Where One Learns Not to Say ‘I Love You’

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Foto: Caridad

Maritza is a woman who has lived her life with great intensity. At sixteen she was already dating a man who was over thirty, and no one asked why a man so much older.

Those who should have questioned her different interests preferred to see the gold chains or the riding around on a motorcycle and showing off around town.

They breathed a sigh of relief that things weren’t worse: Maritza also liked women. This guy from nowhere was better than dealing with the shame of homosexuality.

Three years later they had a child but she decided it was time to “take off the load.” She realized that she was making a big mistake in her life by not assuming her sexuality.

Since the only reason she stayed with him was economic dependence, she had to muster the courage to support herself, even if that meant fewer luxuries and more sacrifice.

But the way out wasn’t that simple.

Face to face, and perhaps not in the gentlest way, she told him that she didn’t want to continue the relationship. And her husband -in love or out of spite or himself hurt-, began to mistreat her and try to hurt her with blackmail by telling everyone that “Maritza’s a lezzie.”

Maritza told me that she sought help but couldn’t find any.  She confronted the guy and ended up stabbing him with a knife.  She got a seven year sentence but was out in three on good behavior. In prison she learned to always be on the lookout, not to trust just anybody and not to say “I love you.”

Though she “felt free by finally being far from Wilfredo,” in a few months she realized that it wasn’t going to be easy being a lesbian behind bars either.

“Don’t think it’s a piece of cake,” she told me.  “They don’t even let you brush up against another inmate, and if they find out what you are then they isolate you.  You have to come up with all kinds of schemes, from paying the jailers to prostituting yourself with other women, who, although they’re prisoners just like you, have more influence based on the time they’ve been there, or who knows why.

“It’s true that you have certain things guaranteed, but it’s hard, my sister.  Imagine yourself having to fall in love almost by remote control.  Everything is very sexual, and when the time comes you have to be very quick, nothing but the act itself.”  Unless you grow spurs.”

“If you don’t have a guy that you go to bed with on the outside who can come in for a pabellon (a conjugal visit), then you have to learn how to deal with the rules inside. And if you had a ‘jevita’ (a girlfriend) on the outside, then you better forget thinking any more about being ‘in the raw’ with her till you get out, assuming she doesn’t find somebody else she likes more or gets married or leaves the country.  Because prison love life for someone like you doesn’t and won’t exist.”

The stories are hard. Maritza told me that she developed a strong friendship with a recent arrival with a history much like her own.

“Only friendship. I swear there wasn’t anything sexual between us.  The thing is, she reminded me a little of myself when I arrived and hadn’t yet become the woman I am now.  However word spread that we had a relationship. They called me in and seeing how I was about to leave, the words from the warden were clear: ‘Her or my pass, you stop talking to her now and everything is resolved’.”

Maritza became hardened, like she’d learned to, and made a clean break.  She later found out it destroyed her friend.

This is another point that needs to be addressed: The rights of lesbians in prison.

Maritza is now thirty-five and doesn’t regret the life she has led.  When she went back out on the street, despite the “nightmares that never go away,” she rejoined society and works just like any other Cuban.  The only thing is she hasn’t been able to assume her sexuality.