Tri-County Latino Festival

This weekend, Team Lumpkin also had a table at the Tri-County Latino Festival in Columbus. We partnered with El Refugio, an unbelievably great community resource, and had a great day! We signed up eight new volunteers for our “rapid response” released client team, connected with local churches, met a local professor who would like to interpret, met a high school student who is going to volunteer with El Refugio, started a bandana trend (see photo below), AND competed in the salsa dance-off (we did not win, please act surprised).

festival group.jpegyouths.JPG


Release Strategy

I think this week was my first “regular” week in Lumpkin. No travel for work, no anomalous goings-on, no surprise late night releases. It was also the first week that I felt like I actually knew what I was talking about some of the time when volunteers asked me questions. I spent the first part of the week in the office drafting, attending various meetings, and calling the Board of Immigration Appeals to find out the status of some SIFI cases that are up on appeal.  I then spent most of Thursday and Friday in the detention center. We signed up three new clients, so Friday morning was all good news, meeting with people to tell them that they now had lawyers.

I also met a Venezuelan man who had just won his asylum case pro se that day. We had declined representation when he contacted us initially because his merits hearing was too soon for us to be able to help, but now that he’s won, we may reopen his case to help him with his bond. Even though he has won his asylum case, if the government reserved the right to appeal, he will have to stay in detention until the appeal period (30 days) is over, or until the Board of Immigration Appeals rules on the government’s appeal. He seemed grateful for our help, but more than anything wanted to talk about how to keep his forward momentum going. “If I have to stay in detention, I want to have something to work on” he told, specifically talking about the procedure for getting his work papers in order.

Given that there’s nothing special to report, I thought I might take the time to give you all a little rundown on what it is we actually *do* in Lumpkin. This will be duplicative (perhaps word for word) for those of you who know me in real life and have had occasion to talk to me about the work I do, so if you’ve already heard it straight from the horse’s mouth, you can stop reading now.

SIFI rolled out in stages, meant to evolve as the program got its feet under it on the ground. Stage One was basically court watching: going into various immigration courts throughout the southeast to figure out what was happening, how things were working, and how we could be most effective as an organization. (SPLC chose to focus on the southeast, as it is the leader in immigration detention: 1 in 6 immigrants in the US are detained here).  Phase Two is about “release strategy”, and is focused on how to get people out of detention. Phase Three is the merits phase. All of the OTG sites are currently in Phase Two, and looking to transition relatively soon to Phase Three.

So what, exactly, is release work? Simply put, it’s how to get folks out of detention to keep fighting for their ability to stay in the country long term. An immigration case for someone who is detained proceeds on two “tracks”. Let’s call them the Relief Track:

Relief track.jpg

And the Release Track:Release track.jpg

In Phase Two, we help people with the steps of the Release Track. When you are first detained by the government, issues a document called the Notice to Appear (“NTA”). This document identifies which category ICE has determined you fall into: “arriving alien”, “Entry Without Inspection” (EWI, pronounced “ee-wee”), or “Entry with Status”. Which category you fall into determines which form of release you’re entitled to: parole or bond.

Classification Form of Release
“Arriving Aliens” •Parole
•Decider: ICE ERO
“Entry Without Inspection” (212 grounds)

Entry with status (visa, LPR, etc.) (237 grounds)

•Decider: Immigration Judge through EOIR
•ICE has typically “reviewed” custody & either set a bond or decided to continue detention

An arriving alien is defined as “an applicant for admission coming or attempting to come into the United States at a port-of-entry, or an alien seeking transit through the United States at a port-of-entry, or an alien interdicted in international or United States waters and brought into the United States by any means, whether or not to a designated port-of-entry, and regardless of the means of transport.” 8 C.F.R. § 1.2. 

