oil on canvas
40" x 30"
Fleeing Uganda in fear for her life, Yudaya Nanyonga was 19 years old when
she arrived in the United States in 1997 seeking asylum and freedom
from persecution. What followed instead was a 2-year ordeal of
solitude, indignity, and fear.
Believing she had reached freedom as she departed the plane at JFK
International Airport in New York, Nanyonga was instead met with the
harsh reality that is often the fate of asylum-seekers arriving in
the United States without valid documentation: prolonged detention
pending the outcome of their request. Not lucky enough to win the
discretionary parole that is sparingly granted to others in her
situation, Nanyonga spent more than 6 months at the INS Wackenhut
detention center in Queens, only to be transferred to the
maximum-security unit of the York County Prison in Pennsylvania to
free up bed space at the INS center. The move in itself was
unfortunately not unusual, as recent regulations require stricter
detention of refugees, overwhelming INS centers and resulting in
incarceration at municipal criminal facilities for more than half of
all detainees. But for Nanyonga, arrival at a facility that was
notorious amongst detainees for its gruesome reputation created
panic. For expressing her fear, Nanyonga was met by five men in riot
gear, by whom she was thrown to the ground, stripped, restrained
spread-eagle on a cot, and injected with a sedative that rendered
her unconscious for two days. Waking up partially clothed and
unrestrained, she retains no knowledge of what happened to her in
the intervening time.
Nanyonga spent the next month and a half in the York County maximum-security
prison, until intervention by refugee support groups gained her
transfer back to Wackenhut. Even then, she would languish another
year in detention until her asylum was granted. Now free, she is
left to overcome nightmares of this experience that rival the very
ones from which she fled.
All images on this site are copyright © 2008 by Tom Block Arts.
Please contact the artist for use of these images.