Discussions about important issues such as immigration are only productive when informed by facts and rooted in honest discourse. Regrettably the recent Congress blog post by Azadeh Shahshahani, “Living nightmare for detained immigrants in Georgia,” mischaracterizes the work being done by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) at our Stewart Detention Facility and willfully ignores the truth in favor of political obfuscation.
As Stewart’s chaplain, I walk the halls every day, and what I see is an exceedingly clean and humane facility with professionals who treat those entrusted to their care with fairness, dignity and respect.
An essential part of my job is staying connected to each of Stewart’s nearly 1,500 detainees. That starts with opening my mailbox every morning. It’s on the way to the cafeteria, so that every time a detainee goes to eat, he has the opportunity to leave me a message. I interact with detainees every day by eating lunch with them in our cafeteria, and by visiting them in their dorms. I make it a point to visit every dorm at least once a week.
There are lots of ways detainees call on me to help. They may write a request and place it in the in-house mail for me. Often they may stop by my office when they come to chow – my office is directly across from the entrance to the Chow Hall. They may ask the unit staff to contact me and ask for me to come speak with them. They encounter me in the hallways and flag me down to talk with them.
At other times CCA staff contact me to come and speak with a detainee when they believe that the detainee seems to need the help that a Chaplain can give. This is normally when they sense that the man is down or has received bad news. I may be ministering to them in Spanish or English. If need be, and with the detainee's approval, I will call upon someone to assist by translation (despite Shahshahani’s assertion to the contrary). If I get the sense that he’s depressed, I’ll refer him to the mental health experts who work at the facility.
Many of the allegations regarding Stewart made in Shahshahani's post are based heavily on an ACLU report that CCA refuted more than two years ago. Our company worked in good faith to provide factual and detailed information to a number of questions raised by the ACLU prior to that report. Much of that information was either excluded from the final document or relegated to the end notes. Ultimately, the ACLU was only interested in sharing information that supports its preconceived biases and reinforces its points of view, even when presented evidence to the contrary.
We take the treatment of the detainees entrusted to our care very seriously and act swiftly if our own high standards and those of our government partners are not met. Operating detention facilities is a public service that comes with many challenges. It’s not easy work. Nor is life easy for the detainees. There’s a strong chance that their lives will be very different going forward. As a man guided by my faith, it is incumbent upon me to walk detainees through that transition as best I know how—with fairness and caring.
I am proud to work at CCA’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. The difficulties we face are real. While some seem to use our work to score political points, many colleagues and I work every day to help those in our care. As a minister, my responsibilities extend beyond my employer. The fact is there is no conflict between my ethics and the respectful treatment and humane conditions provided to detainees by my employer.
Shields is chaplain at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.