This story was on the front page of the Dallas paper today. It ends with this statement by Angela Kopit, of Taylor, Texas:
“The things that my parents were fighting for the in the 60s are being taken from us now,” said family supporter and Taylor resident Angela Kopit who came to the Hutto center Saturday with her three sons.
“This is the fear of immigrants in its ugliest form.”
WFAA in Dallas has been investigating the story. Tonight they interviewed both Angel Kopit and Real estate developer Ralph Isenberg, who has become an advocate for the family, and who arranged their transportation away from the facility. He was crying as he said he just couldn’t believe this is America.
I couldn’t either. It’s not the first time I’ve heard about this, but this time it finally sank in. I’m ashamed that it took Angela Kopit and Ralph Isenberg to show me how willing to be in denial I’ve been. What is going on is probably best explained in the following letter Ms. Kopit and her husband Neal, wrote on January 24, 2007:
Williamson County Commissioners
Austin American Statesman
Taylor Daily Press
To All Concerned:
As residents of Taylor, Texas, and tax paying citizens of Williamson County and the United States of America, and as parents of 3 Taylor ISD students, we have several concerns regarding the T. Don Hutto Residential Center here in Taylor.
First, there is the facility itself. Although the name has been changed since it was originally constructed as a prison (in the middle of a residential neighborhood), the structure itself still appears to be a PRISON, not a residence. The barbed wire, 30 foot high fences do not say “home” to me. Neither does the battleship grey/ beige, windowless, cinder block structure. This is unfair to both the “residents” of the facility as well as the neighboring home-owners of Taylor whose property values decline as a result of their proximity to such a monstrous facility. Additionally, it negatively affects the city and county tax base as both are directly related to those property values.
Second, there is the very notion of imprisoning innocent children. The legal and ethical concerns over this practice will, no doubt, be addressed by Federal as well as International courts. I believe this practice should and will be condemned by the courts of this country as well as the world community. We, in Williamson County, should be the first to take such a stand and put an immediate end to this practice.
Third, there is the degree of profiteering involved in this enterprise. Reports that I have seen show a shocking and alarming rate of compensation being paid to the corporation that owns and operates this facility. The $$ amounts I have seen appear to be far in excess of any reasonable compensation for any type of incarceration (certainly more than Williamson County spends to incarcerate convicted criminals). It appears to be at least 3 times the rate our school district gets to educate our children. I hope the #s I have seen are some horrible typographical error. If they are not, then this facility represents one of the most shocking examples of the fleecing of American tax payers ever seen. Again, the #s I have seen in online reports show medical and housing remuneration far in excess of what one would expect to pay in an exclusive 5 star rated hotel with your own personal physician in tow. As a corporate entity with a government contract, they take tax payer money yet answer only to their board of directors. This is an affront to every tax-paying citizen in this country.
Fourth, as concerned citizens of Taylor, we have requested information as well as a tour of the facility to assuage concerns brought up by community groups and online reports about the treatment of detainees. Our hope was to come to an informed opinion based on facts. The fact that we were denied any access to this facility increases our concerns. We have no desire to infringe upon the privacy of the detainees. We simply want to be sure these people are in a safe, healthy environment. We want to know if the children have regular access to daylight. Can the children get to their mothers if they have a bad dream at night, or are they locked in their own cells after “lights out”? I have read that they have access to television and board games. Do they have access to any physical playtime or an outdoor play scape like the ones our children have at school and in their own backyard? Do the children have age appropriate toys to play with? Are the little ones safe in this institutional setting that could bring out the worst in older kids? I am sure that local churches, synagogues, and community groups would want to help maintain not just an acceptable environment, but a joyful home for these children. At the 2nd vigil, concerned citizens brought toys and clothes and cozy blankets for the children. These gifts were refused. It was Christmas Eve. This is a heartless corporation. They reflect neither the community spirit of Taylor, Texas nor the humanity in the hearts of Americans.
On a related note, there is the reputation of our town, our county, our state, and our country. Taylor, Texas is a lovely, quiet town filled with kind, hard-working families. Our town has definitely seen more prosperous times. We have been the victim of corporate giants who killed our Main Street with predatory marketing practices, and the same corporate sell-outs who later sent many of our manufacturing jobs to factories in Mexico. We’re currently battling a state government that thinks the best use of our rich, beautiful farmland is to pave it over and make it a toll road that leads straight from Mexico to the Oklahoma border, bypassing every charming hamlet along the way. Although we pay our taxes, the county doesn’t worry too much about our roads, and the city can’t afford to maintain things like sidewalks.
Even with all that against us, we are making great strides to improve our little town. We are working hard to restore our Historic Main Street District. We are courting new industry to bring jobs back to Taylor. We are building a great new library and Fire Station to serve the community. People from far and wide are buying old, historic homes that are literally falling off their foundations after years of poverty and neglect. Artists are coming and setting up shop in this charming town. Everywhere you look, people are putting their hearts, souls, muscles, time, and money into these ancient beauties in an effort to bring this wonderful town back to its former glory.
And in the midst of all this history and hope…is a giant prison for families…Families who want nothing more than what our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents wanted. They are here with the hope of becoming part of the great experiment that is the United States of America. They left behind all that they knew in hopes of a new life in a new land where they could work hard and make a life for themselves and their children… just like us. They have arrived in the Promised Land with nothing but hope. We welcome them by putting them in prison… a prison run by a corporation that makes not just a profit, but an obscene profit, stolen from American tax-payers. This is not the image that “Keep Taylor Beautiful” paints. The town has a motto, “Taylor… more to life, more to like”. I’m sure the residents of T. Don Hutto can’t wait to get their bumper stickers.
This facility is not good for Taylor. It is not good for Williamson County. It is not good for the United States of America. It is definitely not good for the children living inside it. The only entity that wins here is a Corporation that makes obscene profits by praying on fears after 9/11, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and highly suspect connections to the Bush/Cheney White house. For the sake of this county and the sake of our moral decency, we need to put a stop to this family prison.
Neal and Angela Kopit
This is facility that is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. In a March, 2004 press release, the corporation noted:
In a separate announcement, CCA has indicated its intent to cease operations at the CCA-owned and operated T. Don Hutto Correctional Center located in Taylor, Texas on May 14, 2004, due to low inmate population demands in the facility’s region. CCA expects to be able to transfer the majority of the approximate 60 federal offenders currently housed in the 480-bed facility to other CCA-operated facilities.link.
But, as reported in the Taylor daily press:
Prison gets major contract
By Kurt Johnson
The T. Don Hutto prison facility in Taylor won’t be closing anytime soon.
The private prison, which is owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has finalized a contract with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to hold illegal immigrants.
According to Kim Porter, a CCA spokesman, the contract calls for holding up to 600 prisoners, which means a slight modification of the facility to achieve the additional beds needed.
“There will be a substantial addition to staff,” Porter said. “The number of employees at the facility will increase from the 40 people we presently have to approximately 200.”
According to Louise Gilchrist, director of marketing for CCA, the addition of staff at the Taylor facility will be on a “ramp-up” basis as new inmates are added.
The Kopits are appalled that this concentration camp is in their hometown and their country. Mr. Isenberg is appalled that it is in his country. I’m appalled, ashamed. and mad as hell that it’s in my state and as for it’s being in my country – I’m beyond mad as hell. Private prisons are bad enough – and could be the subject of a entire book’s worth of blog posts. This is something else – and what that something is is a concentration camp. Families have been torn apart, housed in different parts of the country, mothers and babies kept apart. This is immoral. This is shameful. This is George W Bush’s America and it’s wrong and it has to stop.