Interview with a hunger striker from Yarls’ Wood

Why did you go on hunger strike?

To make changes and make the public see the way we have been treated and the conditions we are kept in. And to have support from one another and the public.

What kind of support did you receive from the public?

I got lots of calls from people I didn’t know. It was very good

You were injured and are still suffering pain from when guards assaulted you when you were taken away from the hunger strike and to prison. Do you regret it?

I don’t regret it, but I’m going to be suffering with back problems forever. I didn’t just do it for me. No one just did it for themselves. We did it for all, for everyone in detention.

How does detention affect women in particular?

We are the mothers of our children and we play an important role. Detention affects women a lot: many self harm and things like that. People get really depressed and go mental at times.

Do you think the system is racist?

Well apart from locking us up because of where we come from, you can see it in the way they treat us: calling us names like “monkies” and “yardies” and stuff like that. We face lots of discrimination in there. The food was so bad I didn’t even eat it. The medical assistance isn’t good either. You see it in prison too. They treat British citizens differently from the way they treat us. We get much worse punishments for doing less than when British people do more!

We face racism in a lot of ways: the way they talk to us, they open our mail, even solicitor’s letters, which they’re not supposed to. They tell you you’re not allowed to have things you should be. They just do what they want to do. When we have visits they bring us down half an hour late. The three people over there have been waiting for the person they’re visiting for an hour. You can bet they’re not British nationals.

What would you change?

In prison, we need to be treated equally. In detention centres, they shouldn’t be detaining mothers and children. People suffer so much emotionally. I would close detention down. In prison, everyone should be treated the same, not differently because of nationality or colour.

In February 2010 prisoners at Yarl’s Wood immigration prison organised a hunger strike. They demanded an end to indefinite and abusive imprisonment.  Their courageous protest lasted five weeks, despite violent attacks by guards at the detention centre.