Prison Diary XX. With his mouth sewn shut and smeared with excrement, a young man demands his rights

I found myself, like most of the time, writing on my bed when I heard the call, “Political, Political”; and they came to me in haste. Outside, they told me, there was a man who sewed his mouth shut with wire, come.

Really, to think about the scene makes me bitter. “I’m not a maxillofacial doctor, why, then, my presence?” I said, trying to avoid it. It was he who was calling, they told me, “He wants to talk with you.” Then, I couldn’t stay away. As I approached I heard his desperate voice, calling me, between lips barely open.

To describe the horror in a way that someone who hasn’t seen it can imagine it, is not possible: he stopped in front of the patio door that leads to my hut, his body smeared with fecal waste, holding a pail of dung with the aim of evading the guards who didn’t dare to force him back to his cell. The worst were his lips sewn with wire. The first question I asked myself was what level of desperation, helplessness and sadness could have forced him to commit such a folly, because by his aspect he doesn’t seem to be mentally ill.

With difficulty I could understand that he was desperate because the guards did not want to hear his being right. They just threatened and beat him every time he demanded his rights, and this had led him to take that step. Several times he assured me he wasn’t crazy: he tells me that if the Rapporteurs of the Commission of Human Rights come to see me, don’t be afraid to tell the truth.

I nodded my head in agreement, I’m always overwhelmed by the anxiety of my powerlessness to help. I wouldn’t have minded touching and cleaning those lips that were beginning to show signs of infection, a reason for their taking him to the nurse in those conditions.

I swore that within my humble means, I would inform international public opinion, and if the Rapporteurs came to Cuba, I would talk to them about him.

Before he left I tried to convince him that he had accomplished his purpose; the prison and its leadership felt the guilt of not having listened, the other inmates as well, so I asked if it made sense to continue in such conditions, to the point of putting his life in danger. He said, “Yes, Political, don’t think that I came to you without knowing who you are, in the cell told me how they force-fed you, if you weren’t there or in the hospital.”

I could only ask God to protect him.

Finally he responded to the constant order of the guards to continue to his cell.

“Don’t forget me, Political,” he said, and I couldn’t stop my eyes from tearing up. In those few minutes we had shared between us a solidarity and brotherhood which rose above the difficult situation in which we live.

“I embrace you,” he said. “I you, as well,” I responded and he walked proudly to the dirty and dark recesses of the punishment cells.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats
Prison 1580. May 2013

22 May 2013