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No Visits until Further Notice
Letter to the families of the Cuban Five
By Alicia Jrapko, from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5
On Saturday December 21, Bill Hackwell and I drove 700 kilometers down the rich Central Valley of California, then over a road through a mountain pass that took us to the high Mojave Desert decorated with the distinctive Joshua trees with a view of mountain ranges, some visibly covered in snowfall, backed by an intense blue sky pink sky coinciding with sunset.
We always take this endless trip to visit our friend Gerardo, with each trip we hope it will be our last because that would mean that had returned back to his homeland to be with Adriana, his friends and all his loved ones. But as long as he remains in prison, each kilometer of these trips are worthwhile because they lead to him.
Today on arrival at the prison we found a sign that said “There will be no visits until further notice.” We were not the only ones to share the surprise and disappointment of this note. A number of families there came from all over to visit their loved ones; mothers, wives, children, parents who came to share this day close to Christmas with their family member in prisoner.
We were touched by a woman , with tears in her eyes, who said: ” I cannot believe it … I’ve traveled all the way from New Jersey to visit and I have to go back without seeing him.”
We thought about everything this woman had to go through to get there; a six-hour flight from one end to the other end of the country, spending a night in a hotel, and figuring out transportation to this isolated place only to meet a cold poster pasted on the entrance to the prison: “There will be no visits until further notice ”
The first thing that came to mind was Gerardo, who continues to resist with all kinds of stoicism, facing invincible tests over his fifteen years of unjust imprisonment and his example inspires us. But we also thought about the lack of compassion of this system that collectively punishes all prisoners for the indiscipline or breach of any individual. Never taking into account, in the slightest, the sadness of these families who are now struggling to understand why they could not embrace their loved one behind bars.
A few miles away the frenzy of large retail chains in the race to increase profits during the holiday season (promoted by media hype night and day), and people buying and spending beyond their means was taking place. This contrasted so greatly to the scene that unfolded in the parking lot of the Victorville Penitentiary this morning. Isn’t Christmas supposed to be some kind of holiday of happiness?
Years have passed for all of us. It has more than 11 years since Bill and I began visiting Gerardo and while it has been a great honor and privilege for us and we never forget that there are millions of Cubans and thousands of caring friends who would like to have this privilege. We will not deny the feeling of sadness that came over us today after the missed visit. What are you going to say to the families of the five who over the years have had to go through all kinds of extreme difficulties and unjust experiences? Our experience today helps us appreciate and love them more.
As always happens to us after each visit, and even without being able to see Gerardo, we returned more convinced than ever of the need for more forces to continue fighting for the return of the Five to Cuba .
The struggle continues!