Abridged Testimony from Bryan Vergara, Detained at Hudson County Jail from September 2020-February 2021. Interviewed by Amba Guerguerian on March 29, 2021.
When I had recently arrived to Hudson [County Jail], the medical issue was the most precarious. I experienced many situations with friends that I have there, people who have really serious health problems: epilepsy, tumors—and the jail doesn’t have the means to take care of these people. Another thing is that the way that the guards and the jail’s doctors treat the people is very bad. I had a friend there with epilepsy. He had an epilepsy attack. He was there on the floor with his head thrashing, blood everywhere. And what the guards do is call a code and instead of an ambulance or doctors showing up, the first people to arrive are police, like a SWAT team for the jail. When he was convulsing, they arrived instead of medical staff and they cuffed his legs and hands and let him continue to convulse on the floor. After 15 or 20 minutes just one nurse arrived.
Then another one of my friends had an epilepsy attack after that and I assisted him. I put a pillow under his head so he wouldn’t bang himself up too bad because I knew a nurse wasn’t coming.
There they don’t care about imprisonment. I never heard people from ICE saying that they care about the physical state of an immigrant. We were locked in a tiny cell that you can’t take three steps in for 23.5 hours.
I’m not a doctor but I know that this messes you up. People enter sane and after two, three months and then they become crazy.
They put me in quarantine the first fourteen days only going out for 30 minutes at 1 a.m. I had to call my fiancé, shower and heat water all in 30 minutes.
They stop feeding you at 5 pm. And you can have tea to curb your appetite.
There were more free hours once we entered the general population, like 5 or 6. But when I say free I don’t mean outside outside, I just mean outside of your cell. We never breathed fresh air. We could just talk with our other incarcerated friends.
There were always days that you’re locked up the whole day. They will say it’s a fight. If someone fights they keep everyone in the cell and don’t let them leave.
After doing the hunger strike, there were 36 or 37 COVID cases and they locked us up again. I was in there for the whole week that I was on strike. When we did the strike, we were first striking against not being able to go outside all day.
We started on December 27th, 2020. We stopped after four days because the guys who works on the ICE contract came to talk to us.
Mohamed Khan came from immigration but clearly never had any intent of speaking with us.
Then we started again on January 1st and the owner of the jail spoke with me. I was the organizer.
They broke us [the hunger strikers] up. Five of us remained in my section but in the other section there were 40 or 45.
The guards threaten to send you another state or deport you more quickly for hunger striking.
By the third day, there were 10 or 15 of us left. They brought us to punishment cells .
They put me in a dirty cell with no water that was very dirty. They took off all of my clothes. They didn’t give me a blanket or anything. They said it was a medical cell and I asked why I was in there to Ron Edwards I asked why they took everything from me and they said it’s because you’re on suicide watch. If you don’t want to eat that means your want to kill yourself.
But the doctors said that I didn’t want to kill myslef. That I was just not eating.
I was in there for a week but then I stopped striking because I heard that my compañeros were being punished for my strike by ICE representatives who were moving them to other jails and deporting them. They were playing dirty.
About a month later I was able to get out because of Fraihat. And because a senator asked that I be released.
Lots of people were getting negated from their Fraihat appeals because ICE was saying they were dangerous to society even though they weren’t in detention because of a crime!
There are people with really serious health problems. It’s omplete isolation and deception.
I entered sane with a little bit of anxiety and after two months I had serious problems. The last week, I began to suffer from asthma. Now I have PTSD, a mental disorder with psychotic features, asthma, and high blood pressure.
The air and the water—everything is precarious. There were people who had skin infections after showering. They would have hives.
I would be screaming in my cell from nightmares and the guards would bang on the door to make sure I was okay.
In the cell there is two beds with a sink that is always clogged or doesn’t work, a toilet right next to the table so you eat right next to the toilet. Outside of the cell there’s nothing to distract you. There’s no recreation. The five times I was there I went outside three or four times.
Another problem is that the guards abuse their power in the way they treat immigrants. The guards discriminate against you for being an immigrant, not just for being undocumented or Latino or Chinese. You’re nothing to them. They don’t respect you at all. They feel they have the right to yell at you, to lock in your cell at their own whim, to threaten you.
Not just the guards, also sometimes the doctors. Not all of them because there were good doctors.
Even the people that work at the commissary treats you like this. Everyone in the jail treats you like this.
They block telephone calls coming from people that were supporting immigrants. They blocked an organization that was working on my case and my fiancé.
After the strike, they put me in the cell right in front of the guard. They would mess with me as a punishment. They would put the lights on when I was trying to sleep.
There was no way to access the law library or any legal resources. They just give you a blank sheet with a pencil.
I asked for an immigration law book and they said they couldn’t give it to me. That I could take photocopies but the machine wasn’t working.
I never knew what I was eating. I don’t know how to explain it to you because I didn’t know what it was. It looked like the sole of a shoe. I really don’t know what it was.
When the company that they contracted to do the food isn’t working—which is once or twice a week or when the roads are too icy—you just eat bologna sandwiches. So you eat that for every meal or save your food because you know that you’re not going to be eating.
For me the democrats and the republicans are the same, they work in the same circles.
Immigration is a human right. I don’t recognize any type of border or border laws because they violate our right to find a home in whatever territory can provide a prosperous future for our families, particularly in this country that we know has been a nation of immigrants since its beginning.
During the last 10 years, our people have been victims of brutal persecution. We have seen children locked up in cages, families separated, and immigrants die in ICE’s custody. Now we’re living under an administration that says that it wants to help our people but has already deported thousands of people. We need to create, fortify, and multiply a people’s power so that never again in this country or in any country in the world will the residents have to live what happened here. We have to unite to protect ourselves, one for the other. We already know that our leaders don’t protect us. We have the obligation to work together so that our children and grandchildren can walk freely in these streets, without fear or embarrassment.