The Facility documents the conditions at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, and in particular, the twin pandemics of fear and COVID-19 that swept through its mostly immigrant inmate population in March of 2020. The film, written and directed by Seth Freed Wessler, focuses closely on two inmates in particular, Nilson Barahona and Andrea Manrique. Through cell phone footage and recorded video calls, the film explores the world of the detention facility, and deconstructs the flimsy reasoning behind having so many immigrants handle their immigration proceedings from inside of a jail cell when they could just as easily be doing so while safely with their families.
Barahona, originally from Honduras, had lived in the U.S. for 20 years before being picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The rest of his family, including his wife and son, all have some variation of legal status in the U.S. Barahona has diabetes, a chronic disease that has compromised his immune system and left him more vulnerable to many kinds of illnesses, especially COVID-19. The film documents how time and again, his compassionate release for medical reasons was considered and denied. In response to protesting this treatment, he was put in solitary confinement. In solitary, he went on hunger strike, refusing to eat for ten days.
Andrea Manrique was detained after arriving on a tourist visa and seeking asylum from threats in her home country of Columbia. For this, she was detained, often in solitary confinement, for a total of 26 months. Because many courts in the U.S. shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, her case was delayed multiple times.
The film also dives into well-documented claims of multiple medical unnecessary or misdiagnosed hysterectomies that were performed on inmate women at Irwin County Detention Center, often without their full knowledge or consent. Whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a nurse working at the facility, filed a complaint exposing these allegedly illicit operations, drawing widespread attention and condemnation.
The film carefully documents the atrocious conditions and treatment of the inmates at the detention center, with tearful and emotional conversations with its two primary subjects and a number of other people interred at the facility. The Facility is a poignant and timely reminder that immigrants who come to the U.S. seeking refuge and a modest slice of the American dream are commonly treated like criminals and exposed to inhumane conditions.
Watch this film and more at the Double Exposure Film Festival.
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