Nick Braune is a Rio Grande Valley scholar and writer who walked with Jay Johnson-Castro this past weekend. He offered the following diary which we are pleased to publish in full.–gm
One of my People for Peace and Justice friends, Juan Torres, called me from his cell phone about 10 a.m. Saturday morning saying that he was on the walk with Jay Johnson-Castro heading to the Raymondville immigrant detention center. My wife and I drove up to meet Jay, although I did not know much about what he was doing.
When I met up with him, he was making the walk to Raymondville, while three of his friends and Juan Torres were walking intermittently and driving. Somehow I had missed the news about his visit and pilgrimage; had I known, I could have organized a bit for it. I feel bad about not helping, but in my defense we had a lot of balls in the air.
The People for Peace and Justice had a showing of “Iraq for Sale” on Friday night (18 people) in San Juan, one on Saturday night (11 people) in Harlingen, and a Sunday morning event planned at one of the Unitarian Churches on the new Student Farmworker Alliance which is trying to force McDonalds to quit exploiting farm workers in Florida.
(I feel a bit defensive because Jay expressed several times on Saturday that he was annoyed that so few were walking with him to Raymondville. And he is so intense when he talks that I was sure he was calling me lazy or something. I felt a bit offended, but I’m pretty certain now that I was misinterpreting him. The walking is hard and hot.)
Saturday afternoon Jay stopped in Sebastian, a halfway point between Harlingen and Raymondville. He told us he would be finishing up the next day, and my wife, Linda, and I said we would catch up with him then near Raymondville.
At the Saturday evening showing of “Iraq for Sale,” one of the men who came down to the Valley with Jay (Kenneth Koym, a psychologist) attended and shared with our group why they were exposing the detention situation. By that time I had read the CounterPunch article by Greg Moses on Jay’s efforts and was getting into it a bit more.
One interesting connection came up at the Saurday night movie: The film we watched is about the abuses by private contractors in Iraq, and the Raymondville Detention Center is also privately owned and operated. Another connection is that Halliburton got its contracts without real bidding…as did the contractors for Raymondville. (Source: Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, 8/24/06)
On Sunday after the Unitarian Church event, Linda and I drove up to see Jay again. Dr. Asma Salam from Dallas had joined the group and a lawyer from Raymondville, both of whom I got email addresses for, to quote for a weekly column I write. (Both are really committed to the fight and well informed.) Jay was feeling upbeat and made a series of beautiful stump speeches for the press — I think three news media stopped by.
One theme he makes with true eloquence is that it should not be a crime to be an economic or political refugee. Why do we treat them as criminals for being oppressed and wanting to escape to America? Isn’t that what the poem on the Statue of Liberty is about?
Of most interest for me was simply the sight of the Raymondville Center. As you drive off of the highway to it — I was in the little caravan behind Jay — you see the bleak prison buildings. Altogether it is a bigger compound than I had pictured it. (Rolling Stone did a short, but sharp, expose of it last August.) It is located at the back of an older new prison…there are four prisons in Raymondville! That is the economy.
What horrified me were the rolls of barbed wire on top of all the fences. I was not close enough to tell if it was barbed wire or razor wire, but it makes my skin crawl to see that wire anyhow, and there was a lot of it. The compound has such a violent and cruel look. It just sits there sneering violently in a dry field.
Here is the way Matt Taibbi described the detention center in Rolling Stone (8/24/06):
The prison…”looks like something that just landed from Mars — a freaky looking phalanx of gleaming white, windowless,modular tentlike domes that, much in the spirit of our cheerfully bloodsucking modern American society, simultaneously recalls Auschwitz and Space Mountain.”
The Raymondville area was called the Valley of Tears in the late 1970s during an onion strike. After the strike, the growers got rid of the workers and the Raymondville area tried textiles to survive, but NAFTA killed that. Then the idea of making Raymondville “Prisonville” caught on. Wackenhut was the first of several to set roots there. And now Raymondville with its windowless tents, is a Valley of Tears for another reason.
I applaud Jay Johnson-Castro and his friends that I met. And I will try to stay in touch.