Curtis Yarbrough: Warehousing of Human Beings for Profit

In 1999 (and again in 2005) I was housed in pre-trail with the Feds at the CCA of Arizona. Of course, with all the negative scrutiny, Corrections Corporation of America has since (2016) changed it’s name to CoreCivic…claiming to transform their business from largely corrections and detention to a wider range of government solutions. Quite frankly, through my own personal up-close and personal observation, this organization would fold up overnight, if not for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At the time of my first housing experience, the structure of CCA was no different from any prison compound I had been in. The outer façade was sterile, with layers of barbed wire gates and electrically charged fencing. The inside of the reception and departure (RnD) area was ALL concrete, with exposed cages (similar to dog kennels) for those going to and from… directly prior to being unloaded or loaded on the busses for Court proceedings. Immediately the feeling of human warehousing was overwhelming.

Once you get through the initial introduction phase(s) you are shuttled from holding tank (a little room with a single toilet in the corner) to holding tank, where they pack you in, till standing room only. You progress from tank to tank till you are finally assigned a housing location. At that point, you are stripped of what’s left of your personal belonging, and dressed in their hospital like scrubs.

Once you get to your assigned housing location, you then are placed in a Pod (an area with several rooms (for up to 150 inmates). The noise level was 15 on a 10pt scale, the air musty, the environment totally traumatizing. The CO’s in the bubble (an enclosed all glass area that allows Officers to view all movement in Housing area(s)) positioned in the front of the housing Unit are there for monitoring purposes ONLY. The whole atmosphere creates a base human sub-culture that breeds men, at many different levels, preying on other men. Survival of the fittest.

Although I was only in CCA (both times) for approximately 9 months, I couldn’t wait to get back to a Yard (Prison) where at least guys were bidding (doing their time) with some sort of regimented attitude…versus the helter-skelter, truly inhumane mentality, of day to day existence in the Private Facility. Recreation for an hour every other day (maybe) in an all dirt, and slab of concrete outside area. Maybe a basketball court. Community showers that are opened-faced to the housing Unit Common area, so NO PRIVACY at all. Room assignments are random, a minimum of 4 men, and as many as 16. And yes, there were times, due to temporary bed unavailability, that folks had to sleep on the floor.

Concerning the food, it was very bland, and other than chicken or burgers, basically undesirable. Of course they allow you, unlike State or Federal Prison Facilities, to spend well over $300 per month in the commissary. You can (at least back then) also buy phone cards and spend as much as you like with their phone system. A very intense cash machine.

Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, all of these have a commodity, cars. They are in business because they have this product. The Prison system is no different. You build a prison in the middle of nowhere, creating an economy. There is now of necessity a need for housing, for schools, for shopping, for entertainment, for every detail of what it takes for people to live (where there was NOTHING before) and thrive in a society. Building prisons, has been a fail-safe formula for jobs, and creating an economy where NOTHING was, prior to the prison. The 1980’s ushered in Prison Privatization. Private Companies like CCA capitalized on the Mass Incarceration that found firm footing in the Reagan Administration.

The call to action that is most needed is to completely rid all justice venues of mandatory sentencing guidelines. Every case is different and is deserving of a judge and/or jury’s scrutiny and hearing. Tough-on-crime laws do not work as the deterrent they were proposed to be. Despite the relief brought on my recent propositions (The Crack Law, federally, and The Calif State Prop 64), the swelling of prison populations is still astronomical, lending credit to the need for  alternative housing.

Education instead of incarceration is the key. If you know better, you generally do better. Mentoring at a distance programs could be set up, and those who have successfully transitioned after lengthy prison careers could be certified easily, creating a Big Brother network that would cripple the recidivism statistics if seriously adopted. Resources being used to build more prisons, and to pay for Private Prisoner contracts could be used to change wrecked lives into whole, productive assets in our communities. Education, passionately presented, is attractive and will heal and build broken lives.

I will wrap this up by clearly stating that the sharing I’ve done is but the tip of the conversation. We need action, and we need to act now. At the end of 2016 there were approximately 2.2 million people behind bars in the US…including 1.5 million under federal and state prisons, and roughly 741,000 in the custody of the locally run jails. That amounts to a nationwide incarceration rate of 860 prison or jail inmates for every 100,000 adults 18 or older. These numbers were even higher between 2006-2008. Even with the notable decline, the whole “business” of incarceration over-rules the need to deal with the cruel and unusual warehousing of human beings for profit.

I have much more to share.

— Curtis Yarbrough


Sergio Cruz: My Experience at Mesa Verde Detention Center December 2018 – July 2019

Sergio Cruz, 8/8/2019

Mesa Verde is a disaster. It’s hard for me to talk about it. Everything was very sudden and we didn’t expect for me to be detained. The police ignored me and didn’t respect my rights. ICE ignored the bail payment we made to San Mateo County and took me into detention on Monday, December 3rd. ICE didn’t care that there was a case pending in San Mateo County and took me into detention. When the bail was processed Monday night, the guards at Maguire jail only gave me some of my clothes. I asked about my belt and keys and was told that someone from immigration would be coming to speak with me. The ICE agent arrested me and told me I had no right to bail. That night I was driven to Yuba. I couldn’t sleep. At about 1:30am we got to Yuba and we were there for about half an hour. Then they picked up more detainees and were driven to San Francisco. We were in SF all day Tuesday. In the afternoon, I was interviewed by an ICE agent and he asked if I was afraid of returning to El Salvador, I told him that I was afraid. The agent said I would be referred to an asylum officer. By Tuesday evening I was at Mesa Verde.

