Some friends asked me last week in a meeting on non-violence what should they do to survive an unconscionable and uncomfortable imprisonment. I am not sure for certain, but when I shared the question with an experienced opponent from the eastern part of the island, it turns out that whenever we go out of the house, we put almost the same things in our backpacks.
What follows is an inexact list, since each person knows what he needs for the road, what is heavier or less so, and what things would be superfluous based upon his survival capacity.
I always carry a towel (small so that it takes up less space, 3 feet by 18 inches). A piece of soap, used so that it wouldn’t tempt my captors. Some toothpaste (half a tube), a tooth-brush, a bottle of toilet water (there is nothing like cheap cologne to rub over yourself after a shower in the ‘turkish bath’*.
I never leave without the book “Breakfast of champions,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. When I begin to worry (there is never a time in a cell in which one does not think it might be the last and final time) I read myself pair of vignettes and it raises my spirits a hundredfold.
Two pairs of underpants so I can change them every other day, a few pair of socks to cover my feet, because the jails are notoriously cold. All this together in a knapsack, bag or backpack does not weigh two pounds. The girls have told me that they always carry sanitary pads even if their menstrual period hasn’t started. In the latest blow on February 3 in Camagüey, a few of our sisters began to bleed profusely on account of the stress and only one of them was prepared for the occasion.
I have talked to a few people who prefer to walk around naked and throw their clothing in the hallway of the police headquarters as a sign of protest. Gabriel Díaz Sánchez and Yoandris Montoya of Avila, of the Youth Movement of Bayamo, remain naked and they begin a long session of naked-bodybuilding that, due to their enormous corpulence, bothers the common prisoners until the police leave them alone in a cell where they sleep like logs until they are freed.
Contact with the other prisoners is very gratifying. Raudel Ávila Lozada, a hothead of the Political Prison “Pedro Luis Boitel” confesses that he takes advantage of those very long days to teach the ABC’s of political dissidence to the common criminals, to explain to them their rights, who the political prisoners are and why they are in jail. I am a witness that this is fruitful. I know young people who have joined the opposition movement after meeting some activist in a police headquarters.
Oh, and what they should never lack, is ‘money, moolah, dough.’ Money makes it possible to get someone to bring fresh food, since there is almost always a good soul who will bring you the provisions you request.
Every morning or evening the guards will bring you your belongings for an hour, so you can tidy up and look like a happy man, able to combat the sharpest spears of the most outrageous penal investigation.
(This photo was taken in Las Tunas when a group of young men from other provinces arrived. The next day they were all detained in Camagüey when they marched in the streets in support of the hunger strike of Zapata Tamayo)
*The Turkish bath is the faucet of water for both washing and drinking, and only a foot from the bunks for sleeping (be they concrete or metal).
Translated by ricote