I Was Detained in a Hellish Private Prison—And Wall Street Corporations Are Behind It All

Large corporations value making money more than human rights and shouldn't be anywhere near the prison system.

Photo Credit: Foto.Touch /

I came to the United States from Honduras in 2016, seeking asylum after being viciously assaulted because I’m gay. I immigrated seeking safety, to be treated like a human being regardless of my sexual orientation. Instead, as soon as I crossed the border, I was thrown into a private immigrant detention center in Arizona, where I was stripped of my humanity.

No matter how I tell my story, it won’t describe the horrors I faced during the seven weeks I was in CoreCivic’s detention facility. I lost more than 11 pounds, being fed a diet that consisted almost entirely of potatoes, often served boiled and unpeeled. I was awoken for breakfast at 3:30 every morning and only allowed outside for one hour a day. To afford phone calls to my mother, I was forced to work six-hour shifts scrubbing walls and mopping floors, earning a dollar a day. Each one-minute call cost two dollars.

After another detainee was accused of flirting with a guard, the air conditioning to the entire unit was shut off for a week when it was 110-116 degrees outside. When I became sick with sharp stomach pains and a high fever, it took a week before a doctor was sent to see me.

While in detention, the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was broadcast, and those around me went on homophobic rants, saying the victims deserved it. Out of fear, I remained silent about my own sexual identity and later heard horror stories of transphobic abuse from another prisoner being held nearby. The guards did nothing to stop the abuse.  

My story is just a glimpse into the horrific human right abuses and crimes committed against civilians with little to no oversight. In fiscal years 2016 and 2017, 22 people died in ICE custody. The majority of these deaths occurred in privately run facilities. GEO and CoreCivic, which operated the prison where I was held, have a near monopoly on private immigrant detention facilities around the country.

When you’re imprisoned like I was, you don’t feel like a human being.

Since being released, I have learned that my story is not an isolated one, and it’s not just these private prison companies, or even the U.S. government that has allowed them to flourish, that are responsible for my treatment. Wall Street companies like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Blackrock are enabling the expansion of private prisons like the one where I was imprisoned. As a report, “Bankrolling Oppression,” from the Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, Enlace International, and The Strong Economy for All Coalition, uncovers, these corporations provide large loans and a revolving line of credit to private prison companies, which depend on debt to sustain their business model. JPMorgan alone holds $167 million in debt, which is 62 percent larger than the second biggest lender to these companies. And these companies’ shareholdings in GEO and CoreCivic have increased enormously since Trump’s election.

While the Trump administration continues to attack our communities, these companies have hypocritically claimed support for immigrant communities and publicized themselves as leaders in social corporate responsibility. Yet in reality, by investing in and profiting from private prison companies, they are promoting and profiting from the Trump administration’s efforts to criminalize and target immigrants and people of color.

Apparently, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Blackrock value making money more than our human rights. But our community will not be fooled. As a survivor of the brutality of private immigrant detention, I’m committed to making sure that my community knows about these companies’ involvement in private prisons. We need to do everything we can to continue to expose them until they finally stop supporting this morally bankrupt industry.


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Jonathan Cortes is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY