In Jail in Drag

Thinking about the stories that I heard in detention always make me cry, which is why I try not to talk about it, or think about it. I remember the pain, the isolation, the separation from my family. I remember the stories of the people. But I decided to tell my story because I’ve been seeing how everyone on the No Papers No fear ride has shown courage to run risks. Today I shared my story with a group of community members from Austin, Texas, and I would like to tell it to you here as well.

Why I Ride PosterOn November 18, 2011 I was driving home after an HIV benefit in New Mexico, when I was pulled over by a police officer for not having a car plate light. I was dressed in drag, wearing jeans, high heels, a wig, and a cute shirt. I was also wearing contacts, which made my eyes irritated, and the police officer asked me if I had been drinking. He gave me a sobriety test, which I passed, with heels on and everything. But I had been drinking a little that night, although he was going to let me go, a second officer pulled up, and they decided to take me in.

I was thrown into the jail, in drag. The people who were detained were playful, whistled, and even friendly (I even knew some of them), but the harshest looks I got were from the police officers. When I was booked, and they took my picture, they made me take off my eyelashes, make up, and my wig. When they threw me back into the cell, they didn’t return my wig, but they let me keep my heels.

Early the next morning, around 4 am, I was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center. My mother was trying to help me, and had sent money to a teacher of mine who tried to pay my bond, but they told her I had an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold. This meant that they had identified me as undocumented, and they would not let me out. I had to spend 120 days in jail.

On March 13th I was transferred to immigration detention, in El Paso, Texas, and then to the Otero Processing Center in New Mexico. I was there for another 3 months there until June 13th.

The hardest thing is not being able to see my family.

There is little privacy, I was paid $1 for an 8 hour work day, we had to clean our own cell, handle harsh relationships with the guards. Some of the guards were racist and homophobic, often our own Latino people. Once when I was walking towards the lunch room, I was told that I should hurry by one of the guards, and that I should run as fast as I had run when I was crossing the border. I was angry, and I replied, ‘just like your mom did?’ I got sent to 2 days in isolation, for disrespecting an officer, but it was worth it.

Although I will never forget how hard it was to be in detention, I am happy that I was able to be out as a queer person. I feel like it gave courage to other people who were also LGBT when we were in detention. We would get together, and would talk back to those who were harassing us. It taught me to stand up for my dignity, and to support fellow LGBT people in detention.

While I was going through this, community and family members were organizing to get me out. With the help of Puente Arizona, they were able to get me a lawyer, raise money for bond, and support me emotionally. I finally got out of detention on June 13th.

I felt weird at first. I could not believe it. I was excited too because I would see my family. I felt sad too, because I got close to people who were in the detention center with me, especially those in the LGBT community. I remember their stories still, and wonder what has happened to them since. I know some of them are still in detention, and some have gotten deported.

It’s been hard to get used to society again after being in jail for so long. I am still trying to heal, and telling my story is one of the ways I am trying to do this. I also started to organize, particularly with Puente Arizona, the organization which also supported my mom while I was in detention.

I continue to organize because I remember all the people that were in there, how much my family suffered, how badly we got treated, and because I have lost so many friends. This is a fight for all of us. The strength that my family showed me, and my LGBT community during this experience, and the stories of those still in the detention center, are what gives me the will to face my fears. It is for them that I am on the bus.

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