There are many possible forms of resistance to the detention system. Some of the most powerful ones are the daily acts of resistance practiced by people inside. We often hear about the large demonstrations like hunger strikes that are organized by people in detention. But we don’t often hear about the smaller acts that help them feel less like victims of the system--everyday acts that demonstrate creativity, resilience, and joy -- and the refusal to accept the detention center’s efforts to control their lives.
Ingrid describes some of these acts of daily resistance powerfully in her letters. Here is an excerpt of one of her letters where she describes taking the food that they give her and making a delicious meal out of it:
“One day this week for lunch they gave us tomato sauce with some meatballs and for fruit they gave us oranges. With the tomato sauce, we made a soup. We added the cheese we buy from commissary and nachos. To the tomato sauce I added water, seasoning, cheese, cream cheese, and butter. Then I boiled it in the microwave. I put the meatballs in butter and cut them up into small pieces, then put them in the boiled soup. On top, I put chili Cheetos and then I enjoyed a very delicious soup for lunch!”
When Ingrid takes the sub-par food that they give her and transforms it into a meal that she can enjoy, she is resisting. She can create some of her own joy even in the worst of circumstances.
Ingrid also resists in the act of writing the letters themselves. By writing these letters, she is creating a documented paper trail of her experiences inside detention. She writes, for example:
“I told him that I wrote a letter so that if something happens to me here, the letter will say who is responsible -- the three women and the officials who are watching us, and the rest of ICE because they know very well all that can happen here.”
In another letter, she says:
“I'm letting you know what happens here inside because if anything happens to me, or if I die, I hold responsible the officials of the Buffalo Batavia Detention Facility.”
Ingrid is holding ICE responsible by writing about what they do and how they treat those inside detention facilities. ICE wants people in detention to be invisible to the outside world, but by connecting with people outside, Ingrid engages in a form of resistance.
In this way, people outside of detention can collaborate with those on the inside to resist detention. By developing connections with immigrants being held in detention centers, we can humanize them and amplify their voices. Ingrid describes how important her connection with Juanita (Professor Juffer) is:
“I am trying to distract myself with a friend who likes to cook. We talk about our families, friends, where we have worked, and I told her about you. I told my friends that you are like my mother and that I like to call you “mama” even though we are not related by blood. Last names don’t mean anything. I’m happy calling you my adoptive mama!”
Another way that people on the outside can help detainees resist is by turning their stories into art. Art is a highly distributable and empathetic medium which can inform and motivate people into action against detention. We've combined the concept borrowed from the "Visions from the Inside" project along with art by Ingrid herself to create a collaborative resistance effort (Visions From the Inside: Detained Immigrant Women Speak Out in Letters and Pictures (truthout.org) The project had artists read the letters of detainees and create art based off of them. We have emulated this practice with Ingrid's letters. Here are some examples:
Here Emma has drawn the soup which Ingrid describes in the excerpt we read. Soup often denotes a symbol of comfort. It’s what we eat when we’re sick, what people in need to receive from shelters, a symbol of warmth. So, this is the perfect example of something which humanizes people in detention and also resists the control of ICE.
Samantha’s drawing depicts Ingrid being held inside the jail-like conditions of Batavia, but still finding a way to break free even in her mind. Now that she has been transferred to Rensselaer County Jail, the jail cell is, unfortunately, even more apropos.
Here is the image from the “Visions from Inside” that inspired Samantha’s piece:
Both images capture the desire to resist and escape the forces of ICE and detention. Ingrid does this by creating her own world of flowers and nature.
Here is a drawing by Emma based on a letter in which Ingrid describes the strong fumes from cleaning chemicals giving her a bloody nose. She says, “I started to feel very dizzy, so I tried to finish up quickly and sit down. I started to have a headache, and I could not stand the odor, and I tried to cover my nose with my shirt, The official who was on duty asked me if I wanted a mask, and I said yes, so he gave me and one other woman masks. When I took off the mask, someone said -- it is bloody!”
The daily acts of resistance that we have referenced increase detainees’ sense of agency in a system which tries to take that away. These smaller acts of resistance can also feed into larger ones like hunger strikes to disrupt the control of detention centers, and further inform the public about the truths of the inside.
When creating this art we realized that this was a nice break from our own work. We imagine that Ingrid must feel that art provides a similar escape mechanism for her. In creating art, she can escape the confines of the detention center walls and feel a sense of freedom. We think that our interpretation of creating art removes the elitism often associated with art. We believe that anyone with any level of experience can participate in this act of resistance.
By Samantha Noland and Emma Gregoire