“Entry without inspection” means that you were apprehended somewhere other than within 100 miles of the border. “Entry with status” means that you initially came into the country legally (e.g. on a tourist visa) but are now out of status for whatever reason.  Almost all of the people who are detained at Stewart are picked up via “interior enforcement” (i.e. not at the border) and thus entered without inspection (EWI) or entered with status, and are therefore eligible for bond. (Bond in the immigration context is identical to bail bond in the criminal context.)  When ICE issues the NTA, it also makes an initial custody determination. Now, in the age of Donald Trump, we are seeing more and more people kept in detention with no bond, although this is almost completely discretionary. If ICE decides not to give you a bond, you are entitled to review of that decision by an immigration judge. And this is where we come in! We then file a “motion for custody re-determination”, asking the immigration judge to reconsider ICE’s initial decision not to give our client a bond.

Parole, on the other hand, is still soley within ICE’s control, so a parole motion is filed with ICE. As I mentioned in a previous post, parole is available to arriving aliens who have been found to have a credible fear of returning to their country of origin. Because we don’t get many arriving aliens, we do significantly fewer parole requests.

Once people are out of detention, they can then move to a (hopefully) friendlier jurisdiction to continue to fight their larger case which will allow them to remain in the country (we’ll talk about forms of immigration relief another time). Being out of custody also allows them to be with their family and friends to get the emotional support that is key to surviving a prolonged legal battle. It also allows them to leave Stewart County, which has an alarmingly low grant rate for bonds (less than 50%), and is a notoriously pro-government, anti-immigrant jurisdiction.  For example, in 2016, Stewart had a 7% asylum grant rate.

Okay, you got all that? Now figure it all out in a language you probably don’t speak, read, or understand especially well, if at all, and do it all from inside a correctional facility without access to the internet. Ready? Go!

Jena, Louisiana

I spent the last week in Jena, Louisiana, home to the LaSalle ICE Processing Center. Jena itself is best known for being the home of the Jena Six, six young men who were grossly overcharged for an assault following several racially charged incidents at their high school (including the hanging of several nooses from a tree that was recognized by the high school community to be a place where only white kids could hang out).

Jena is a nice enough town, with laughably more options than Lumpkin (a grocery store! Several restaurants! A Walmart!). I was asked to come because most of the permanent Jena staff was supposed to be at a retreat, but there was still a cadre of volunteers scheduled. (The retreat was ultimately canceled, however, due to Tropical Storm Gordon.) The volunteers were a group of friends, many of whom had just finished clerking in the 10th Circuit in Denver! Having been freed from the “no political activism” shackles of working for the judiciary, they decided to come down and help out for a week. They proved to be a really great group of volunteers, in no small part because they had just come from clerking. This meant that when they returned from the detention facility with documents from clients, the volunteers scanned the documents in themselves, and uploaded them to the appropriate place on our digital interface (called Law Lab).

This may seem like an unremarkable thing to be grateful for, but very often we get volunteers who have been in private practice a long time and are used to having paralegals or other staff do their scanning and uploading for them. This means that they will often come back to the office from the facility and hand a big stack of documents to the project coordinator. “Here” they’ll say, “the client gave me these. Please let me know when they’re up on Law Lab.” Now, very rarely are they so brusque, but you get the idea. This is one more task generated for an employee who is already up to her eyeballs in work. So, shout out to you, Colorado-Jena volunteers, for being willing to do whatever it takes to actually take work off the plates of the permanent staff.

This week was an odd week to be in Jena, because it’s actually their last week in their current office, and in Jena itself. It’s also the last week for their lead attorney, Jeremy. Jeremy will be working as the remote lead for a few months, but will no longer be on the ground (or “OTG”, a favorite SIFI acronym). The rest of the Jena staff (one direct services attorney and the project coordinator) will be moving to Alexandria, Louisiana where the new SIFI office will be located. From Alexandria, SIFI will begin to serve immigrants detained at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center while continuing to serve folks at LaSalle.

