By Samuel Vega
Crime Against Humanity actor Samuel Vega was recently able to visit Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera. The play is based on a series of extensive interviews with the Puerto Rican political prisoners excarcerated by President Clinton in 1999. What follows is a short reflection.
I get to the prison. As I walk toward the entrance guards from the watchtower make sure nothing looks suspicious. All the while I hope that nothing stops this historical visit from taking place—after all, it took 4 hours to get there. We get in. Registering and metal detection takes 10 minutes. It’s 10:05 A.M. When we got into the visiting room I noticed the clock was thirty minutes ahead marking 10:35 A.M. Apparently this is done to shorten people’s visits. We took a seat. As I looked around the visiting room, Black and Latino men sharing smiles with their visiting families filled the room. The little girls wrestling with their father dressed in his khaki uniform was hard to bear.
Doors opened and out came Oscar. Just like in the pictures except he might have dyed his hair grey. I don’t know if I was seeing things but Oscar had a little limp when he walked, a cool limp. That caught me off guard. Oscar’s coolness didn’t end there. I introduced myself and we began talking about the play, Crime Against Humanity. He laughed when I told him I recited his monologue because we look nothing alike. He was amazed to hear that the shows have been so successful that unfortunately people have had to stand up because they are so packed. He was glad that people are learning about his story through theater.
I asked about his life. Oscar recalled the days when he would go out dancing, making sure he dressed to impress, wearing the finest button ups and matching dress shoes. Then he was drafted to Vietnam. He remembered the training—being instructed to shoot dummies with sweat pants and straw hats. I asked if Vietnam changed the person he was. He said that his value for human life changed. When he came back to Humboldt Park heroin addicts roamed the streets and lack of jobs ruined families. Oscar’s interest in preserving his community intensified. The stunts he and his friends would pull to get jobs for people were hilarious. For example, when Clemente and St. Mary’s hospital were being built, they would stall construction to negotiate with developers to so that community residents could work. They would stall construction by buying people’s junk cars and chaining them down to the empty lots. It’s funny to hear him tell the story. You can really tell he enjoyed those times. He stressed the importance of having fun. He was pleased to hear all the fun we have at Batey Urbano and our trips to New York and Washington D.C.
After several hours of getting to know Oscar and hearing him joke around with us, visiting hours were just about over. You want to just take Oscar with you but you can’t. It was tough to just leave and go back to wondering what he is doing at this moment. For three hours I knew what he was doing. He was sitting down talking to me and telling me his life story as he sipped on a cup of coffee.