Women prisoners in California are hunger striking in solidarity with detained immigrants

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by Pete Brook

Something very significant is brewing in California right now. Female prisoners in the Yuba County Jail are organizing in solidarity with immigrants in detention.

Rajeshree Roy is visited by Carolyn Miller, a close friend, at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).
Rajeshree Roy is visited by Carolyn Miller, a close friend, at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).

On Monday, Dec. 14, a group of women began a hunger strike, joining hundreds of other detainees taking part in hunger strikes at facilities across the country.

You may or may not have heard about the fasting and hunger strikes going on in immigrant detention facilities across the country. Up and down the country – in the Hutto Immigrant Detention Center in Texas; in an immigrant detention center in the high desert city of Adelanto, California; in the Krome Service Processing Center in Florida; and in Alabama, in El Paso, Texas and in Lasalle, Louisiana, too.

Vikki Law has covered these as a trend. And they are. Collectively, the strikes are known as the #FreedomGiving Strikes and they were launched on Thanksgiving by hundreds of South Asian and African detainees at three separate facilities. The movement has grown.

Never before (to my knowledge) has the political resistance of detained immigrants run in cohort with the political action of citizens in county or state facilities. The Yuba County Jail rents space to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain people. For the first time, women in criminal custody are fasting with detainees in immigration custody as an act of solidarity. Phenomenal. Principled. Inspiring.

Collectively, the strikes are known as the #FreedomGiving Strikes and they were launched on Thanksgiving by hundreds of South Asian and African detainees at three separate facilities. The movement has grown.

The Yuba County Jail hunger strike is led by, and in support of, Rajeshree Roy. You can read a longer detailed account of Roy’s journey here.

To be brief, Roy faces deportation back to Fiji, where she has not lived since she was 8 years old. As a child, Roy suffered sexual abuse and upon relocation to the United States never received counseling or help. By the time she was in her teens she was both attempting suicide and robbing and beating people. She was very troubled and the underlying causes had never been addressed.

Sentenced as an adult at age 16, Rajeshree spent 17 years at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). Nine years later, struggling to survive and feed her children while in an abusive relationship, she stole a garden hosepipe from a store, a misdemeanor petty theft.

Due to her priors, the district attorney set bail at $1 million and offered a 25-to-life sentence. In 2011, Roy accepted a plea bargain of seven years. In November 2014, she qualified for release under Prop 47. When Rajeshree Roy stepped foot out of CCWF, she was picked up by ICE and slated for deportation back to Fiji, away from her children.

After years of silence due to shame and stigma as an abuse survivor and “criminal,” Rajeshree Roy has gained confidence through peer and advocacy support and decided to be public with her story and fight for herself and others.

For the first time, women in criminal custody are fasting with detainees in immigration custody as an act of solidarity. Phenomenal. Principled. Inspiring.

“We are locked up together and refuse to be divided into immigrants and citizens. None of us belong in this cage separated from our families. We join the brave immigrant hunger strikers across the country in fasting to force recognition of our humanity,” says the statement of Roy and her fellow hunger strikers at Yuba County Jail.

What you can do

  1. Join community organizers at ASPIRE, the nation’s first pan-Asian undocumented youth-led group, at a fast in solidarity outside Yuba County Jail.
  2. Support the #FreedomGiving strikers by signing the petition.
  3. Help raise funds for Rajeshree’s $10,000 bond.
  4. Write letters of support to the women on hunger strike: Rajeshree Roy, 229860; Jessica Bullock, 235161; Tisha Sartor, 233892; Kyra Beckles, 234664; Juanita Thomas, 235553; Ana Marquez, 235550; all of them are at Yuba County Jail, P.O. Box 1031, Marysville, CA 95901.

Pete Brook, a San Francisco-based freelance writer who hails from Lancashire, England, and believes “prisons in the U.S. are socially and economically unsustainable,” can be reached at prisonphotography@gmail.com or on Twitter @brookpete. This story first appeared in Prison Photography.

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