It was also a banner week for Jena in terms of releases: four clients were released from detention, three of them women. The whole team agreed that this was a great way to “go out” but also assured me that this was not normal. While we waited for her ride to arrive, I chatted with one woman who had been in detention for more than eight months. She told me about how she’d like to to be a NICU nurse because her son was born with serious medical issues, including needing a feeding tube from a young age. Had he been born in Guatemala, she assured me, he simply would have died. “We don’t have anything like that in Guatemala. It’s such a blessing to live here in the United States.” However, the classes would cost $8,000 a month, so she was going to focus on bettering her English first. She also told me about how to make tamales with the things you can buy in commissary: first you take potato chips and crush them as finely as you can inside the bag to make the masa. Then you fill them with chicken (which apparently is available for sale) or cheese (“better yet, spicy cheese” she insisted), wrap them in paper towels (which she had to take from the laundry room), and microwave them for several minutes. They also make mole using the chocolate they would get as a reward for cleaning especially well.

Beyond getting prison survival recipes, much of what I did this week was supervise the volunteers so that Team Jena could do all the things they needed to in advance of the move. When the volunteers were at the detention facility, I worked on my first ever parole request, which we are hoping to file for a client back in Stewart in the next few weeks. Like all lawyers know, jumping in on a case that didn’t originate with you takes a not-insignificant amount of getting up to speed on the facts and the documents, so that took some time. In starting to draft the parole request, I also discovered some documents that we still need, and am starting to look for/request those. I also put in a request with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies for information about my client’s particular factual situation.

The intellectual debate about requests for parole is what, exactly, they should contain. Parole requests, unlike bond motions, are not filed in immigration court or otherwise presented to a judge or lawyer. Instead, the decision whether to grant someone parole is made by ICE. The requests are submitted to ICE and reviewed, granted or denied by an ICE Officer. Although I do not know for sure, I feel it’s safe to assume that none of these officers have a legal background, let alone a law degree. So, the question then becomes: how much legal analysis should your parole request contain? Do the ICE officers even read the requests themselves? Or do they just skip to the supporting documents which show all of the factors which weigh  in favor of paroling the client. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for the parole of individuals due to “urgent humanitarian reasons” or for “significant public benefit.” INA § 212(d)(5)(A). A 2009 ICE policy directive indicates that since continued detention of aliens who have been found to have a credible fear of persecution is not in the public interest, ICE should grant such aliens parole once the alien establishes: 1) his or her identity, 2) that he or she will not pose a danger to the community, and 3) that he or she will not pose a flight risk.

There are two schools of thought on this. One is that a parole request itself should generally be one page, (two or three if the case is especially complicated), and then include a detailed index of supporting documents. The Lumpkin approach, on the other hand, errs on the side of a detailed analysis, more in the style of a traditional brief.  This debate only matters of, of course, if ICE reads the petitions at all. I’m not sure we’ll ever know if one approach is better than the other, and I haven’t been here long enough to form my own opinion. I want to believe, as I always do, that the recipient of my work is reading it carefully and considering the arguments I am putting forward, but unfortunately, I think that’s more naive in this setting than in any other. We’ll see how it works out for my client. 

So, thanks Team Jena, for having me, even if you ultimately ended up not needing me. It’s always interesting to see other sites, and to visit other towns I would otherwise have lived my whole life not knowing they existed.

“I don’t believe you.”

That’s what the four-nearly-five year old I spent Thursday evening with kept telling her siblings when they told her her dad was coming. Starting at about 7:30 PM, I hung out in the parking lot of Stewart with R* and her three children, L* (age 15), S (age 12), and A* (age 4). We were waiting for the last member of their family, AJ*, to be released. ICE never tells the families exactly what time their person will be released, so, as with all things at the Stewart Detention Center, there’s a lot of hurry up and wait. The family had ridden down with a woman from Columbus who simply volunteers to drive detainees, and often hosts them in her home, as a one-woman soldier for the cause. However, she can no longer drive at night, so as the sun went down, I agreed to drive the family.

The five of us stood in the parking lot, enjoying an uncharacteristically cool breeze and talking about plans for the future, mostly. R* had finally made the decision to move her family from North Carolina to Columbus, Georgia, in order to be closer to her husband. She kept getting calls for her to come to Stewart, and the trip was too long to make at the drop of a hat from North Carolina, so she moved the family to Georgia in the middle of August. However, she had not planned to be in Georgia long term, and the kids weren’t enrolled in school. We talked about their plans to move to her uncle’s date farm in California. I looked at L*’s Instagram photos of sunsets she liked.  I asked A*about her stuffed dog (named Kylo).

Finally, at about 8:30PM, a group of men could be seen coming out of the side gate. Even at quite a distance, all three kids recognized their dad. A* looked up at us all in disbelief, and was met with a chorus of “we told you” from her siblings. We approached the gate slowly, with a handful of other families and friends. The group of men came out from the gate, but stuck closely to the CoreCivic guard who was escorting them, unsure whether they were truly free to leave or not. The guard checked some things on her clipboard, and finally gave the all clear. AJ* walked quickly towards his children, R* told A* it was okay to run to him, and I thought “well, here’s the part where I cry in front of this whole family.” AJ* scooped his youngest daughter up in his arms, stuffed toy dog and all, as the big kids made a cooler approach. Then the whole family converged in one big, long-anticipated group hug.

The family had brought AJ* a backpack full of new clothes, and the kids had insisted that he would be dying to eat dinner at Del Taco. However, when I asked if he’d like to stop by our office and change, or if he’d like to stop for dinner, he quietly declined, saying he’d rather just go home. So, I drove this newly reunited family back to the little apartment they rent in the back of someone’s house on the outskirts of Columbus, listening to L* tell her dad about the new Twenty-One Pilots album, listening to S* ask his dad about whether he had ever ridden in a taxi cab, and stealing glances in the rearview mirror at A* snuggled on her dad’s lap.

Unsurprisingly, when we arrived at the house, AJ* offered to pay me for my gas, for my time. I tried to decline as politely as I could while struggling (and failing) to come up with a way to explain that I was just so happy to be able to help. It feels so corny to say that just seeing his family back together was a reward in and of itself, but I really mean it. I had dinner this evening with the other resident immigration attorney here in Lumpkin (don’t worry, Marty, you’ll get an entire Lumpkin Letter all your own) and we talked about how so much of this job is just about physically being with people. We made a conscious choice to be in Lumpkin so that we can be there for people in a real, tangible way; sit next to them during hearings, talk face-to-face (albeit through glass), give someone a ride. It costs me virtually nothing to drive these people to Columbus, but it makes a world of difference to the mother of three who cannot drive, and a family whose sole breadwinner has been incarcerated. I’m grateful to this family for letting me be a part of their lives and this victory for even just a 45-minute car ride.

See, A*? We told you he was coming.


*Names redacted to protect their privacy.

“…The Future Remains” I guess.

August 13-17, 2018: Folkston Visit

SIFI currently has five sites. This week, the Lumpkin team took a field trip down to Folkston, GA, in order to see how other sites run. As SIFI grows, it’s good to check in with other OTG (“on the ground”) teams, both for esprit de corps and for general operating procedure; who’s doing what how.  

We traveled on Monday, after Matt had a surprise bond hearing. Matt had been at Stewart on Sunday, visiting some clients to pick up documents, and on a whim asked to visit another client whose bond motion we’ve been working on, just to check in. When the client arrived on his side of the visitation glass, he informed Matt that he had gotten nervous and had filed his own bond motion pro se, and that there was a hearing tomorrow (Monday) morning. This was news to Matt, the lawyer, and in fact had gone against Matt’s repeated pleas for the client to be patient and not to file on his own.  I know I have been shirking my duties, dear readers, in explaining what exactly goes into filing a motion for bond, but suffice it to say for the purposes of this story, they are very labor intensive when prepared by our office. Conversely, going around Stewart is what I heard referred to as the “boilerplate 9th Circuit motion for bond” by Judge Duncan on the record last week. This is essentially a form where the detainee simply writes in his name in the blank at the top of the form. This motion is what our client got nervous and filed with the court…and then didn’t tell us, his legal team! Thankfully, Matt was able to appear on Monday morning and withdraw the pro se motion.

