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“Visions From the Inside” art series looks at women in detention

Just a few weeks ago, a federal judge ruled the Obama administration’s system of family detention illegal, saying that the conditions under which immigrant children and their parents have been held are essentially too similar to prisons to be appropriate for families.

Since the summer of 2014, the number of people being held in family detention has grown exponentially, while conditions in these centers have remained mediocre at best. Children are getting sick, sexual assault survivors are not given any semblance of mental health care, and families who pose no flight or safety risk are often held for months.

“The times they offer us food is scarce and the best food there is to eat is in the commissary,” writes one of the mothers. Many women in detention have taken big risks to call attention to the deplorable conditions they face, writing letters and participating in hunger strikes.

Image of a young girls holding a sunflower over her heart. She looks seriously at the viewer, with a halo made up of the words "Yo les pido que por favor now brinden su ayuda."

Image by Rommy Torico

CultureStrike’s latest project is helping to further amplify the voices of these women. “Visions from the Inside” brings together women in detention and 15 artists from around the country to create powerful visuals about life inside a for-profit detention center.

The artists created their pieces based on letters written by the women, and then had a chance to receive feedback from the authors to strengthen their pieces. The result is a series of heart-wrenching images that capture the fear and hopelessness that detainees go through. Some authors ask for help “because we feel depressed and forgotten in this place.”

Though the women frequently ask for help, the artists makes it clear that they are heroes, not victims. Says Rommy Torico about the women whose letters they worked with:

“They are luchadoras, fighters, and we must remember that. They fight every day to protect their children and to survive the darkness. I want to honor that strength and that love, which shines bright even in the most oppressive conditions and to honor their urgent request for action.”

Other artists chose to emphasize that prison and detention is no place for people. Incorporating the quetzal bird into her piece, Breena Nuñez draws a parallel between a bird that cannot survive in captivity, and the mothers and children who also need liberation.

“Visions From the Inside” helps to close gaps in empathy that articles and podcasts can’t always tackle. Sometimes it takes a visual representation from someone being mistreated to begin to understand the pain they are going through. “We are human, just like you,” Angie writes from detention.

Header image by Jess X Chen.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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