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HomeOscar's JourneyOscar Freedom Campaign in the News8th Letter by Oscar Lopez Rivera: "In the Face of Fear"

8th Letter by Oscar Lopez Rivera: “In the Face of Fear”

Published October 26, 2013

in-vietnam-webDear Karina,

We each decide our destiny and risk our souls according to the dictates of our conscience. Fear is always present. In each moment. Day and night. But we learn to use it to our advantage. In Vietnam, for example, it was fear that helped me be cautious, attentive to everything around me, to unusual movements and sounds. Thanks to instinct, it was months, whole years, that I survived, sniffing the air to be able to detect some danger.

When some new soldier arrived to our battalion and I saw him showing off his strength or bravery, I would keep observing him. I realized that that was his way of impressing others, hiding the panic he felt. Later, when it was his turn to enter into combat, one of two things would happen: he would remain paralyzed, or he would act rashly. In either case, I would pull him aside and explain that we all felt fear and that it was normal. That what was important was to recognize it, because not to take precautions or remain “frozen” under fire put his life at risk, as well ours.

I think that having been raised in the streets of Chicago was a good preparation for managing fear.

Years later, when I was heading for prison in Marion and I confronted for the first time what they call their “sensory deprivation program,” I had no idea nor what I would find, nor with whom I would live. They put me in a gang unit, with the most dangerous gangsters in the whole country. No one can honestly say that they don’t fear for their life in a place such as this. Incidentally, I recognized a pair of prisoners who had been with me in the prison in Leavenworth and we looked out for each other. They knew that I did not come from the world of gangs and that I was a political prisoner.

As soon as I learned that I would only have fifteen minutes per month to speak by telephone, which in practice were even less, since they would often cut the calls, or interrupt them, the punishment weighed me down. My mother was sick and elderly, she was the one who had kept me informed about my brothers and sisters and the rest of the family in Puerto Rico. The most painful was not being able to talk with my daughter, who was then a child. Since she barely knew me, she related little to me over the phone. When I had visits, they kept me from having physical contact with my family. I even remember the first time my mother visited me, your great-grandmother, who broke out in tears when she saw me shackled on the other side of the glass. I told her then that she had to be strong and contain her tears so as not to let the jailers know that this program had affected the whole family. From then on, when she visited me, I saw her press her lips together and contain her tears. She did not let one more tear fall in my presence. She was a brave Puerto Rican woman.

Unlike the prison in Leavenworth, in Marion they monitored or intercepted all the correspondence and reading material that I received. Sometimes, it would take weeks or months until they delivered my letters, magazines, or newspapers. They would give everything to me all in one day, and the next day they would come into my cell to inspect it and confiscate what they called “an excess of paper,” many things which I still had not had time to read.

Finally it occurred to me how to save the newspapers — passing them out, when they were first delivered to me, to the other prisoners, who bit by bit gave them back to me. The papers contained old news, but I read them all just the same.

You always have to read, Karina; reading serves to abate fear. I will discuss how to stave off loneliness some other day.

In resistance and struggle, your grandfather,

Oscar López Rivera

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