So, after surprise court, we hit the road for Folkston. En route, I learned what pecan trees look like, what kind of plant peanuts come from, and got to know my fellow Lumpkinders a lot better.

Team Folkston currently consists of three permanent team members: the lead attorney, Henri; the direct services attorney, Meredyth; and the project coordinator, Ishrat. They have a deliberately nondescript office, which they are hoping to move, in order to have enough space for their staff and volunteers. However, because this week is an organization-wide professional development week, Folkston didn’t have weekly volunteers. So, Monica and I filled the role of volunteers, and seized the opportunity to go see the Folkston ICE Processing Center (“FIPC”), the facility which Team Folkston services. FIPC is run by GEO Group, which is right up there with the biggest and baddest for-profit prison corporations (which KLN is currently suing). However, our interest in GEO in this context is not because they’re awful, but rather to observe how much better virtually every aspect of their facility is than Stewart. Many of the favorable conditions have been the result of a cordial, professional, and ongoing dialogue between the SIFI team and GEO administrators. As just one example, when we arrived, Monica and I didn’t even have time to sit down before we were ushered through the metal detectors. Now, we did wait for a while just beyond the metal detectors before we were allowed back into the visitation room, but this is day and night from Stewart, where I personally have waited over an hour to even get to this step.

We were then escorted back to the visitation/”court room” area, and almost immediately let into a room with the detainee who we were there to see. In this room, there was no glass, no phones, no slit through which to pass documents. This was a full-contact room where we could shake the hand of the man we were visiting, a delightfully normal client-attorney salutation, and sit and talk to him comfortably face-to-face (a fact for which I was doubly grateful because we were there to tell him that his sponsor had pulled out, and if he couldn’t find another one this week, he might lose his case entirely). All of the visitation rooms at Folkston are full contact like this. Three or four of them are cubicles, which are open at the top (purportedly for fire code reasons), so the conversations had within are less than confidential. I was prepared to be incensed about this lack of privacy, but Meredyth explained that these cubicles had originally simply been empty, and SIFI had asked to start using them for client visits. GEO agreed, and willingly installed phones (where lawyers are allowed to use GEO’s language line for free) and white noise machines, to at least try to make things a little more private. And so my outrage was dampened slightly. There are also at least two rooms which have computers and video cameras, where detainees can be interviewed via Skype. 

On Wednesday, I went to a bond hearing with Meredyth and Matt. It is important to note that Folkston, because it is much closer to the ocean, gets a lot more “arriving aliens” who are coming into the United States for the first time. The odd thing about FIPC is that, like Stewart, they also have an immigration court at the jail, but literally no court staff are present. This is why I called them “court rooms” above (that’s also what is spray painted on the doors): they are very small rooms where the detainee sits in front of a videoteleconference array, and the whole court proceeding takes place at the immigration court in Atlanta. The judge is there. The clerk is there. The government attorney is there. Sometimes, even the lawyer for the detainee is there. The whole thing feels farcical, performative, almost like a sham. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that, as in Stewart, nothing is interpreted for the client if not directed at the client. So all the arguments of counsel are in English, and have to be summed up to the client afterwards.

Michael Baird, the judge we were supposed to be appearing in front of, at least examines the witness (although, according to Team Folkston, these questions are always the same and similarly farcical: “do you own any property in the United States?” is a favorite question to pose to arriving aliens. When they say no, because they were immediately apprehended when they entered the country, Judge Michael Baird then uses that as a factor which weighs in favor of them being a flight risk.) During this direct examination by the court, the detainee is at least allowed to make his own record, and have at least some of what’s happening during his hearing explained to him in his own language. Judge Baird, however, was not presiding over our hearing, to the surprise of everyone on our team. Instead, newly appointed Angela Munson from LeSalle Immigration Court was presiding. Meredyth, Matt, and the client were barely able to squeeze into the space in front of the camera.. There was so little space, I had to stand behind the television monitor, looking, instead of at the court, at our team and client.

