Either Work it Out or Give it Up / Iván García

Roger thought he was a respected delinquent. A sharp guy who at the first slight would exchange blows with anyone. He always hung with a group of buddies who looked like gangsters.

They dressed like the blacks in the Bronx. And they didn’t think twice before assailing a tourist, snatching gold chains from the necks of naive women, or picking a door lock and running off with the valuables.

He was sure he was a tough, successful guy in the marginal world. But everything changed when Roger fell into the tank (prison). At 19 years old, he had his first and only prison experience.

And it went badly. One rainy morning, while he was being transferred to a maximum security prison in eastern Cuba, he swore he would cut open like a cow any prisoner who tried to mess with him.

A tall, good-looking mulatto, he aroused lust among the sodomites who had been behind bars for two decades without women. He knew no one. In his cell block, three robust blacks were the cell leaders.

There everything was a matter of business. From the brown sugar, the food, cigarettes, pornographic magazines, even bathing water. In the first week he had a couple of brawls which didn’t end well for him.

At meal time, the rations were minimal. One of the cell block chiefs undressed him with his eyes. One night after the recount, without knowing why, some convicts gave him a fierce beating. An animal fear took hold of Roger.

He wanted to form a truce with the chief. “I can protect you, my beauty, I can get you good grub and take care of you as if you were my son, but I ask that you give me something in return,” said the chief, lasciviously.

“I’m not a queer. And I’ll split open anyone who tries anything with me,” he bluffed, without much conviction. The old prisoner kept looking at him and said, “We’ll see about that, kid.”

Without a weapon or a friend to help him confront the crooks who ran the cell block, Roger spoke with a prison guard to ask that his cell be changed.

But it went nowhere. “You’re not brave, so settle things as well as you can. The prison is packed. So either work it out or give up your ass,” was the guard’s answer.

The sexual harassment increased for Roger. On certain days he woke up with his body full of semen. When it was time to bathe or when he was in his bunk, the sodomites masturbated openly.

Desperate, Roger opted to mutilate himself. He injected oil into one leg and was sent to the hospital prison. When they tried to send him back to his cell block, he again tried to injure himself or tried to take his own life.

Between the sexual harassment of some prisoners, the panic, the physical and verbal mistreatment of the guards and the small quantity of bad food, Roger decided to put an end to his personal tragedy. One summer dawn he hung himself from the bars with a cord made out of bedsheets. He had escaped from the siege.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 16 2011