the four men who actually made the final trek to the Rolling Plains
prison camp at Haskell, Texas on the afternoon of Saturday, March 3,
you could say whatever you want, but you’d be a liar to call them fair
Jay Johnson-Castro had walked 60 miles
to the prison, stepping off Wednesday morning in Abilene with
southerly winds to his back and a temperature of 63. But Thursday,
Friday, and Saturday winds blew northerly into his face, as morning
temperatures chilled to 40.
Behind Jay’s walk was John Neck driving his brown pickup truck with
the whirling yellow light on top keeping the bigger trucks away. And
joining Jay in Haskell was one supporter from Dallas and one
California psychiatrist named Javier Iribarren. Count them on one hand
with a finger to spare. Since everything was running a couple hours
early, the four protesters had time for a long lunch before the final
If the authorities could go back and do the whole thing over again, it
would be interesting to see if they would still take so much trouble
to keep this party out of sight. One journalist tried to catch up to
them in a car, but roads near the prison were “under repair” and
closed to traffic. So the lone journalist drew flashing lights from
the Sheriff's office, followed by a stern command to leave the scene.
As for the three conscientious walkers and their security driver, it
must have felt like something to have a police escort and careful
instructions not to approach any side of the prison that would allow
the protest to be seen by prisoners.
“In Haskell County they immediately drew the line for us,” says
Johnson-Castro via cell phone Saturday night. “The County Judge, the
County Commissioners, the City Council, and the corporate partners
from the Emerald Companies who run the Rolling Plains prison, all of
them said we’re not even going to let you see the front of the prison,
because we’re not going to let anyone on the inside know that anyone
on the outside gives a crap. I think outside of prison there will be
people who find that shocking.”
At the Haskell city limits on this cold and windy Saturday morning,
Johnson-Castro was met by the Chief of Police. “Hey man it’s just me,”
is how Johnson-Castro recalls his own end of the conversation.
“Relax.” As he had done on Wednesday while talking to the Haskell
County Sheriff, Johnson-Castro told the town’s Chief of Police that
something was wrong in that prison. It had been turned into a hellish
prison camp for immigrants. “Keep your ears open,” advised
Johnson-Castro, because the story of the prison camp is going to come
Inside the Rolling Plains prison since early November are 20-year-old
Suzi Hazahza and her 23-year-old sister Mirvat. They spent their first
two chilly days at Haskell on the concrete floor of a drunk tank,
because no beds were available. The sisters had been abducted and
detained with their parents and three brothers by Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) during a pre-election roundup of immigrants
called “Operation Return to Sender.” Mother Juma and 11-year-old
brother Mohammad were shipped to the T. Don Hutto prison camp at
Taylor, Texas. Father Radi and two older sons, Ahmad and Hisham, were
shipped with the sisters to Haskell.
For the first five weeks of their detention at Haskell, the Hazahzas
accepted a family visitor, but since week five they have all refused
to risk the humiliating cavity searches that follow contact with
outsiders. Meanwhile, the Hutto prison released Juma and Mohammad
shortly before a press tour in early February.
On Saturday, Juma and Mohammad planned to cross paths with Jay in
Haskell and visit Mohammad’s older brothers Hisham and Ahmad. Saturday
is visitation day for the men. Radi was still holding out against the
cavity search. The younger men “worked up their courage” says family
friend Reza Barkhordari.
“11-year old Mohammad had been day-dreaming about seeing his brothers
for the entire week,” writes Barkhordari via email. “He was up at 6:00
a.m. on Saturday morning, excited with the hope of seeing his brothers
after so long.” After a three-and-one-half-hour drive, Juma and
Mohammad found themselves confronted by a maze of security precautions
like Reza had never seen during his visits last November.
“The whole area was blocked by vehicles from the Prison Security
Patrol and the Local Police,” writes Barkhordari. “I called the
facility to find an alternate route. I was told that the roads are
blocked because the Warden has declared a no-visitation weekend! When
I asked for an explanation, I was told that the reason is
confidential. I was asked for my name and the reason for my visit.”
“So, I called a second time and asked for the Warden,” continues
Barkhordari. “Her assistant took the call and said that the Warden is
not taking any calls today but we can reach the facility via a detour.