On (Thursday) I was driven to Calexico, a four-hour drive from Bakersfield. I was told I would be deported to Mexico. The guards laughed and said we were “going home”, meaning we would be deported. When we got to Calexico, the ICE officer checked his list and realized that I was not Mexican but from El Salvador, and he said they made a mistake so I had to be returned to Mesa Verde. There was one detainee from Los Angeles so he was dropped off first, then we drove back to Bakersfield. From Monday until Thursday, I may have slept only a few hours with all the transport, the stress. I was given very little to eat. I was feeling bad and I asked to be seen by a doctor, but they didn’t send me to anyone, I only received Tylenol. I was told that that I was still being processed, so they didn’t allow me to see a doctor.

I arrived December 4th at Mesa Verde. It was two months later I got the interview with the Asylum officer.

In detention, there are constant fights. The guards don’t do much when a fight breaks out, they only arrive after people have gotten hurt. The other detainees break up into groups and choose a leader, a strong-man. This person controls everyone else, enforces the rules of the detention center or the group’s rules, if someone doesn’t abide by the rules; that person is beaten. The guards do nothing. If the person that was hurt, tries to make a complaint, there are consequences. One time, a fight broke out at the front of the dormitory, the guard was standing right outside. I told the guard someone was fighting. He went over to look, but the fight had stopped. Some guys asked the guard who had told him about the fight. The guard pointed to me. About five guys came over to me and the leader told me I would be beaten if I didn’t move to another dormitory. I asked to be moved to another dorm for fear that I would be beaten.

At the other dorm, everything was pretty much the same. I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t go out to the yard. I kept to myself because people would fight over anything. All I did was go eat, go the restroom and go to bed. I was constantly afraid of being beaten.

There was one guard assigned to the dorm. They sat at a desk at the entrance to the dorm. Each dorm housed about 100 people. One time, two detainees threatened to beat the guard, but their leader stopped them.

It was very difficult to be there. The food was half rotten much of the time. They gave us canned food mostly. Almost nothing was fresh. The portions were very small. There is a commissary where we could buy other food but it is very expensive. They paid some detainees $1 per day to work in the kitchen and they told us most of the food was canned. One day in April 2019, the kitchen supervisor (GEO group employee) came to ask if there was anyone who could put up some marble, somewhere – he didn’t specify whether it was inside the center or somewhere else, and that he would pay that person $1.50 a day. He was told that he should go look for a worker outside of the detention center. He left angrily.

My head hurt constantly. I told the doctor that my memory was failing. I didn’t feel well. I told the doctor about the seizures I had experienced in the past. The doctor and the nurses I saw only said that my symptoms were normal. That I didn’t need any tests. They said I was on the waitlist for tests and that there were a lot of people on the list. I was there eight months and never received any medical tests. They only gave me Tylenol for my pain.

Some of the detainees would crush the Tylenol and snort it like cocaine. Some made cigarettes from tea leaves and smoked them in the bathroom. The guards knew all of this was going on but never did anything. Basically, the detention center is run like a prison. With prison rules. Everyone is mixed in together regardless of background, sexual orientation, criminal history, etc.

One day in July, my lawyer came to see me at Mesa Verde. I started to feel badly. She said she would tell the doctor to see me. I was seen by someone who claimed to be a therapist. She asked me what was wrong. I told her my head hurt and didn’t feel well. She said “You had a court date and the judge gave you bad news right?”. I said no. She was making fun at me and said that I was feeling bad because the judge told me I was going to get deported. She told me I could get sleeping pills if I wanted. I told her I didn’t want them because I don’t like taking pills. That I actually needed medical tests to check what was wrong with me. She said if I needed anything, to have the doctor write me a prescription. The doctor never gave me a prescription for anything.

It’s pretty impossible to sleep. Breakfast is served at 6:30 am, but the night before the TV is turned off at 1:00am. People are constantly walking around, making noise. So I really only slept a few hours a night the whole time I was there.

They have tablets detainees can use to communicate with the ICE agents, to ask for medical assistance, to buy things at the commissary. You had to fill out the forms in English. Other detainees would get upset if someone used the tablet, because they were in English. If a detainee knew English, he would charge you for helping you fill out the information. The guards knew Spanish, most of them denied knowing Spanish, but I could hear them speaking Spanish later on and they never wanted to help me fill out any forms on the tablet.

If I were to go into more detail it would take me a long time to recount what I went through at Mesa Verde. To tell everything that went on, I would need a day.

The impact was horrible for my family. It was more for my children. They need my help. They can’t articulate what was going on. But they knew something was wrong. The oldest child would ask a lot for me and why I wasn’t home. His mom and I didn’t tell them the truth. We told them I was working but would be home soon so they wouldn’t feel bad. Everyone was very worried and stressed. We didn’t know what would happen to me or how things would turn out. We still don’t know what may happen. We are appealing the judge’s denial on my withholding of removal petition.

I think it would be good for Mesa Verde to be closed. They treat people like animals.


CA Faith Leaders: Sign to End For-Profit Prisons in CA

Governor Newsom, Fulfill Your Promise

Dear Faith Leaders,

Today AB 32 passed out of Appropriations Committee. AB 32 would end California’s complicity with for-profit correctional institutions and detention facilities.

As religious leaders, many of us serve populations ravaged by the incarceration of people of color and the detention of immigrants. We have seen the devastating impact of prisons and detention facilities on people’s lives, children, families, and our communities.

Join us in our letter to hold Governor Newsom accountable for ending private prisons in California by signing a clean AB 32 policy. Encourage your network of faith leaders to sign this letter.

Read our letter and sign this letter TODAY. Deadline to sign on is Sept 9, 2019.