Fernando Ravsberg

The joy was immense when released prisoners reunited with their families and friends. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 27 — Just 24 hours after the announcement by Raul Castro — in the middle of the Christmas season — the government began releasing over 2,900 prisoners, many of whom are now in their homes.

We managed to talk with several of them during these hectic last 48 hours.

Finding a few of them wasn’t difficult. In almost every neighborhood there are freed prisoners; one only needs to ask around to a few residents to find out where they live.

At their homes, the festivities were reigning and everyone was willing to talk to us about this “Christmas gift.”

“After the Commander [Castro] spoke, they held a meeting in a facility where the director of Jails and Prisons told us that we were going home without our having to pay anymore debts to society,” explained Lazarus Crespo, who — though only 36 years old — has spent 19 of those in prison.

He recalled the authorities telling him, “If today we were going home, it’s because we deserve to be integrated back into society.” He added, “At that moment I felt tremendous joy, but I had to control myself so I wouldn’t have a heart attack.”

“This is something great. It has brought such happiness to so many mothers and families who were separated from their loved ones for so long,” Crespo said, adding that he hopes this continues to be done every year, as promised by President Raul Castro in his speech.

Re-integration into society

Lazarus pointed out that, “I’ve been in many prisons, even ‘El Combinado,’ but over the last two years in an encampment, where we were training, studying and learning new skills. Now the only thing left for me to do is to integrate into society and to try to never slip back.”

Several of those pardoned are now back on the street and reunited after sharing prison cells for years. Photo: Raquel Perez

He explained that Cuban prisons have various training courses and that participation in them is considered by authorities as points in favor of the prisoner because these increase their chances for social reintegration.

Agustin Valdes learned of the pardon on Christmas day, just hours before being released. “I was in the prison camp and they told us that we had to go to another one because they were going to free us. I felt tremendously excited. I’ve spent 26 years prison and my sentence was for 21 years more.”

“Not only can I integrate into society, but I have to, because I have my children and my family, which are there thanks to God,” explained Augustine, adding proudly: “I’m not starting from zero. In prison I became an electrician and a Class A maintenance worker.”

Augustine, who is thanking God after every sentence, now strolls down the street with his little son who never leaves his side.

It truly is a miracle, but it’s also the work of Cuban churches, which made this request of clemency to President Raul Castro.

And this won’t be the last, according to what the Cuban president said in his address to parliament. Releases will be made each year, even larger ones than this, after analyzing “[each inmate’s] conduct, the characteristics of the acts they committed, and the conditions of their family and their health.”

Family Excitement

Agustin Valdés thanks God for being out of prison and no longer separated from his infant son, which has been a stimulus for his reintegration. Photo: Raquel Perez

Jose Menendez del Monte went to prison for a minor cause, but once inside, things became “complicated,” so they extended the sentence to 58 years.

He couldn’t believe what was happening, and no wonder: “I was in prison for 26 years and I still had 32 more to go,” he explained.

“When I heard we were going to be freed, I felt an immense joy. I couldn’t believe it,” said Jose while also responding to the greetings of his neighbors.

He was driven from prison in a bus to his neighborhood, and from there he walked to his house.

“When I saw him standing at the door, I couldn’t believe it. The excitement was tremendous,” said his wife, Ana.

She commented, “It’s even more exciting given the date, because now we can spend the holidays together.”

“Reintegration won’t be difficult. I have my mother, my wife and my children. I’m also a history teacher – I studied that in prison. But I would love to be a cultural promoter, that’s another activity I learned there. I want to feel free and useful, and never go back to prison,” he insisted.


3 thoughts on “Cuba: Talking Outside of Prison

  • you damn out of your mind. Most of these people released was a compensation for harassing dissidents in prison.

  • This prisoner release is beautiful. Not all of those released will “reintegrate” successfully perhaps, but hopefully most will.

    In the US we have over two million persons in prison. Our socialist Cooperative Republic Movement hopes to win the people and take administration of the federal and other levels of government at some point in the reasonable future. (The first opportunity would be through the fall 2020 national elections.)

    If we are successful, one of our first acts will be to release over one million persons languishing unnecessarily and often innocently in the horrific prison system. (The nation’s drug laws of course would be greatly altered.)

    Review of all cases would be made, of course, just as has been done in Cuba, with first priority given to the victims of past and possible future crimes. Our projected process of mass amnesty is exampled and anticipated by this mass release in socialist Cuba.

  • I have heard that the Pope was going to visit Cuba.
    I hope that info is true.
    Perhaps the Pope will have enough clout to remove the US embargo of Cuba.
    I sure hope so.
    My email address is [email protected].

    Robert Cowdery
    Spokane, WA

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