Life, without warning, is full of surprises and involves stories that we can almost not even imagine. But we as human beings take advantage of the blessings that God gave us, a trait that puts us at the top of the animal kingdom. But if we look harder at life, it’s easy to on our guard.
The following is a true story and one I am reasonable sure does not differ all that much from the stories of my brothers from the Group of 75. It’s a story about that one day when everything changes, about being happy and free and not thinking about even the possibility of being jailed for such crimes that in other civilized worlds do not exist.
Hundreds of miles from our homes, in jail cells, reduced to a state one could barely call human. In these long 6 years and 3 months I have seen almost everything. From the first dawn of the day I entered this dark dank cell at Agüica, in Matanzas, the so-called Athens of Cuba, I promised myself I would tell as much as I could about the lives of prisoners, stories unknown even to our own people.
Due to ferocious censorship imposed but the hard-line Communist Party, the story I tell is sad and harsh, one that cold easily have come straight out of the Hollywood silver screen, filled with violence, coarse language and definitely rated R.
Yosvany Ceballo Oliva was born in the province of Ciego de Ávila. By his own admission knowing of course what he knows now of his life, he would rather have died in the moment the dr delivered him. Ceballito, as he was later called, came into the world on the 21st of April, 1980, the same year as the mass exodus from the port of Mariel, in Havana.
He soon found himself in the clutches of the real world. At only 7 years of age, his mother’s flame was extinguished and his father, having never looked after him, was a stranger. He remained therefore an orphan, one abandoned to the mercy of juvenile delinquency. There was little or nothing his grandmother could do.
When he was 10, he joined a school of conduct in Ciego de Ávila known for its violent ways. Int his case, it is true what they say about the cure being worse than the disease itself. This is where he joined the ranks of true crime. One cold evening in February, eager to smoke and drink rum, he decided to rob a provisions warehouse in his neighborhood.
Once inside, with careful consideration, he took only bottle of Palmas rum and one carton of Popular cigarettes. When Ceballito began almost immediately to feel the affects of the alcohol, he decided to take a sack and fill it with a couple of bottles of liquor, several cartons of cigarettes, small containers of chicken broth, some spices and seasonings, a package of cookies and some sugar.
He returned home where he stashed his stolen goods from his grandmother. Later when he was caught, due to the thoughtlessness of this crime, the punishment was much more severe than usual. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. He was sent to Canaleta Prison though he was only 16 years old. At the height of immaturity, he has already lost his freedom.
Being employed at a farm during his incarceration, he escaped for 8 hours to go and visit his grandmother, probably the only person on earth who loved him. For this ephemeral absence, he had a year and half added on to the end of his sentence. Ceballito, who now shakes continuously and moves spasmodically as if he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and who has gone years without seeing his daughter, was scarcely a teenager himself then.
He feels weary and indebted to his grandmother. He’s takes way too many drugs. He’s addicted to narcotics, just like so many others here in this island prison. Also, he suffers from chronic Asthma.
He tells me that Maria, his grandmother, had filed an appeal with the court of Ciego de Ávila, but the appeal has been turned down. Though both had hope that with the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl and believing that Raúl was more benevolent than his brother, their hopes were dashed.
But we can only hope that his story will have a happy ending. Ceballito continues on in his story by telling about a time when he threw a pot of wheat germ on a civil servant of the minister of the interior as a prank, but when he saw the situation escalating he decided to assault the man’s car.
He needed so many blood transfusions after the mighty beating he received from the prison guards. This merciless attack is indelibly marked on him forever. As he shows the enormous scars left on his entire body to me I count more than 20.
It is a hellish drama. To the point that he was tied up all day and night to the famous chair of punishment, located in the isolation section of the prison. This ‘genius’ was the work of the director of the jail, Major Ricardo Díaz Perez, chief of rehabilitation in Canaleta in those days.
Ceballito longs every day for his conditional release to be able to re-enter society, a world he hasn’t been a part of for more than a decade. He says he wants to be able to work, to help his grandmother and to dote upon his daughter the love she deserves.
He looks up to the sky through the cell bars, as night falls over our little piece of Earth and he even adds that he wishes he had the opportunity to go to the US to work and send even more money to his grandmother and to his daughter, whom he barely knows.
Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison