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José Miguel migrated to the United States when he was 14 years old. He has been in this country for 19 years, 17 of which he has spent incarcerated. As is the case for many Black, brown and immigrant youth, José Miguel was targeted and negatively impacted by the criminal injustice system at a young age. This has left a scar on his life and mental health that he heals and processes through art.

José Miguel is one of over 1,000 immigrant detainees held in Adelanto ICE Processing Center, a for-profit private prison owned by GEO Group. It is the largest immigration prison in California, and one of the largest in the country. It is one of three major prisons in Adelanto, a desert town whose population of non-prisoners is just 30,000.

Since March 2020, family visitation at Adelanto has been suspended. Due to continued lockdowns, GEO Group has additionally suspended use of video calls for most of the pandemic. For José Miguel, this has meant near-total isolation from the outside world; he can only communicate with loved ones via paid, monitored phone calls, or postal mail. The only free, unmonitored communication available to José Miguel and the other detainees is with their attorneys. Recently, due to the crisis at the USPS, mail sent to and from prisons have been lost or significantly delayed.

Over the years, human rights groups and disability rights organizations have found that substandard, life-threatening and inhumane conditions at Adelanto persist to this day, especially for medically vulnerable detainees. Despite suffering a severe mental disability, José Miguel has been placed in solitary confinement multiple times in the past, most recently in June 2020, when GEO guards assaulted detainees who were peacefully protesting against lockdowns and communication shutdowns, and used gas pepper spray against them. In addition, José Miguel suffers medical conditions that make him particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and despite this increased risk, he has not been released from detention.

Transfers within prisons and detentions have not halted, and ICE and GEO continue to act with deliberate indifference. As of September 18, 2020, a COVID-19 outbreak was reported in Adelanto, and there are over 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a number that is quickly rising.

These are the conditions under which José Miguel creates art, and from which this project was born.

José Miguel seeks to share with the “outside world”, the internal world that he cultivates from inside prison, and to open a conversation through his art.

The recurring themes found in Jose’s songs and poetry include love, youthful decisions, and the experience of incarceration.

Mark Dow writes in American Gulag that “for prisoners, the difference between inside and outside can be everything….A writer who visits prisons is not inside. But as more and more people listen and see, as our own archipelago becomes more and more difficult to ignore, we will understand that their inside surrounds us all.”

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The Inland Justice Coalition and Inland Empire Migrant Abolitionists are incredible organizations inInland Empire that organize and advocate for Adelanto Detainees. We kindly suggest donating to them, or to any other local organization doing immigrant justice work close to where you live. Email us if you are looking for recommendations on immigrant justice organizations in your area.

Who are we

This project was organized and built by virtual care lab
Project leads: Daniela Hernández Chong Cuy, Bhavik Singh
Credit for works: José Miguel Galán Najarro
Translation: Maria Elisa Gomez, Alan Page Arriaga, Sara V. Suárez

Daniela is an immigration attorney based in Los Angeles. She works in the intersection of immigration, mental health and the criminal legal system. She practices a model of holistic representation by building strong networks of collaboration with lawyers, social workers, mental health professionals, artists and oral historians.

virtual care lab is an open creative community and project series that understands creative expression as a vital form of civic engagement contributing to a more equitable world. We create unconventional, welcoming ways to connect people through creative activities, thoughtful discussions, virtual gatherings, and other collaborative projects.

Bhavik is an artist, designer and developer who creates software that helps humans and communities understand and express themselves.