Welcome new readers! Here's an overview of what we've done so far.

Plus, links for the week.

Hello, dear readers!

Today we had planned on sharing our interview with Julia Valero, who has worked with detained migrant families for three years, but the Texas power outages have slowed down the editorial process. We’re hoping to get it out to you next week. 

So, in the meantime, we’ve improvised. There have been many recent sign-ups—thank you!—and we thought you might appreciate an organized guide to the newsletter.

Personal reflections

Classroom stories and readings 

Politics and religion


  • Nomi Stolzenberg on the Supreme Court decision on religious services. She explains its reasoning and the "radically libertarian view of religious liberty” it reveals.

  • Jack Jung on translating the Korean poet Yi Sang. In Part I we look at some of his favorite poems; in Part 2, he discusses moving to the U.S. at thirteen and back to Korea after college.

  • Victor Lin on being an Asian-American jazz educator. “One of my core beliefs is that everyone in the world is musical,” he says. 

  • Nicole Ramos on working as a lawyer for asylum seekers in Tijuana. Part I covers her work and the origins of Remain in Mexico; in Part 2 she shares her personal journey. 

  • Sebastian Veg on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In Part I he talks about the mass arrests of pro-democracy leaders in January; in Part 2 we talk about “Chineseness” and utopianism of the Sunflower & Umbrella Movements.

  • Zakee Hutchison on being released after twenty-one years at San Quentin Prison, his conversion to Islam, racial segregation, and much more. “I had to come to prison in order to learn how to be free." 

Reader responses 

Links for the week

  • How to Help Texans Recover. This is a good list of ways to help.

  • Prison communication is getting more expensive. If you have a loved one incarcerated in Connecticut, a fifteen-minute call costs $4.37. Jewu Richardson, co-director of the Connecticut Bail Fund, writes, “each year, Connecticut residents spend nearly $14 million to speak to incarcerated loved ones, roughly $8 million of which goes to the state.” The remaining almost $6 million goes to the telecom vendor. (Thanks to James Jeter for alerting me to this article.)

  • Our sister-in-law (and philosopher of science) Maria Jimenez Buedo has a great piece in one of Spain’s main political blogs. It’s about the policy-making dilemmas of promoting mask wearing and the fragmentary nature of the available scientific evidence. (It’s co-authored with Saúl Pérez González and in Spanish.)

  • Eunice Cho and Bianca Tylek talk on the Brian Lehrer show about private prisons, Biden, and immigration. Listen here. Here’s a primer from Eunice:

    Immigration detention is one of the most significant areas of the federal government's use of private prisons. At this time last year, 81% of people in immigration detention were housed in facilities owned or operated by private prison companies. Much of the immigration detention system is made up by private prison companies, perhaps harkening back to the origin of these private prison companies themselves.

    Immigration detention makes up a huge portion of private prison company's revenues. In 2019, for example, 29%, of CoreCivic and GEO's revenues was from ICE detention contracts. They are making billions of dollars a year.

    CoreCivic made 547 million in the year; GEO made 708 million with immigration detention and this number is going up. In the last four years, the amount of contracts that private prison companies have made for immigration detention skyrocketed. ICE opened 40 new detention facilities; the majority of those beds went to private prison companies, over 90% of those beds. We know that private prison companies have a huge impact on immigration detention, and indeed, you can track the growth of immigration detention with the growth of private prison companies themselves.

    Eunice adds:

    It’s not actually only private prison companies that profit from imprisonment, incarceration, or immigration detention. When we look at the immigration detention system, for example, local law enforcement agencies also rent out their beds and county jails to ICE, and they also see it as a way to make money.

    One of the most notable examples of this is the Etowah County Jail in Gadsden, Alabama. Until recently a sheriff could legally pocket the money personally [and] saved by cutting food costs to prisoners and detainees […] When we interviewed people at the Etowah County Detention Center, they talked about losing weight, starving because they weren't getting enough food. That's an extreme example, but we see everywhere where local jurisdictions.

    And read this thread:

  • We watched two films in the past week, both of which we recommend highly. The first is the documentary Boys State, which brilliantly shows how our current media and political landscape corrodes the week-long summer citizenship camp organized by the American Legion.

    The second is Judas and the Black Messiah, which tells the story of Fred Hampton and the FBI’s violent infiltration of the Black Panthers. Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are incredible in the film.

  • We loved Alison Willmore’s profile of the director Chloé Zhao, whose new film Nomadland we’re looking forward to watching. The profile deftly moves between Zhao’s career and thorny questions relating to the politics of representation in Hollywood.

  • And we were so touched to see many of you at Michelle’s NYPL-Chatham Square book talk. Thank you for making the time to come!

The historian’s mother corrects his account…

Correction from Albert:

In my piece on the atomic bomb last week, I mentioned my grandpa’s experiences in the war. My mother wrote in; apparently I got a couple things wrong. First, my grandpa lost his arm not during the Sino-Japanese war but due to the civil war between the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communists, in a battle at Shanghai. Second, she wishes to clarify that, unlike my uncle, she no longer feels any ill will towards Japan.

Book club this Thursday: Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat

Join us this coming Thursday, February 25th, 2:45 PM EST. We’re reading Tolstoy’s novella Hadji Murat. Email us for the Zoom link or leave a comment here.

If you can’t make this, come join us for the second book club during the last week of March. We’ll read Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters, which has been called the Japanese Middlemarch (Michelle’s favorite book of all time).

Next week: On Imprisoning Migrant and Refugee Families

As mentioned earlier, next week we’ll share our conversation with Julia Valero, whom we met in Texas in summer 2018 while volunteering at RAICES.

Julia works in RAICES’s family detention program at Karnes, one of the three immigration prisons in the United States that detains families.

When we met Julia, she oversaw volunteers, coordinated client intake, dealt with unpredictable guards, and offered legal and emotional support to detained children and parents. We were blown away to see her in action—she managed a chaotic and dehumanizing prison environment with gravitas and grace, and was cheerful all the while. Then we realized she had just graduated from college! (This is why we’re so pro–Gen Z.) This will be the second in an ongoing series on people working on the frontlines of legal services for asylum seekers and refugees. (If you missed the first, with Nicole Ramos of Al Otro Lado, it’s here.)