“The experience of American immigration-policing firsthand: Nogales Sector, October 2017”

J.A. Krupka
Mar 12 · 8 min read

(Picture: Tucson Sentinel, ICE & US Marshals holding [CCA])

American Archipelago

by Black Maria Creative (J.A. Krupka)

If you were to ask me, ‘What’s the most accommodating prison I’ve ever been through after four years of being shuffled around in the American archipelago?’ ; my answer would have to be the entire process coming through the U.S. border that’s referred to as “inhumane,” or similar to “concentration camps,” or whatever hyperbole that leftist journalists can lob in your direction while you’re sitting there in your living room.

And I’m sorry, but you don’t know shit about the immigrant’s experience coming over the line… I don’t care who you’re listening to, unless it’s someone like me — an American citizen who was charged with smuggling people across the border, who successfully got people across the line to their kin and loved ones in our country — or someone who lives along the border, whose privy to what this all looks like in real-time.

You’re taking activists and hyper-partisan personalities at face-value; a Democratic Socialist like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, posing for cameras staring at a blank parking lot in Texas while she’s a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She looked at a toilet-sink combo — the same toilet that every jailhouse in America utilizes, really the entire industrial world — and she related the experience as witnessing people “drinking from toilets.”

Well, I’m so sorry, AOC; but that’s a complete crock of shit. People like that are bad actors… ‘bad faith’ actors. They’re lying to you to skew your view of the processes taking place — policing you’ll never experience — unless you take the path that I’ve taken, see the things that I have seen.

The biggest misconception in our public discourse today…?

That would have to be the falsehood that the actual facilities — the privatized prisons I was transported to in Arizona, all mainline facilities — are in any way inferior to state prisons in the United States, or privatized prisons that service state DOC contracts rather than federal prisoners like myself (i.e. immigration detainees, all of which are federal holds). County jails all over our country vie for the right to hold federal prisoners because the US Marshals and Bureau of Prisons (BOP) pay nearly twice the figure that any county or state authority can, or is willing to pay for their inmates.

One example that I can think of was in a county jail in Illinois that sent me to their state prison for three years (i.e. my first felony, a marijuana conviction as a white man in a rural district). Each situation is different, but it’s a hard-and-fast rule that the federal government pays facilities that hold their inmates twice the figure provided by state governments across the country. In Illinois, I think the figure was $80/day for each inmate compared to $170 or so for the same headcount on a U.S. Marshals hold.

The privatized prisons utilized by the feds are strictly regulated for comfort by their contracted stakeholders. That’s a little-known factoid about these places. While these companies service state prison contracts in whatever fashion deemed fit by the state’s department of correction — those conditions can vary widely, let me tell you — prison corporations like CoreCivic [previously Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)] Central Arizona Detention Center [CCA CADC, as the full acronym] are visited every quarter by executive-level representatives from all the federal law-enforcement agencies to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth.

Remember, these companies have to preserve insurance policies for these facilities, so they’re willing to indemnify themselves against the constant onslaught of lawsuits that all prisons get in a given year, frivolous or not. Here some amenities that are simply not available in Arizona county jails or prisons, unless those are privatized as well:

· Air-conditioning during the summer;

· Menudo on Sundays, Taco Tuesdays, etc., or food that caters to the Hispanic population;

· Decent haircut access, maybe once every three weeks;

· Two televisions in every cellblock (one for the minority English speakers, one for the Spanish-speaking population);

· All announcements on the P.A. system done in Spanish… and typically only Spanish, so it’s kind of like a language immersion program (that, or you’re completely fucking lost in your own world, or missing the yard calls all the time);

· Microwaves to cook and heat water, or manufacture weapons by melting plastic;

· Modestly priced commissary, as opposed to any other pretrial detention center;

· And… last on the list of notables, but everybody gets employment like some kind of communist utopia.

Now, I know that last check might not seem that remarkable, but most prisoners are strapped for work or state stipends in facilities across the country. The US Marshals provide this for the sole reasoning that they know Central Americans and Mexicans can’t afford shampoo and coffee, or whatever a convict needs in his day-to-day existence.

(Note: And I’m sorry, but I say he for a specific reason… because most inmates are men, and that’s just a quantifiable fact.)

