If you’re here, you’re probably wondering what is the meaning behind this not-so-typical Christmas card. Before I do that, let me introduce myself: my name is Pedro. I am a 34 year old father of 4 U.S. citizen children. I was raised in Orange County along with my family. I spent 12 years in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) custody for a crime I did not commit. Due to my leadership and rehabilitation, including holding a position in the coveted Fire Camp program, I earned my release, but unfortunately, I was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. I have been detained for over 1 year fighting for my chance to stay in the U.S. with my family. I am detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center, located in Bakersfield, CA.
Thank you for taking the time to scan the QR code that brought you here. I am so grateful for every individual that takes the time to listen to my story and seeks to understand my art. Overall I have a dark sense of humor because I like to always laugh and keep a positive attitude no matter the circumstance, especially if the situation is bad. I also like to see all of the beauty in the ugly. Art is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, just for a moment, because it challenges societal norms.
It’s kind of ironic to say or wish someone who is incarcerated a, “Happy Holidays!” or “Merry Christmas!” when we are systematically deprived from being outside with our families, something that becomes even harder during the holidays. I dare to say that this experience is shared among the 30,000 individuals who are currently in ICE custody across the country, who will have to spend Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday they celebrate, locked away in a cell, away from family and their community, experiencing severe medical neglect, and eating some of the worst food that can possibly be served to a human being.
Why the bunny? I made a crochet bunny while in detention and he's like my buddy in here. The bunny is someone I confide in, someone that keeps me company. I chose him to represent how I and others feel in detention: patchy, pieces are missing, and beat up. The impacts that incarceration has on the body and mind may be for a lifetime, and that’s largely due to the lack of medical care we receive in these places. Our bodies are torn up! I’ve developed severe back pain because of the extremely thin mattresses we sleep on. I know some people in here that have waited months to get an x-ray or be seen by a specialist. We’ve been told, “You either have to be bleeding, unconscious, or not breathing to get emergency medical attention”. The bunny is also sitting on an hourglass, which represents one of the most valuable things we have: Time. Time also means life. Once our time runs out, that’s when our life is done. But it can also mean that it is only a matter of time before we’re free. That’s what I appreciate about art, it is open for interpretation. But the question remains: Will time do you, or will you do the time?
If you notice, the heart that is in the bunny’s hand is still connected to its chest. That's because it’s the one thing that ICE and GEO haven't been able to take away from me; they control my every move, tell me when I need to stand up, when I need to be done eating, and I am patted down several times a day. These facilities are designed to break you, mold you, and own you. Mesa Verde is privately owned and operated by The GEO Group and they profit off of my mere existence. My heart is all that I have left so I can continue to feel the connection with my children, with my family, and with my community. They are literally my lifeline, pumping the blood through my heart to keep me alive. The moment we allow our hearts to be taken away, is truly the moment that we become broken. We cannot allow negative circumstances to get that part of us. You must protect your heart at all costs.
Twisted not broken. In Spanish, twisted is translated as “torcido”. It also has a different meaning where I am from. When someone is “torcido” it means that someone’s liberty has been twisted by the system and now they are incarcerated. I hope people on the outside can relate to this feeling too because I know life out there isn't easy, and there are many circumstances that can make us feel restrained. My amá (“mom”), sisters, and friends talk about is how expensive the gas is, how high the rent is, how expensive the groceries are, how much they’re working, and it goes on. Estamos torcidos pero no rotos. We're twisted but not broken. At the end of the day, we are all going through something. Rise and remain firm through negative circumstances so you are always able to smile.
If you have made it this far reading the explanation of my artwork, I am so appreciative of your time! Could I have drawn something merry and bright? Yes of course, but I would be hiding the truth of what we experience everyday inside detention. I hope you’re able to put this on your fridge, like my amá (“mom”) does with all of the Christmas cards she’s received over the years, and that it sparks a conversation with a guest you are hosting for the holidays. I sincerely hope I am able to spend the holidays with my family next year. With your support of CCIJ, I believe it will come true.