As the hearing proceeded, Judge Munson asked all of the questions Meredyth had predicted (relating to where our client was planning to live if released), but instead of directing them to the client himself, as Judge Baird would have, Judge Munson instead directed them to Meredyth, who answered on the client’s behalf. The judge seemed particularly concerned with the fact that the client had arrived in the country with his family, that they “had arrived in the same manner he did” (she repeated this phrase word-for-word several times), and that they were “his only ties to the community” (despite having an aunt in Texas who was willing to sponsor him). She also lamented that “his employment history is vague at best.” Please remember, this is a man who was immediately locked up upon entering the country, and now the Immigration Judge is lamenting that he hasn’t worked in the U.S. (Matt made an excellent record about how the client had successfully owned a business for many years in El Salvador, but the judge was not convinced). With minimal argument from the government, our motion for bond was denied. We then retreated to one of the cubicles to explain to the client what had happened and what the next steps were. The client thanked Meredyth and Matt repeatedly for their work, and said he would need to talk to his wife before making any further decisions.

Hanging in the hallway before you enter the visitation rooms, there is a poster with rocket ship on it that says “Just remember, when you think all is lost, the future remains” – Dr. Robert H. Goddard. I can’t stop thinking about it. I know it’s meant to be inspirational, but in the immigration detention context, it seems almost cruel. 


You Win Some, You Lose Some

August 10, 2018

Today was largely a day of victory. I went to hear our staff attorney, Matt, argue his bond motion before Judge DeCardona (who, by they way, appears via video from Falls Church, Virginia).

There is no electronic filing in immigration court. They are starting to roll it out in bigger jurisdictions like Atlanta, but surprisingly, that technological leap forward hasn’t made it to Lumpkin yet. So, Matt diligently hand-delivered his motion (and the myriad supporting exhibits) to the court in advance of the hearing. This lack of e-filing is one of the many many practical issues of Stewart’s location: in order to file your pleadings, you must either file them in person, or send them via snail mail. Being able to easily hand deliver things is one of the very few benefits that inure to those of us (SIFI Lumpkin, and one other solo practitioner) who choose to keep an office in Lumpkin proper.

When the hearing started, despite having hand delivered our packet to the court, the attorney for the government claimed not to have received a copy. Thankfully, Matt immediately produced an extra copy. Claiming not to have received the respondent’s paperwork is a common practice, and one which could have easily derailed a less prepared attorney. You see, the immigration court at Stewart is attached to the detention center, behind the same formidable display of automated gates and rows upon rows of razor wire. Those attending or observing court are also subject to the same rules as the detention facility: nothing allowed other than paperwork related to the case. No cell phones. No laptops. So, if Matt had not brought an extra copy of his materials, this hearing could have been over as soon as it started.  This categorical technological ban does not apply, however, to the lawyers for the government. Ms. Parker, the government attorney from the Office of Chief Counsel, had not produced a copy of our clients I-213 to the court or to Matt. This is an important document which essentially outlines everything the government knows about the client, including facts which will ostensibly support the argument that the client should be deported. When Judge DeCardona asked Ms. Parker whether she had a copy for Matt to review, she replied “I just emailed it, your Honor. The court [meaning the clerk in the courtroom] is going to print it for me.” Would that such a basic technological consideration were afforded equally to both sides.

