Review: DETAINED by Eroyn Franklin

Eroyn Franklin’s special accordion-style comic book, “DETAINED,” calls attention to a serious problem in the United States and world-wide: countless people who fall between the cracks of a faulty legal system and end up being detained, sometimes by mistake, and often for indefinite periods of time. These stories pop up in the news now and then. You might see them as that news item on your screen you bookmark for later or meant to read but never got around to it. Well, you really should.

Consider all of us human beings on planet Earth, and all the countries and governments and conflicts and wars and violence, and the outright need for people to leave one hostile place for another, hopefully safer, place. And then you need to think of what may happen to a lot of these people seeking asylum, a better life, only to be scooped up by a corporate net and held captive with little to no regard for their well-being. Just check out this recent article from The New York Times if you think detention centers are rare and far between. On the contrary, it’s a boom market for the companies who profit from them. The United States, along with other countries, do not run or closely monitor their own detention centers.

What Franklin does with her book is give you a taste of what it’s like to be a typical detainee. There are so many different stories to tell, some gruesome and heart-breaking. These two that Franklin presents are not overtly dramatic and yet even these more understated portraits give you a glimpse into the rampant violence, neglect and utter incompetence that goes hand in hand with all of these detention centers. In this case, it is  Seattle’s former INS building and the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. What Franklin’s portraits do is paint a picture of what is most likely to happen. At the very least, if you are a detainee, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t even be a detainee, your stay will be indefinite, your stay will be at least as bad as any prison, and there is a contractor profiting from your stay with no motivation to see you leave.

The book focuses on two detainees: Many is a Cambodian refugee who had a few run-ins with the law as a kid but who shouldn’t have ended up in a detention center; and Gaby, a Mexican, who simply got rounded up and must do some time at a detention center. The more you read about detainees, the more you wonder who exactly needs to be in a detention center. Given the fact that these centers are run for a profit, the overriding need to house people to make money is the only thing that makes sense. It is good politics and good business to crack down on immigration so people like Many and Gaby must be punished. Some detainees can’t bear the stress of the abusive conditions and not knowing when, if ever, they might be released and so they kill themselves. Franklin refers to that as well as the fact that these centers are so understaffed that the inmates must work, basically as slaves. The beauty of Franklin’s work is in its understatement. You be the judge, she seems to be saying.

This is a compelling story told in a compelling way. The continuous panorama that follows these two immigrants is quite mesmerizing. You literally loose yourself in the comics as you get a sense of day to day existence in these centers. It’s no surprise that comics journalism can be quite effective in telling a story and this is a great example of it. The book spreads out to 26 feet of folded up panles, each story on one side, a total of 78 color pages. This also includes, incredibly, two full-sized posters! You can pick up your copy by contacting the artist. You can also just visit Eroyn Franklin at her site. And, if you happen to be in Seattle, you must go see her at an amazing small press expo called, “Short Run,” at the Vera Project at Seattle Center, on Saturday, November 12. Admission is free. You must go! And check out CLP, the Common Language Project that compliments this book at You can also  learn more at American Civl Liberties Union, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Detention Watch Network, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and One America.

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Filed under Art, Comics, Eroyn Franklin, Seattle, Vera Project

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