Guerlande is a nurse. She worked hard to earn a degree in nursing, in the process of her training she witnessed her superiors holding women and their babies, and she was intimately familiar with the violence this wrought in patients’ lives.”
“If they go to the hospital to give birth, there are hospitals in Haiti, where if you don’t have the money to pay the hospital, they grab you. They hold you in captivity, they hold you in guards view, they don’t let them go home. If there are people willing to feed them from their families, they have to bring them food there, to the hospital. If they don’t have family, if their family can’t, its others in the same situation who have to feed them or give them little gifts of food from what little they have. There are hospitals where this happens and it’s really really hard. They hold people constantly. They don’t let you go at all. They put tons of guards, tons of security standing there to watch them everyday, make them study their faces so they know who is being held, who doesn’t have any access or any freedoms. Even if moms are really thirsty and need water, it doesn’t matter, they can’t leave to go get water.”Guerlande, June 2020
Guerlande is not only a nurse, of course, but also a family member. She is a child to her parents and a sister to many siblings. Three of these siblings have been held before by hospitals, including Naomi whose story we heard above. At the US-operated Catholic hospital where Naomi was held prisoner, three separate guards check receipts before allowing a patient to leave. These guards are there to protect hospitals from theft. What becomes clear after they are hired is that, according to the hospital, the things people most often try to steal are their own bodies.
The people who work these jobs often come from the same class and segments of society as the women they are hired to hold back. And hospitals know that alliances can form there, friendships, empathy, kinship. So it should come as no surprise that hospitals put tremendous pressure on guards to stay in line, to know their place in relation to the prisoners. When and if women escape, guards are fined the entire amount of the hospital bill. This is the same story in Haiti as it is in Congo and as it is in Ghana. Pitted against eachother through the powerful threat of capital extraction.
Its that nexus of credit and healing, debt and loss of liberty, record keeping and record absences, that is at the heart of the hospital-prison. In order to create and manage debt, the hospital-prison tries to transform human bodies and lives into corporeal collateral for that debt, and it targets particular bodies for such transformations, following familiar racial, gendered, classed, abled, and geospatial fault lines.
Hospital-detention places an emotional and financial burden on kin ties just as much as it places physical constraints on mothers themselves. These burdens can test and break kin bonds for those who cannot afford the price of another’s freedom, and they can create fault lines of debt, anger, and shame in communities where kin-ties are a means of survival. There are two financial debts that kin often must shoulder if they are to see their loved ones free: the first of course being the medical fees and the second is the continual incurring cost of providing food, clean clothing and transportation. The told and untold sums of money for many Haitian families could amount to years of wages.
Hospital-Prisons rip women away from their families and meaning-making systems just at the moment when these intimate ties are most needed. For the many, many women whose babies die during delivery or during their captivity, they are left to mourn, rage, and survive in a place amputated from kin, and amputated from care.
For J, Guerlande, and Naomi hospital imprisonment, much as they tried to avoid it, has become a distinct way that birth is experienced in their family. Their fear of having the practice happen again shapes the kinds of birthing futures they are willing to imagine, eliminating entirely mission hospitals from the realm of possibility which have traumatized them. This familial violence, is again, not unique to hospital detention.
Hospital detentions destabilize kin ties and in some cases rupture them entirely. These situations break down the relationships women have to one another, to their families, their communities, and their babies. They then reconfigure these relationships through hostile ties of debt to captor, capital to bodies, and human beings to collateral property. These effects ripple out from mothers and other patients. They spread into families, into communities. Rupturing kin.
We shared just her story at the beginning, but now I’ll tell you that its tied to others. Her brother, who stayed by her side at the hospital. His name is David. He studies English at school.
“When my sister went to give birth, I was there. She went to the very first hospital when her water broke and she began bleeding, which was a State hospital. We went together with her, Me, my mom, and my older brother. When we arrived at that hospital, there was no doctor available because the doctors and nurses were on strike given the hospital hadn’t been able to pay them at all. We waited there a long while, thinking a doctor would eventually have to come. We didn’t go to the mission hospital because of how little they support patients there…they don’t uplift patients in need. It’s only money that they understand there, they don’t put your health first at the foreign mission hospitals….We didn’t want to have to go to the mission hospital, do you understand?
We didn’t want to, but we had no choice. Even though my eldest two sisters had been there, and experienced abuse when they kidnapped them after their births. We were in the same position again.”J, July 2020