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The Dangers and Degradations of Daily Prison Life
We wait with a Latina woman and two of her kids until the prison guard at the entrance desk calls our number. We pass through the X-ray machine and get our wrists stamped. Then we sit and stare at a religious display in the show case – church-state separation?— where visitors wait before electronic door #1 gets opened from an indoor control system nearby.
When we enter the prison’s visiting room, a red headed prison guard stares at Saul’s trousers, then at his face and says “You can’t come in here, dressed like that.”
Huh? Saul sagely replies.
“Tan trousers and gray sweat shirts, forbidden. Inmates dress like that.”
A guard accompanies Saul back to the entrance building and gives him directions to the nearest Target, the only store within miles, and just off the highway, he says, where he can buy a new pair of trousers.
Saul accomplishes his costume change, returns to the US Maximum Security Penitentiary in Victorville, California and joins a new waiting crowd of women and children, all black or Latino, waiting for an hour while the prisoners get counted.
Back through X-ray, the invisible stamp placed on Saul’s wrist gets read by a hand-held stamp reader and he re-entered the visitor’s room, embraces Gerardo and sits with him and Danny to discuss the legal case of the Five Cubans (Gerardo, Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino and Rene Gonzalez (on parole and restricted to south Florida), who infiltrated violent exile groups in Miami to stop the campaign of bombing Cuban hotels. The FBI arrested the Five in 1998 and charged them with serious offenses, Gerardo with conspiracy to commit espionage and aiding and abetting murder.
An intimidated jury – the media photographed their license plates, thereby making them identifiable — convicted them and Judge Joan Lenard imposed very harsh sentences, later diminished by an appeals court, except for Gerardo’s two life sentences.
Gerardo describes the dangers of daily life in prison, like the routine fights between inmates, some resulting in death, where one inmate shanks the other; or an inmate stabbed a prison guard in the eye with a pen.
We scan the room, seeing prisoners benignly meeting and talking with family members, or playing cards with girl friends. Four guards watch diligently from an elevated perch.
We discuss with Gerardo the motion filed by Martin Garbus, his attorney, for his latest appeal. Garbus found documents about how “the government attempted to influence the trial by paying journalists to write for the Miami Herald, and El Nuevo Herald, and put on local radio and TV materials that the government intended for use to influence the community and the jury to return a judgment of conviction against the defendants.”
The courts did not know about these efforts, nor did the defense counsel. The judge tried to insulate the jury from outside influences, but according to Garbus “neither she nor anyone else other than the government had any idea of the massive amounts of energy, money and time that was being used to influence this jury.
In the United States government is not allowed to pay money for what is called domestic propaganda. If the government wants to take a political position it’s absolutely entitled to do it. What they can’t do is hire somebody, not tell the American listening audience who that person is being paid by, and not tell the American listening audience that the person who is articulating a position is articulating a government position. That violates the law.” And, Garbus concluded, the propaganda paid for by the US government polluted public opinion. Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba’s Parliamentary President called this funding of propagandists during a trial a “conspiracy of the Government with the local Miami media to convict the accused beforehand and make a fair trial impossible. The substance of this conspiracy was using that media to unleash a propaganda campaign of unprecedented hatred and hostility. For that they employed a considerable number of “journalists” — in reality, undercover Government agents — who published articles and commentaries that were repeated day and night, producing a real storm of misinformation.”
Gerardo nibbles on chips we bought from the prison vending machines and reminds us that we won’t see middle class people “in here, those who can afford high paid lawyers.”
He hopes Garbus’ latest habeas corpus writ convinces an appeals court to declare the trial unjust and demand a new trial or acquittal. But he cannot plan his life around it, or around getting early release from two life sentences. His wife, Adriana, cannot visit him because the US government denies her visa requests. She has recently been proposed as a delegate for Cuba’s Parliament.
Gerardo bears his deprivations with stoic discipline. He maintains his regime inside this unhealthy place, doing exercise, reading, answering letters and drawing cartoons. He watches the news and reads the NY Times, which, like all his mail, get opened and read by special prison censors.
Maybe President Obama might agree to Cuba’s proposal to exchange – independent humanitarian gestures – the Cuban 5 for Alan Gross, the contract agent who worked for AID and tried to set up non-trackable satellite systems inside Cuba as part of an effort to subvert its government. Gross was convicted and sentenced to 15 years by a Cuban court.
For a You tube video with Danny Glover and Peter Coyote taken from the trial transcript go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQX7MDL8IMQ&feature=youtu.be
Danny Glover is an activist and actor.
Saul Landau’s FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP a available on dvd from cinemalibrestudio.com.