“Poland,” My New Home / Pablo Pacheco

Photo from Internet

“Poland” is the most rigorous section of Aguica Prison, made up of a 16-cell complex outside the prison. Only common prisoners have access to it and the guards have total authority over it. Usually, one of the prisoners must clean both hallways, leaving the area ready for the guards.

In this area, the guards are handpicked and functionaries from the interior order rarely visit.

Generally, the most dangerous prisoners are kept in “Poland”: punished prisoners, prisoners with life sentences, and prisoners with death sentences. The prison’s laundry is located in the bottom room of this area, as well as the kitchen’s chimney. According to the inmates and the guards, this specific room was built over a cemetery, and the construction style is very similar to those of Eastern Europe. In fact, it is speculated that the first director of Aguica traveled to the Old Continent to study their penitentiary architecture, to later replicate them on the island. Whatever the case may be, the underlying fact is that this place was constructed specifically to torture prisoners.

They began to make the prison food at around 3 or 4 in the morning, and its preparation lasted up to around 6 am, more or less. At around that time, the guards start their “inventory of prisoners”, and an hour later begin the laundry chores until 11:30 am, to later continue at 2 pm. Up to this point, everything seems to be rather normal but once the harsh noises start coming from the kitchen and laundry room, it is impossible for any human to be able to fall asleep. With those tortures, the guards have achieved unbalancing the minds of the common prisoners, and I am sure that the authorities tried to commit the same crime against us.

The dungeons of the “Poland Area” measure 2.5 meters in width by 3 meters in length and contain a small patio and bathroom (which consists of a hole on the ground). There are cracked tubes on the patio roof and whenever it rains the cell gets full of water.

In the winter the prisoners tie their bedspreads to the iron bars on the roof, pulling themselves up to try to get at least 1 or 2 hours of sun. If the sheets tear then prisoners fall and break their bones (in the best of cases).

Common prisoners told me that before our arrival, the beds which were currently chained to the wall were quickly hung there, and later they were to be put down again at around 10 pm. In addition, the walls are not plastered in order to keep any prisoner from laying back and resting on them.

Out of all the humiliations faced by the prisoners of “Poland”, the worst one has to do with how they must get their drinkable water. In order to fill their bottles with this precious liquid, they must extract it through a tube out of the same hole where they urinate and defecate. The container must be placed inside the hole, and prisoners can only do this two times in one day. Furthermore, it is prohibited to have any light bulbs or cleaning materials inside the dungeons. According to the guards, these measures are taken for “security reasons”.

A few minutes after the Interior Order functionary arrived at “Poland” he examined every centimeter of my belongings. I also had to strip myself of my clothes. “What the hell are they searching for?” I asked myself. Later, I understood that this was just another act of humiliation. After half an hour I was in cell number 4 — my new home -– surrounded by other prisoners in adjacent cells. Fortunately, I was nearby Manuel Ubals Gonzales, Miguel Galban Gutierrez, and Alexis Rodriguez Fernandez. All of these men quickly greeted me and passed me clandestine notes in which they explained the specifics of the place and of the prisoners around us.

One may consider 16 months to be a breeze, but in “Poland” the minutes are hours, the hours are days, the days are weeks, the weeks are months, and the months are years. Think of it this way — if life passes by quickly while in freedom, then in prison it goes by extremely slow, consuming your desire to live, and if you do not find some sort of shield, then you inevitably end up destroyed.

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.