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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

HomeOscar's JourneyOscar Freedom Campaign in the News1st Letter by Oscar Lopez Rivera: "The Hands on the Glass"

1st Letter by Oscar Lopez Rivera: “The Hands on the [Prison] Glass”

Manos-de-cristal-web-thumbnailDear Karina,

It hasn’t been easy to choose a title for these letters that I am planning to send you periodically from prison.

Writing to you, whose childhood and adolescence I have already irretrievably lost, I feel that i am speaking to thousands of young Puerto Ricans, for whom my name means almost nothing.

I am a 70-year-old fighter. I have been imprisoned for 32 years. I will not elaborate on the political reasons that brought me to this confinement, because others have already done so. I only want to reiterate that above all else, I respect life, and that I have not hurt any human being, and never would.

The first time I saw you, in the summer of 1991, at the prison in Marion, Illinois, where I was held at the time, it was through a glass. You were in your mother’s arms, and moved your eyes with curiosity. But there was little to see. The cubicle where the visits were held was very narrow, and there was a telephone on each side so that we could talk. Clarisa, your mother, lifted hers and asked me to say something to you. It was the first time that you heard my voice and i could see your reaction, the strangeness that it caused you to communicate with this man who had begun to love you, but who could not kiss you, nor whisper in your ear the grandfather’s promises that he wanted to make to you.

They let Clarisa bring in three diapers and some bottles of milk in her bag. In the visiting area, both on the family’s side and on the prisoners’, there were cameras that recorded all of our movements, but, ironically, I could never take a photo of my daughter and granddaughter. Three or four guards always escorted me, and I was chained by my feet. I was the only prisoner who was guarded so heavily in the visitors’ area.

It was difficult to entertain you while you were in the visiting cubicle, so to distract you and help your mother, who was trying to spend the longest possible time with me, we invented a peculiar game: you would put your small infant hands on the glass, and I would also put mine on it, so that the four would coincide and we could “touch.” The hands would jump, and chase each other, and behave like spiders wrapped in the invisible threads of love. We could not touch – the glass prevented us – but a special language emerged between you and me – between your tender hands, Karina, and my old ones, pale from confinement, wanting to be able fly, but contented and humbled when you caressed them.

Throughout the years we used that dance of the hands to communicate with each other. Time passed and you grew up. I wasn’t permitted physical contact with my family, so that during the years that I was held in Marion, I couldn’t kiss you, hug you, or feel the touch or scent of your hair. Nor of your mother, who bade me farewell with tears, although I knew how to contain my own.

One day, finally, they transferred me to the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. There they told me that I could receive visits and have physical contact with my loved ones. Your mother arrived with you and my niece Wanda. You, Karina, were only seven. My daughter and niece embraced me. But you stood in front of me, raised your hands, and stuck them on an imaginary glass, waiting for me to do the same. At your tender age, after so many years of enduring this barrier, you thought that we should continue the game. Your mother told you: “Now you can touch your grandfather,” and you ran to embrace me, and we touched for the first time.

That glass, despite everything, continues being our accomplice. Through it, on these pages, I will continue relating my memories and current stories, to you, my longed-for granddaughter.

With much, much love, in resistance and struggle….

Oscar López Rivera

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