Prison Diary XXXIII: The Barber and His Eternal Condemnation / Angel Santiesteban

A few days ago, from the urinal, I heard a conversation between two inmates in the laundry, which made me turn around and look them in the face.

It was the barber, who was commenting to his listener on Martí’s letters to his mothers, and hers to her son. He quoted them from memory, and I enjoyed the emotional scene. Of course, I ended up being part of the conversation.

When I left, I told them that dialog seemed surreal to me, given the circumstances we found ourselves in, and even more, while they washed their clothes. Before we parted I expressed the need to write at some point about this experience he’d lived, and we shook hands.

That encounter made me remember that I always witnessed the barber talking about the books he read, calling my attention to the contrast between his intellectual analysis and his tattoos and gold teeth.

Since then, we began to greet each other as the beginning of a friendship that he was assessing against the surveillance they had on me, and that motivated transfers to other barracks and even provinces of inmates who maintained a closer relationship with me. I didn’t want to compromise his transfer to the camp where he would finish the five years that remained after having served the first eight.

Yesterday, after a dramatic performance by the guards, the barber was surprised with more than 300 pills. They say he ratted out a prisoner who was indebted to him. They also say that his quantity of medications in their original packages could only get into the prison through a soldier. Others argue that they are medications of the inmates who have psycho-pharmacological prescriptions, and that for nearly a month they hadn’t been given, which had caused the nervous alterations they suffered, played out in brawls, physical aggression, altercations with the guards, fire-setting attempts which sometimes succeeded, and even epileptic attacks. Medications that have been sent by the families to make sure they get them.

It’s noteworthy that for every indiscipline committed by such patients, they are taken to the courts held weekly where, according to the seriousness, they add other penalties and suspension of benefits for good behavior.

For most of these patients they substitute oral treatment for intravenous or muscular injections, as a result of which these areas are considerably damaged.

The truth is that the barber finds himself in the dungeon to the surprise of many, including me. I imagine him desperate almost insane, on learning that he has to begin from zero the conviction he had, not to mention the new charge of drug trafficking.

Now he has to serve nearly twenty years in prison, he’ll be an old man when he gets out, in about 2033 with luck, if he doesn’t commit another felony.

Such are the days in prison, among addicts and assassins.

Gods have mercy on them, their families, and those who cross their path.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Prison 1580, June 2013

1 July 2013