The petty cruelty of the US prison system

I came across this article about Selene Saavedra Roman, a young woman who worked as a flight attendant for the American airline Mesa, who was detained for six weeks upon the return of her flight from Mexico because she is the child of undocumented immigrants. She is one of the many ‘Dreamers’, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, that the Trump administration is cracking down on.

What struck me was this description by her husband David Watkins (whom she married in 2017) of his visits to her during her period of imprisonment.

Watkins told reporters he had been in touch with his wife in the mornings and each night by phone, and had seen her for one hour once a week through “two inches of glass”.

Recently I have been watching various films and TV mini-series set in the UK and Australia and I noticed that prisoners and their visitors seem to be able to meet frequently in what looks like a coffee shop or cafeteria setting, each inmate and their visitors sitting at little tables with no barriers between them. There are guards watching to make sure there is no touching and the prisoners wear regulation clothing but otherwise you would never guess that they were in a prison, even though the inmates were accused of serious crimes even including murder.

In the US, it seems like it does not matter if the supposed offense is of the most non-threatening variety, as was the case with Roman, they are treated as if they are violent and dangerous people. It is part of the dehumanizing process that the US legal and prison system seems to apply at every opportunity.


  1. avalus says

    Being from Germany, I always found the content of the video below surreal. Like: “So the depictions of us prisons in us-american films are true…”. Truly petty and very cruel.
    (I hope links are ok, Mano. If not, I am sorry, search Ted Talk Jeff Rosen,

  2. says

    For the record, I volunteer at a state prison here in Iowa and the visiting room is of the “coffee shop” variety you mentioned. However, I don’t doubt that the federal facility where immigration detainees are held are pretty dire. After all, as our “president” assures us, they’re rapists and drug smugglers.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Peter N,

    I am glad to hear that at least some prisons are like the ones you volunteer at. Is it a minimum security prison?

  4. sonofrojblake says

    “It is part of the dehumanising process that the US seems to apply at every opportunity.”


  5. says

    Hi Mano,

    This facility is the medical center for the state prison system, so they have all security levels. I’m sure the high security inmates can’t use the visiting room — and I wouldn’t want them to! Because they’re dangerous! But the place has a very forward-thinking warden and they have many innovative programs, such as therapy-dog training, a garden where fresh vegetables are raised for the dining hall, a choir which emphasizes songwriting, and college credit classes. If you’re ever in Iowa, look me up, and I can probably arrange a tour for you!

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