Notes from Captivity VIII: First Family Visit

By Pablo Pacheco:

Notes from Captivity VIII

First Family Visit

I had spent several days without any news of Oleivys and Jimmy.  My life was consumed by the uncertainty of not knowing how my loved ones were doing.  I could not gather the nerve to write to my wife, and I had little to tell her.

On a Thursday, without prior notice, a guard approached my cell and informed me that I should get ready for a visit.  My first thought was that the sky had just fallen.

I was unshaven and my hair was long, for I had not had a haircut since I was imprisoned.  My family visit would be the perfect moment to change my appearance, and so I did.  When I told the guard of my decision, he informed me that, according to the punishment rules of “Poland,” shaving and cutting one’s hair was only done by a designated prisoner.  I could not comprehend such extremism but I did not waste any time in trying to analyze the situation.  I just wanted to see my loved ones.

After the “designated prisoner” shaved my head and my face with an electric razor, an official from Interior told me that I must take off all my clothes, including my underwear.  I did so with a mixture of pain and embarrassment, for my privacy was being violated.  After they meticulously searched through all my belongings I was allowed to finally go out and see my family.  Later, when I returned from the family visit, other prisoners told me that the authorities always search for belongings in that same manner to prevent any written denouncements from leaving the jail to the outside world.

I asked the guard who was leading me to the office where my family was to please take off my shackles, for I did not want my son, Jimmy, to see me that way.  And I also did not want the boy to have to ask me any questions which would require me coming up with lies for answers.  His response was, “I follow orders, inmate.  I hope you understand this, but I can’t do what you’re asking me to do.”  It was the first time my son saw me handcuffed.

All the hugs and kisses were accompanied by unwanted, but inevitable, tears which spilled out from the soul.  My child, oblivious to reality, asked me, “Dad, why do they put those things around your hands?”

“My son, I’m playing a game of cops and robbers.  It’s only a game,” was the response I could come up with.

He wanted to know when I would be done with “this school..  With a knot in my throat I had to tell him that I was not sure.  With a voice full of innocence he told me, “I’m behaving and I’m eating all my food.”  I took him into my arms because I did not want him to see me crying.

After ten minutes, Jimmy fell asleep in my arms.  Oleivys then told me that he had woken up at 4 am for the long trip and had not shut his eyes for one second to catch some sleep.  My family had traveled 400 km to come see me.  Having my son asleep in my arms made me feel joy and torment at the same time, so much so that I burst into tears.  Oleivys, my brother Alexey, and I hugged each other in silence.  I can’t remember how long we were like that, crying.

My wife was the one who snapped out of the dramatic scene and said, “We only have 30 minutes, a guard informed me.”

“What?! Thirty minutes after traveling so many kilometers?” I cried desperately.

“Don’t worry, love, Zamora, the father-in-law of your brother is waiting for us outside,” a lively Oleivys said.

“They’re SOBs,” I said sadly.

Oleivys brought me up-to-date on recent events within and outside the island. The unfavorable campaign of the Cuban government after our arrests and summary trials. The sentences imposed on us ranging from 6 to 28 years. Amnesty International declaring us “Prisoners of Conscience” after the sentences.

Alexey and Oleivys were still worried about my health. In barely two months I’d lost 35 pounds. Seeing my physical and emotional state my wife requested a meeting with State Security officials in Ciego de Ávila but the political police there rejected all responsibility and attributed it to the direction of Aguica.

Before we parted, Captain Peñate, an official from State Security met with us. He said family visits wold only be every three months, and only two hours long; two adult relatives and the children. Conjugal visits would be every five months for three hours, and only 30 pounds of raw food would be allowed. We were forbidden visits from friends or our companions in the struggle. We understood from the first moment that the objective was to destroy our morale, mercilessly. My loved ones and I said goodbye with tears and hugs.

Or cause gave us a moral strength that enabled us to face this difficult situation. We appealed to the greatest optimism and created a mechanism for us to support each other. Our families did the same thing. Every six months we prepared ourselves body and soul to be released. I soon came to the conclusion that the longer they kept us in prison, the more the dictatorship weakened.

The first letter I received from my partner was balm of joy mixed with a certain pain. She told me that when they left the prison our son slept in the arms of my brother Ale, and when he opened his eyes he confused him with me because of the physical similarity between us. His child’s innocence led him to ask, “Papá, we’re already going home? That’s great!”

Ale, his heart filled with sorrow, said no, he was his uncle and that his father had stayed at the school. The adults riding in the car groaned silently, weeping from their souls on hearing the innocent words of a boy of four. We parted with no justifiable reason and no one with an ounce of justice and dignity had felt such evil.

I was never able to finish reading that letter, it was too painful. Perhaps one day I will, by the grace of God and knowing that the cause of all that is now in the past.