After fleeing persecution in Cuba, Yerandy Valdes Ruiz was swiftly locked up at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in May 2018. For over eight months, he was deprived of the medical attention he needed just to stay alive.
Ruiz, 30, is a Type 1 diabetic, but ICE officials denied him sufficient insulin injections from the beginning of his incarceration. They also refused to give him suitable food for his illness, causing him to faint four times due to low blood sugar.
His blood sugar levels also routinely spiked above 500 – a dangerously high number that can lead to a diabetic coma. His hands and feet became infected, his vision deteriorated to the point where he needed glasses, and his weight plummeted from 150 pounds to 119 pounds. Weak and frail, Ruiz pleaded for his insulin, but guards told him nothing could be done.
“I was lethargic, turning white, my feet were heavy, it was hard to walk, and my kidneys and liver were damaged,” he said.
As a result of ICE’s improper care, he was transported to a hospital, where he remained for one week. But when he got back to Pine Prairie, nothing seemed to change.
One day, Ruiz was left with nothing but milk to manage his diabetes. It was warm, though, so he asked for ice to cool it. After the guard who denied his request cursed at him, Ruiz was further berated and belittled. Fearing that the guard would hit him, Ruiz felt that he was forced to apologize before he was whisked away into solitary confinement. He spent an entire month there, isolated and alone.
Once he got out of segregation, Ruiz heard a rumor that a fellow detainee had committed suicide, and hearing this rumor put more of a strain on his mind. Another man had cut his arm with a knife and used his own blood to scrawl on the wall. Ruiz said that self-harm is common at the immigrant prison, as is being quarantined.
But Ruiz is adamant that the quarantine serves no purpose.
“We’ve never seen anybody with an illness,” he said. “No one has anything. We can’t leave our cell. I couldn’t even leave when I needed to see my doctor.”
Ruiz has been denied parole twice, despite humanitarian reasons that could be used for his release. He was ordered removed from the U.S. on Dec. 18, 2018.
“They drink juice and look around,” he said of the judges’ attitude in court. “They don’t look at our proof. The proof we brought [for asylum] means nothing.”
Nine months after he was incarcerated, in March 2019, Ruiz was transported to LaSalle ICE Processing Center, where he is appealing his case. After SIFI embarked upon intense medical advocacy on his behalf, Ruiz gained access to sufficient insulin, and received a pair of glasses.
Amid the back-and-forth between detention centers, the near-fatal medical mistreatment, the abuse from the guards – who have labeled him a “dog” – Ruiz misses the daughter he had to leave behind in Cuba.
But like so many others, he said that no matter the circumstances he’s endured while locked up, nothing terrifies him more than being deported.
“It’s so bad [in Cuba] that I’d rather stay in segregation here than return home,” he said.