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“Nosotros No Tenemos Armas Para Echar A Pique Sus Fuerzas Navales,
Pero Tenemos el Arma de Echar a Pique Su Prestigio en El Mundo.” Albizu 1930

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11th letter by Oscar López Rivera: “Prayer Between the Wires”

olr-marion-bw-webBy Oscar López Rivera / imprisoned 32 years

Dear Karina,

Have you read about the case of George Stinney, a 14-year-old boy who died in the electric chair, accused of committing a crime that it seems that he did not commit? He was the youngest person to receive the death penalty in the US. This took place in 1944, and now a new movement has sprung up that is interested in re-opening the case.

Stinney, who was short and skinny, had to have a book put under him because he wasn’t tall enough for the electric chair, which was built for killing men. This made me remember a boy I met during my first years in the prison at Marion. He was eighteen years old and had been convicted of robbing a bank, at knifepoint, for $265. Through the other prisoners, I knew that he had family problems and that when he committed the crime, he was trying to get the attention of his father, who had abandoned their home. The judge had given him a light sentence and ordered that he be placed in an institution for wayward youth. And so he was. But it seems that he had various clashes with the prison guards, ended up hitting one of them, and was soon transferred to another installation that lacked any type of rehabilitation program.

His situation went from bad to worse, and he returned to confront the prison staff again, especially a Puerto Rican captain who, knowing that the boy had already struck another guard, made his life impossible.

Finally, labeling him as incorrigible, they transferred him to Marion. He ended up in the same unit where I was, and one day when i saw him depressed, I gave him pencil and paper and I realized that he was could draw very well. One just had to be patient and let him express himself.

Despite this, he continued showing signs of disequilibrium. Every now and then he told me that “God” had spoken in his head and had ordered him to do this or that. I knew that something was going wrong, but I encouraged him to read, continue drawing, and to keep calm. They gave him no type of psychological help or medication.

Then one day he came to tell me that “God” had ordered him to leave the prison. I asked him not to commit this insanity; that it was good that he pray and read the Bible, but he had to focus on his aspirations and his talent for drawing.

The next day, while we were on the patio, there was a great commotion and we saw that the boy had tried to jump over a gate. He did it so quickly that neither we, nor the guard in the watchtower closest to him, realized it. From another tower they warned that there was a man who had tried to escape, and we all looked up and we could make out his form high up, in the razor wire, kneeling and with his hands together, as if her were praying. I remember and it breaks my heart. I noted that his uniform gradually took on another color, the red of blood.

They ordered us to leave the patio and we all got into our cells. I know that the guards took some fifteen minutes to reach the place where the boy was. An hour later I heard on the radio the news was that they had just frustrated an escape attempt in Marion.

I never found out how that youth ended up. One of the guards told me that, when they were able to get him down, his whole body was covered with wounds. Why had they sent him to such a prison, with men who were much older, some of whom had committed horrible crimes? The judge had recommended that he be sent to a place where they could help him, and on the contrary, he ended up in that hellhole, the most ruthless gulag of them all.

In that epoch, when we were still reeling from that episode, knowing that the newspapers were commenting about it, one of the prisoners approached me and told me that it was one thing to read and hear about the prison in Marion, and another very different thing to experience the reality that we were living there

You, Karina, before every reality, keep strong.

In resistance and struggle, your grandfather,

Oscar López Rivera

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Read "Between Torture and Resistance"

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