Yes in My Backyard

How Eden learned to stop worrying and love its private prison.

A CITY OF 2,561 PEOPLE 43 miles east of San Angelo, Eden has five established churches, three sit-down restaurants that all serve Tex-Mex, two motels, a grocery store, a hospital, a nine-hole golf course, and several exotic-game ranches. It’s a place of great natural beauty—more or less the spot where the Hill Country gives way to West Texas—that bills itself “The Garden in the Center of Texas” and claims Air Force pioneer General Ira Eaker as its favorite son. Like most places, Eden has an annual celebration, in this case Fall Fest (September 24­26 this year), which features a parade, a Saturday night dance, and the Adam’s Rib and Eve’s Seduction barbecue and dessert contest. And, oh, yeah, at the eastern edge of town, flanked by rows of shiny razor wire, there’s a private federal prison.

If you’ve taken U.S. 87 heading west, you know the place I mean, on the right side of the road just as the speed limit slows to 45. An all-male minimum-security facility for illegal aliens serving out criminal sentences before their deportation, the Eden Detention Center was built in 1985. It was later purchased by the city and is now owned by Corrections Corporation of America ( CCA). With its in-ground granite sign and smattering of trees and flowers, the EDC looked like your average office park campus until recently, when tightened federal regulations put the malignant fencing front and center. Now as then, the building’s trim facade does not suggest its true size: more than 1,300 beds, most of which are full. In other words, at least half the citizens of Eden aren’t citizens at all.

This seemingly incongruous state of affairs is actually routine in

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