My Experiences at the CCA Operated Stewart Detention Center #ShutDownStewart #ExposeandClose
By Eduardo Zuniga. Zuniga currently resides in Mexico City.
I was shocked and appalled to read the December 9, 2014 op-ed, “Report of nightmarish detention untrue,” by Rev. Joseph Shields of Stewart in response to the article “Living Nightmare for Detained Immigrants in Georgia” by Azadeh Shahshahani. The picture painted of this prison by Rev. Shields, an employee of the Corrections Corporation of America, bears no resemblance to my experience at Stewart.
I was detained at Stewart from January to June 2011. I crushed my toe and twisted my leg while working in the Stewart Detention Center’s kitchen for sub-minimum wages, and both injuries were undertreated.
Due to a shortage of special shoes, I was told that I would have to work in my regular shoes. My first injury came from a cooler dropping on my foot, which shattered my toenail. The medical personnel refused to remove the shards of my nail from my toe. They only gave me over-the-counter pain medication, antibiotics, and instructions to apply ice to my toe. The toe became infected and extremely painful. I eventually had to remove the shards myself.
I injured my knee about a month later when I slipped on water on the kitchen floor. I was not allowed to get medical help for three months. The nurses and medical staff called me names like “crybaby” and “little girl.” The medical staff issued me one crutch despite the fact that medical records indicated I was supposed to receive two. My armpit became bruised and blistered. I missed meals for two days because I had to rest my arms and couldn’t get to the meal hall without the crutch. In at least one instance, guards threatened me with “the hole” if I did not get up and get back to work despite medical orders to rest.
Now back in Mexico, I continue to experience pain in my knee and am not able to engage in physical activity like I used to.
I was not alone in the indignities I suffered while detained at this prison. I routinely witnessed other men being denied adequate medical and mental healthcare, hygienic conditions, or adequate food. As just one example, almost every time chicken was served to us, it was undercooked.
Guards were frequently verbally abusive. When I was in a pod that housed several elderly men and those with physical disabilities, I witnessed guards come up behind a blind man who spoke no English and suddenly yell at him, in English. These verbal attacks were not in response to anything the man had done.
Hearing about the hunger strike by dozens of detained men at Stewart over the summer because of maggots in their food and other violations of their human rights made me sad and angry. Knowing that fellow human beings continue to suffer at that prison while Corrections Corporation of America continues to spin its publicity machine and makes millions in profits is intolerable.
It is time to shut Stewart down.