etc. Each detainee has only one hour of visitation time each week, during which they are allowed to meet with their families and friends. For this reason, many families came to Stewart Detention Center on Saturday we visited to see their loved ones. They would then stay over at El Refugio in order to have another visit on Sunday.

Currently, there are Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Nepali speakers in the detention center. Our group got to know them as they wrote request letters for visitors, from which Anton assigned us a friend to speak to in the Center. There might be other language speakers who had not done so due to language barriers and other reasons.

The people at Stewart Detention Center appreciate visitations and friends to speak to, and El Refugio depends entirely on volunteers. If you are interested in visiting the detention center or helping out at El Refugio, visit El Refugio’s website at for more information. It was a meaningful experience for us to become aware of the system of detaining immigrants for profit as well as to learn about the experiences of the detainees there.

Check back with us as we will share more stories from the visit to the Stewart Detention Center.

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