After a surprisingly brief hearing, (most of which consisted of the judge asking our client, through an Acateco interpreter, why he had chosen to drive drunk, and whether he knew it was dangerous), we won! The win, in this case, was the judge granting our client a $10,000 bond. Ordinarily, $10,000 would be an unattainable amount of money for a man with several children who has been incarcerated. However, RAICES  has used at least a portion of the gobsmacking amount of money it raised (the last figure I saw was upwards of $24 million) to set up a bond fund. Detainees can apply to have some or all of their bond paid out of the RAICES fund. We will be submitting this client’s application materials in the next few days.

This is, by all accounts, a big win for our client. Please stay tuned for a full explanation of all the reasons why its easier to fight your case when you’re not detained.

However, I have to include a brief story of defeat as a caveat to this SIFI victory: an attorney from Asian Americans Advancing Justice also had a win this morning, and secured withholding of removal for his Vietnamese client. When I ran into him in the afternoon, he had just come from telling his client that he would be released that day and that the whole legal team was going out for lunch. Within a matter of minutes, however, the lead attorney returned to the waiting room with bad news: his client’s ICE officer had just told the attorney that withholding of removal only meant that the client couldn’t be sent back to Vietnam. Therefore, ICE was going to keep the client in detention while they tried to get the client sent to Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia. The attorney speculated that this delay, which he was sure would ultimately be fruitless (all the proposed countries would reject the client for being an ethnic minority), would result in his client being detained for another week or more, despite today’s win.

You win some, you lose some.

Lumpkin, Day 1

August 6, 2018

Today was my first day at the Southeastern Immigrant Freedom Initiative (“SIFI”, pronounced “sci fi”), and this morning was orientation for all volunteers.

This morning’s group was comprised of six other volunteers, all of whom are here in Lumpkin for one week. Two of them are female law students (one from Harvard, one from the California Western School of Law) and four are men, three of whom are retired or winding up their practices in preparation for retirement. The full time staff consists of two people: Matt, the Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney assigned to Lumpkin, and Monica, the Project Coordinator and jack-of-all-trades.

Orientation not only provided helpful information about what the expected duties of volunteers would be day-to-day, but also included information about the Stewart Detention Center itself. Stewart Detention Center is owned and operated by the private prison company CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, and is still located on the aptly and unambiguously-named CCA Road. The facility houses 1900+ men and trans women, and has only three (3) no-contact attorney meeting rooms. So, even as a cadre of seven, we could only see three clients at a time when we went to the facility in the afternoon.

In April of 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed two lawsuits against the Stewart Detention Center: one to do with labor conditions for the detainees, and the other about visitation conditions and client access for attorneys. We were told to expect long wait times (one of the walls of the office has a construction paper list, much like a child’s chore sheet, listing record wait times, some close to four hours), and arbitrary rules imposed inconsistently by CCA staff. These rules include everything from not being permitted to bring novels into the facility (cell phones are unsurprisingly banned, leaving little to defray the boredom of many hours of waiting), to only being permitted to bring as many business cards as the number of clients you have on your visitation list. Seeing two clients? Only two business cards allowed, otherwise you’re accused of impermissibly soliciting business.  Each file and notebook are carefully shaken one by one to reveal any possible contraband.

Despite the textbook arbitrary and capricious enforcement of CoreCivic rules, the first item on the list of “Do’s and Don’ts” at Stewart is to be as kind as possible to the staff. Monica made the point that, just because these people work for the enemy, they themselves are not the enemy. Stewart, GA is the seventh poorest county in the entire United States, with a per capita income of $21,677. The lone restaurant in downtown Lumpkin (the closest town) is currently for sale, and more storefronts are empty than not. A quick Google search reveals an estimated salary for a detention officer in Lumpkin to be in the neighborhood of $34,000. So, while it’s easy to want to dismiss and deride the CoreCivic employees as instrumentalities of the machine you’re there to fight, it’s good to remember that the detainees aren’t the only ones being taken advantage of by the for-profit prison system.

Tomorrow, I go to my first court observation, and hope to complete the client screening interview I started this afternoon which was cut short by the end of visitation (5pm SHARP).