[Media prompt] 700 Immigrants on hunger strike at for-profit prison to protest conditions & $1/day wages.
The Hunger Striker
Josh Pullman had just been laid off and was driving home when he heard an interview on the radio that almost caused him to run off the road.
“My name is Rodriguez Salinas,” said a man with a thick Mexican accent. “And I’m just letting the people to know that I’m doing a hunger strike, just not for me, but for everybody out there and the future.”
There was a pause, and then a woman said, “Mr. Salinas is an undocumented immigrant incarcerated at the Northern Detention Centre. He is refusing to eat until he and others like him are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. He is paid only one dollar per day for a job in prison–”
But Josh had turned off the radio, then pounded so hard on the steering wheel that his truck mounted the curb. He pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall selling despair, then sat watching shoppers buying it. He looked at his big gnarled hands, scarred from years of construction work, and felt a wave of despair flood over him. He had not been unemployed since he was seventeen years old. Had not missed a day of work, except when his father died. Nobody had ever complained about any project he supervised. Just the opposite. Clients requested him.
When he got home, he told his wife, who held him and told him everything would be fine. They had money saved, he was respected in the industry, and the economy was picking up again.
“Go and have a shower,” she said. “You’ll feel better after dinner.”
But he did not feel better. The soundbite from Rodriguez Salinas played on his mind.
The days passed into weeks, and after a month Josh had not found steady work. He picked up a few days pouring concrete, and another day digging a trench. But the pay was low and the companies resentful at having to pay even that much.
“You’re more expensive than a wetback,” said one man.
“But I’m better,” said Josh.
The man smiled. “Nobody gives a shit about quality anymore. You do good work, but no one is going to pay for it.”
One day, driving his wife to work, he noticed a sign from his old firm for a renovation job at an elementary school. After he dropped her off, her faith in him never diminishing for a moment, he turned back to take a closer look.
He stopped under a tree on the corner, where he could see the two trucks he knew so well. There were half a dozen men, but they were wearing bright orange coveralls, like a chain gang. Alighting from the truck, he walked long the fence line until he could read the black lettering on their backs.
It said Northern Detention Centre. Underneath, in smaller print, were the words Community Immigrant Integration Program.
It took a moment to sink in.