It's understood that bad things happen in prisons, but we don't generally imagine them happening to students temporarily held there. Hasnain Javed, a Pakistani, was traveling by bus on Sept. 19 from a family reunion in Houston to New York City, where he was studying computer programming at Queensborough Community College. At a 5 a.m. stop in Mobile, Ala., Javed's bus was searched by border-patrol agents as part of a series of routine inspections. When it was discovered that Javed was holding an expired visa, he was arrested and sent to the Stone County Correctional Facility in Wiggins, Miss.
Overstaying a visa is a civil violation, but Javed was placed with the criminal population inside the prison dormitory. Things went wrong immediately. "There were other inmates in there," says Javed, 20, "and they started giving me strange kinds of looks and talking to one another." Javed says a hulking man pulled him aside and offered some advice: "You can't stay in here. You better get your ass out of here." The words were punctuated with punches to Javed's face. Soon other prisoners joined in. Some called him names, including "bin Laden." One attacker promised that "this is the first round, and there are going to be 10 rounds for you today."
Javed, who weighs 148 lbs., started crying. Perhaps to torment him, Javed says, his attackers told him to ring the bell that contacts the jailers. A woman answered the intercom, and Javed says he begged, "Please get me out of here. They are beating me up." No one came to his aid, and the beatings intensified. Javed was thrown to the floor and told to take off his clothes. He refused, but one of his attackers removed his clothes anyway and ordered Javed to run naked around the cell. He did. The man had pinned Javed to the floor when four guards, including a woman, entered the room. "What's going on in here?" one asked. The female officer picked up Javed's clothes, and he got dressed. He was taken to the prison nurse and treated with, he says, "one Motrin." For the rest of his three-day detention, he was placed in a solitary cell.
Stone County Sheriff Mike Ballard admits there was a two-or three-minute altercation and that Javed was stripped naked. But Ballard says the prisoners told him Javed incited the beatings by saying "F___ the United States. I'm glad they hit the World Trade Center." Javed admits he's not sure how long the beatings lasted--though it felt like half an hour--but he insists he'd have to be "a psycho" to say something like that in a prison. Javed is staying with an aunt in Houston while he awaits a Dec. 17 hearing on his immigration status. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating his complaint.
--By J.T. Reported by Anne Berryman/Athens