Astrid Garcia ’23 – Weeks 3 & 4

The third and fourth weeks represented a period of growth for me. During this middle phase of the internship, I learned about the various injustices committed against people deprived of their liberty and was able to witness it first-hand. 

During the second week, I continued working with the team that interviews victims. The CPM’s committee against torture mechanisms has various teams throughout the Buenos Aires Province that interview detainees in prisons further away from the Capital and La Plata. These teams submitted their interviews which have to be loaded onto a greater database. This week, I worked independently on loading cases onto the CPM’s committee against torture’s online database. This task allowed me to identify the different forms of torture detainees face throughout their time in Buenos Aires’ penitentiary units. Although there are many penitentiary units scattered throughout the Buenos Aires province, I realize that many of the problems detainees face are congruous. The work I conducted during the third week was essential because it gave me a greater understanding of the problems detainees face daily. I also learned specific terminology which I quickly encountered during the fourth week. 

The beginning of the fourth week marked the beginning of joining both the inspections and complex cases teams in conducting interviews in different penitentiary units. Early on, I realized that working with the team that interviews victims was fundamental work that allowed me to understand the violations most detainees face. This week I accompanied the inspections team to penitentiary unit 1, and the complex cases team to penitentiary unit 33. 

With the inspections team, I joined them in interviewing detainees in the unit’s college center. There, the detainees work to complete various college degrees. Some of the detainees pursue longer careers such as law, whereas others were working towards getting their secondary school degrees. This was a unique experience because I did not expect to see the level of organization the detainees had in completing careers while deprived of their liberty. Upon speaking with a detainee, I learned about a successful case where a detainee completed his law degree and upon his release, about 6 months ago, he was able to find a job as a lawyer. This story seemed to give them more reason to work harder so that when they leave prison, they too can find a job. However, pursuing a college degree while in prison also exposes them to prejudice. I spoke to a detainee who left the prison to take an exam. He expressed that it was a very traumatizing experience because he was chained until he got to the university, and there when they realized he was a prisoner, he faced discrimination. This experience taught me a lot about the battle detainees face in order to pursue college degrees.

With the complex cases team, I accompanied them to interview two sisters in penitentiary unit 33. There, women are able to keep their children with them until the age of 5. During the first week when teams were presenting their work, they mentioned the fact that women can have their children with them. This subject intrigued me, and I realized that this was something I wanted to do more work with. I thought that prison was not a suitable place for children to grow up in during their most formative years. However, upon talking to both sisters, I realized that having their children gave them greater sanity than other prisoners who have little to no familial relations. Their children were also very happy being with their mothers because they were able to create a bond with them, had access to the patio and plazas during the day, and could leave the prison with other family members for weeks on end. Being able to join this team for this interview changed my perspective because talking to and hearing the sisters’ stories is different than reading their official law documents. 

During this last week, I was grateful to join both groups. I felt fulfilled joining these groups in their tasks because they are working with real people who have fallen victim to the violence perpetrated by the State.

Penitentiary Unit 1. The structure of this prison reminded me of Michel Foucault’s idea of the panopticon. There is a watch tower in the middle, known as “el tanque” or “the tank” that watched over the unit’s pavilions. Here, the SPB (penitentiary unit officers) can see the detainees without being seen themselves. This reinforces the idea of total control and dominance over people deprived of their liberty. (Photo credit: Emmy Giacoia)
This is a different angle that shows “el tanque” looming over the prison.
“El tanque” can be seen from different angles. It is a symbol of this prison and of the control over people deprived of their liberty.

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