We took the detour and found the other road to the detention center
area to be blocked as well. This time we were approached by the
Rolling Plains Security Guards. When asked to let us get through, they
said that the warden has ordered all the roads leading to the facility
blocked and that nobody knows the reason why.” After a third call to
the prison, Barkhordari, Juma, and Mohammad headed back home.
“By the time we drove back, there were two additional State Trooper
vehicles guarding the entrance,” reports Barkhordari. “This all seemed
like deja vu to me. This was not the first time I had been told to
leave without a reasonable explanation. I received a call from Suzi
and her sister shortly after we departed and was told that everyone is
in a lock-down this weekend.”
“As I was trying to give comfort to Mohammad, I realized how greatly
public awareness can effect the world we live in. Today, I saw one of
the most beautiful and powerful statements that one man made; a man
walking 60 miles on foot and determined to bring light to the public
eyes and awareness to their minds regarding the wrongful imprisonment
and mistreatment of an immigrant family.”
A habeas corpus motion filed for the Hazahzas in late February alleges
sexual harassment, medical neglect, isolation, and other prison
cruelties handed to a family whose alleged wrongdoing has something to
do with their attempt to seek asylum from their war-torn homeland in
Palestine. While the Hutto prison in Taylor, Texas has been sometimes
defended as a “family detention” center, the prison at Haskell is
nothing but a regional prison hard enough to contain convicted
criminals imported from Wyoming.
Along the highway to Haskell, Johnson-Castro has picked up a few
stories from local folk. There was the former prisoner who said
Haskell is actually better than some other prisons you could find
yourself in. But they do like to hold onto people. Every time his
release date got close, said this hardtimer, there would be a new
reason to keep him locked up a little longer. And of course, the
longer people are locked up, the more money changes hands.
“This needs to be done,” said the former prisoner to the walker about
the walk, giving his thumb’s up. “Somebody’s got to do it.” He didn’t
think it was wrong that he had been sent to prison, but there were
people inside that should not have been sent there. There was a man
from the Rio Grande Valley who didn’t have an ID, so ICE put him away.
He saw immigrants at Haskell prison who only wanted to go back home if
they could, but they couldn’t, and he thought it was unfair how long
they were kept in prison under those conditions.
One woman at a restaurant talked about her uncle being a prisoner
there. She said the guards could be unkind, and they did seem to like
keeping people inside.
These anecdotes suggest the awful conclusion that Suzi Hazahza’s hell
is being funded and extended for profit. What could be a justifiable
reason to keep her locked up for one more day if not to prove that the
lengthy detention of immigrants is a profitable policy, no matter who
you think you are.
“This is no different than what Eisenhower warned us about when he
talked about the military-industrial complex,” says Johnson-Castro.
“And just like you have wars waged because there are people who
profit, so there are prisons built--and people put in them--for the
“People honked, people waved," recalls Johnson-Castro. "People
approached us and complimented us for what we were doing. At Haskell
one lady was coming back from a funeral for her mom. She came out and
said, ‘I want to compliment you for doing this. I know things are
wrong there. But nobody does anything about it.’ She invited us to
talk with her. We said we can’t stay long, but she asked some
“A diversity of people encouraged us,” says Johnson-Castro. “Which
tells us that there is an element that would like to connect and be
heard together. I’ve got to say that this is a part of Texas that all
Texans should be proud of. Here is the Texan who is making the earth
productive. It is a dying breed in our county or anywhere in the
modern world. And they are trying to prove that humans can get along.
It would be a violation of their conscience to see this happen to
Suzi. It may look like they are guilty, but they aren’t. It’s not the
people. It’s a partnership between the federal government, county
government, state politicians, and corporate interests.”
“If the people recognize it, they will talk. But the people have been
kept in darkness. They are good people. And this kind of operation
there has to be a pact of secrecy, just like we saw manifest at Hutto.
And just like Hutto, it is hard for me to believe that the majority of
these people wouldn’t be outraged to know that atrocities are being
committed in the Governor’s hometown of Haskell.”
“If I’m right,” says Johnson-Castro, “Haskell’s end is in view,
because the voice of people will win. But their voice hasn’t been
heard yet because people have been misinformed.” Back at the Haskell
town square after the walk, the lone journalist found Johnson-Castro
and told the story about how he had been run off by the Sheriff.
“If that’s how they treat you as a law abiding American, imagine how
they would treat people on the inside,” said Johnson-Castro. “I think
he took it to heart, and was kind of blown away.”