What happens in the prison yard

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Karolina Lopez’s experience as a transgender woman of color in jail and in life

The students in attendance were captivated by the heart-wrenching testimony that speaker Karolina Lopez gave about her experiences in a detention center as a transgender woman of color.

Lopez, the coordinator of the Letter Writing and Visitation Program for Mariposas Sin Fronteras, spoke to students in Watson Forum Wednesday afternoon.

Mariposas Sin Fronteras, an organization dedicated to help LGBTQ+ immigrants in detention. They were founded in December 24, 2011 and have since then helped many individuals and families get through the process of being liberated from jail.

When Lopez came out to her family as transgender, her family was not receptive and instead told her to change, but she refused to be someone she was not. Lopez decided to live with her sister for a while, but left right after her sister’s husband started to abuse her. “I have no tolerance for abuse,” Lopez said. She left Mexico and fled to the United States in search of a more accepting environment.

When Lopez moved to the United States, she fell in love and had a relationship with a man for two years. The man began abusing hard drugs, which he pushed her to do as well. He forced her into prostitution, and beat her. Lopez left the relationship because she did not like how malnourished she had become. She was arrested shortly after and was sent back to Mexico.

Lopez came back to the United States shortly after, because “the fear of being in my country made me come back quickly as I could,” Lopez said. She then decided to turn her life around. Not long after, Lopez was arrested after calling in her stolen purse and was sent to prison. She spent three years in prison where she was harmed and mistreated for being transgender.

She was released from prison with the help of the Florence Project, whose mission statement is “to provide free legal and social services to detained adults and unaccompanied children facing immigration removal proceedings in Arizona,” according to their official website.

Mariposas Sin Fronteras was formed in response to Lopez’s experience. They wanted to help people in similar situations. Those in the LGBTQ+ community are three times more likely to suffer in prison, according to Lopez.

Even though the price of bonds have gone up from the lowest then being 1,500 to the lowest now being 7,500, in the past six years, they have helped more than 25 people and have paid over a 100,000 in bonds to help those in incarceration. They raised money by selling food, GoFundMe and other online campaigns.

Even though their focus are people from the LGBTQ+ community, “Our priority is LGBTQ, but we don’t deny support to anyone,” said Lopez. And they hope to grow and help more in the future.

Students believe that having speakers like Lopez on campus is a great thing, especially with everything going on in politics today. “With the whole DACA situation going on, I felt like I just needed to be more informed about the situation of immigrants,” said sophomore Cecelia Slane.

Senior Erika Killion found hope through Lopez’s talk. “Hearing her speak about the empathy and the love she has for this community despite everything she’s endured was inspiring,” Killion said. “I think that going to talks like this inspires a lot of optimism and a lot of hope in a climate that can be discouraging.”