Notes from Captivity XV
“Vicissitudes of an Isolation Cell”
by Pablo Pacheco Avila
My time behind the bars taught me to value the characteristics of each common prisoner, avoiding any sort of unnecessary confrontations. Imprisonment actually teaches you a great deal, but you have to learn quickly in order to survive through so much human misery.
One morning we did not receive the water that was supposed to be supplied to us by our jailers. Almost instantly, we political prisoners began to protest because we barely had enough water to drink or to bathe ourselves. The response from the guards was simple: “the turbines are broken and there are repair trucks on their way with more pipes to supply water for the prison”. And that’s how it occurred.
At mid-morning I received a note from a common prisoner whose last name was Garcia. In the letter he told me that the re-educator, Yosbany Gainza, had gone by his cell in an attempt to find out more about his good relations with the political prisoners within the jail. Garcia’s response was that he did so because he sympathized with their cause. A few days later, he disappeared.
When lunchtime came around, they served us white rice, “crazy broth” (boiled water, one viand, some sort of pasta, and a meat bone with a bad odor), quimbombo, guava jam, milled corn flour, and a plate of soy pasta which was an insulting main dish. It had been days since I had seen some sausages which my wife left me during a family visit, which they served along with my other food. I had a terrible surprise when I opened the container they had been kept in. The foul smell invaded the surroundings of my dungeon and I had realized that they had gone rotten.
When I told my brothers-in-cause about what had happened with the sausages, they each sent some of the sausages they had left. They knew that I barely ate any food from the prison, and because of this I had lost a great amount of weight, which proved to be disastrous for my health. With time, I was diagnosed with a kidney infection, and on more than one occasion the political police suggested I undergo surgery. But I always refused this option based on the suggestions of my wife.
Three years later, when I was transferred to the Morón Prison, a Urologist gave me a diet designed to increase my weight. He also gave me a belt for my pelvic region which would keep my kidney from dropping any lower and also gave me some preventive medication. Fortunately, I was able to recuperate.
When night fell and I saw that I had not received any mail from my loved ones, I realized that the day had been one of those not worth remembering. The mind gets deteriorated when one is kept in an isolation cell, and even the most minimal detail can push you into a vicious cycle which can negatively influence your relationship with others. Without noticing it, you become psychologically damaged. The dictatorship knows this, hence their decision to keep us isolated from the rest of the jail population for more than 16 months.
Before going to sleep that night, an operations guard from the prison, with the last name Ortiz, swung by “The Polish” to carry out the nightly prisoner count.
When I brought up the water issues he responded, “I also have not been able to shower. But tomorrow will be another day”.
I simply could not swallow such sarcasm so I shouted back at him, “you are the perfect example of cynicism, and one day you will pay for all the abuses you’ve inflicted on others”.
“Pacheco, I’m not in the mood for you today,” came his response.
I did not shower that night, but thanks to other prisoners who sent me some of their own water, I was able to quench my thirst and put together a refreshing drink before going to sleep. The next morning, the water turbines were once again working and the water was finally getting to us again. The irregularity with this precious liquid happened during various occasions. Those of us who had been held captive in “The Polish” were always convinced that this was just another method utilized to torture us and destabilize us.