Learning My Way in Prison / Pable Pacheco

The weekend passed by with relative normality. I was taking my first steps in a world which was foreign to my will, and I was very far from imagining what would occur during the next 7 years and 4 months. It was a world behind the bars, full of insects, criminals, and soldiers who were real henchmen at the service of the dictatorship (save for some rare exceptions who could not find any other path of survival in a country submerged in a total crisis).

The first common prisoner which gained my trust was Raciel Prieto- a young man with my same age and who served a life sentence for murdering another person to rob their gold necklace valued at 1 thousand dollars, according to what he later confessed to me. Raciel explained to me how the prison machinery functioned — a real whirlwind of intrigue which through the years I finally came to understand but never adapted to.

The prisoners had questions about everything. Most had been jailed for many years without seeing the streets and the outside world. Without really realizing it, most of their minds had extremely weakened, so much so that all they did was take narcotics prescribed to them by doctors or smuggled in the prison by guards. Others just took part in illegal games or just took part in “survival of the fittest”. It’s difficult to find a prisoner in a Cuban penitentiary that has not come to the point of a relapse while captive. For the most part, they return to that world which they supposedly escaped under “re-education”.

From the very first moment I began to spend time with these men, I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of compassion for them. They were so isolated from the world that they did not realize that behind the bars there lay another world- a world that undoubtedly was difficult, but at least it was less cruel than the reality they faced. The majority of these men had lost their significant others, their family, and (worst of all) their will to carry on. Every once in a while, I would ask myself: Am I going to end up like these men at the end of my sentence? Fortunately, I always found the same answer in my conscience: Continue onward, don’t give up. The cause of freedom for my country is worth any sort of sacrifice.

That Monday, after I ingested the piece of bread given to me for breakfast, a soldier approached my cell and demanded, “Pablo Pacheco, get ready to come with me to the office of this prison.”

“No,” I responded. But I ended up being taken anyway.

We made it to the main office of the prison where a group of uniformed officials were waiting for me. The first one to speak was Diosdado, the director of Aguica. Diosdado presented me one by one to the penal Headship Council. I recall that, while we were speaking, they actually tempted to be decent until I told them: “You are all also very responsible for the untenable situation which our country is going through.”

A robust bald man who had a medal of superiority on his military jacket sprung up and shouted, “The culprits behind the situation we are facing are the Yankees and all of you who continue playing their game.”

I thoroughly looked back at him and told him, “You are wrong. The system which you defend is incompatible with human beings. Please, just let me go back to my cell.”

“Take him!” demanded Diosdado to the functionaries who, just a few minutes prior, had introduced me to him.

When I told my new companions about what had happened to me, they all said, “That’s Brito, the re-education chief and also one of the most cold-hearted guards of all.”

“Political one, protect yourself from him”, Raciel ended up telling me.

I decided to read the Bible for the rest of the day and this deeply helped me to withstand all that I was to live during the next few months of my life. Yet, as a source of inspiration I kept in my mind that I was not the only one to have passed through the jails of the regime just for attempting to express what my conscience dictates. In fact, I also was well aware (thanks to some prohibited literature I had read) that other fellow countrymen lived through this process under worse circumstances than myself, during the period dubbed “No one listened”.

In that same piece of literature, I got to familiarize myself with some testimonies from the men and women who had witnessed the ascent to power of Fidel Castro. Many of these Cubans had been supporters of Castro, but were soon betrayed by him, as he proved to be a real threat to all of the fundamental rights of Cubans. Such accounts inspired me to get back up from any missteps and continuing onward in the struggle for freedom, for I knew that I was not alone. The course of my destiny was unpredictable but I would not give up on it.

January 24, 2011

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.