States like Texas don’t pay the inmate at all — not a fucking thing, to be frank — but in Illinois prisons for example, the most I got for a state stipend each month was $15. That’s it… and it pales in comparison to people who, in reality, shouldn’t be able to work in the United States in the first place. Now that’s not my held opinion, but it’s a valid fact according to the laws of the land.

And furthermore, the medium-maxes and high-mediums don’t even let the inmates out of their cells for more than three (3) hours a day; and the cell is maybe 9’ x 5 ½’ with a diagonal tapering wall where the water-closet exists — behind the wall where the toilet-sink combo blocks your path on the way in and out of the cell.

It’s completely claustrophobic for the first little while… but then you get used to it, this tiny world feels more comfortable — to be in the box, rather than to be out in the noise of the dayroom. But there’s things you need out there in the dayroom, like a daily phone call or a shower after you’ve done push-ups and ab workouts all day in that cell. And the reason I bring this up is that the US Marshals and ICE holding facilities — which I’ve experienced as a US citizen — make it a point to preclude the housing of more than two (2) inmates to a cell, even if that cell was built for the three-man booking.

Before I say this piece about separating children at the border, I want to just explain that my crime was, in fact, smuggling people in this country. I’m still on federal supervision for this crime, which was committed in October of 2017 in the Nogales sector of Arizona; and frankly, I have a hybrid theory on how we can address the border crisis taking place which I’ll include in a blog post at www.blackmariacreative.com.

All I will say is that in America — for me, as a youth getting arrested for heroin possession in Nebraska with my father in 2005 — the juvenile is always separated from their adult guardian when there is an arrest taking place. I’m not a cop apologist, and I believe that we can do better by immigrants and Americans. It’s just a fact though, if you’re committing a crime in America (i.e. ‘illegal reentry,’ which was, is, and always will be a silly crime to enforce to the full extent of the law), don’t expect to be housed with your parents in this cozy CCA detention center in Florence, Arizona.

The whole ‘… kids in cages — ’ thing though… it’s really a misnomer, and in many cases a complete fucking lie.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leases these old box-stores and warehouses, and they setup some security around the perimeter. In the inside, it’s kind of like a dormitory setting with little partitions for separate living areas; but there are not ‘kids in cages’ on the border. That’s propaganda — effective propaganda, nonetheless — in my firsthand experience.

The Nogales sector office of the Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) is the place where there are actual cages, or at least traditional “birdcages” and “bullpens” that hold men and women; and while you’re being held in these places as an apprehended ‘economic refugee’ (my term, not theirs), it’s all pretty lax and wide-open. They give immigrants gas station burritos, apple juice, thermal mylar blankets, and water in big Gatorade jugs; and up until a couple years ago, the CBP fed people Burger King on a contractual basis in an a la carte manner. The reason why they discontinued this was because they would buy hundreds of Whopper, Jr.’s, and they’d throw away out more than half of them for every feeding cycle.

The point of all of this is to demonstrate that our government — the CBP, ICE, and US Marshals — all of these agencies do more than they would otherwise for an American citizen.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve been to state and federal prisons and detention centers in three separate states: Illinois (by far the worst), Arizona (you can smoke cigarettes in state prisons here and drugs are rampant), and California (the political scene here is stringent, conditions horrendous). I’ve been to county jails and detention centers in Colorado, Nevada, Nebraska, and Iowa; but by far the most humane treatment I ever gotten was as a ‘smuggler’ right alongside immigrants in Arizona… in immigration court, the same courtrooms, the same judges, the same processes, the same facilities that all adults go through uniformly on the line.

All I can say is that luckily for me, when it came time for me to commit a crime down in Nogales, it wasn’t smuggling a bundle of fentanyl, or a packed cavity in a Sprinter van chocked full of heroin and methamphetamine. I’d be truly fucked in that situation.

Find me on www.blackmariacreative.com (currently under construction, soon to be finished), if you’d like more firsthand experiences and editorial commentary on these all-important issues of the day.

Criminal justice reform journalism — from a firsthand perspective.

American Archipelago
J.A. Krupka

Written by

Writer for the project, Black Maria Creative. Interests in criminal justice reform, political strategy, literary commentary, and long-form journalism.

American Archipelago

“I always imagined my time in prison as the pinnacle of Gonzo journalism — that one day I’d write a book about all of this, or I’d create this publication. The reality is… you’re not getting the reality of prisons from the mainstream media. This is all you need.”