[Ppnews] A Prison Behind a Glass Window

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 8 12:21:49 EDT 2010


A Prison Behind a Glass Window

By <http://gozamos.com/author/xavi/>Xavier "Xavi" 
Luis Burgos on <http://gozamos.com/2010/04/>April 1, 2010

Passing Western Avenue and entering through a 
humongous steel Puerto Rican flag, marking the 
entrance to Paseo Boricua and Humboldt Park, what 
one sees is totally dependent on who you are talking to.

Some see a ghetto. Others see a strong community. 
And there are those who listen to their iPods and 
stay clueless. What I guarantee most do not 
expect to find as they pass old men wearing well 
pressed guayaberas, is a window-front prison cell with volunteer prisoners.

In 2006, <http://boricuahumanrights.org/>National 
Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN) thought of 
an idea to bring the issue of the Puerto Rican 
Political Prisoners to the forefront of the 
community’s and city’s consciousness. The 
organization, which focuses on issues on human 
rights in the Puerto Rican community in the U.S. 
and on the island, decided on a new type of 
performance art that would engage residents, 
activists, and of course the federal government. 
At that time one of the two political prisoners, 
Oscar López Rivera, was completing 25 years in 
jail. So, NBHRN built a mock cell at the 
window-front of the Café Teatro Batey Urbano 
youth space, exactly 6 feet by 9 feet, with 
prison bars, a bed, and a toilet. For 25 days 
straight a volunteer stayed imprisoned for 24 
hours with only books, paper, and pen to pass the 
time. The event even reached the pages of the Chicago Tribune.

“The response was overwhelming,” says NBHRN 
National Coordinator Michelle Morales, 34. “From 
the media [to the] community and it was positive! 
We decided to revisit it this year for the 30 
years of incarceration of [political prisoner] 
Carlos Alberto Torres.” Now, four years later as 
one walks down Division Street, white-shirt 
prisoners can be viewed again imprisoned behind glass.

On one of my visits to the cell, I met a young 
woman sitting solemnly on the bed who was very 
much proud of her contribution. When first 
hearing about the prison cell project, Julia 
Montañez, 17, thought “I wish I could do that. I 
want to be part of this movement to free the 
political prisoners.” When asked what her family 
thinks about her doing this, she said “They 
support this and visited me. They support the 
movement also. We’re a very politically aware family.”

Although all this began in Chicago, it is 
spreading throughout the country. “I’ve been 
involved [in NBHRN] for 8 years and this is the 
first time I see the campaign in an upswing. 
We’ve developed new chapters in Detroit, New York 
City, and New England,” says Morales. New York 
City is also conducting a similar prison cell 
project in the El Barrio/East Harlem community.

On April 3 the last volunteer prisoner will be 
released from the mock cell and a large event is 
planned for this. That date was chosen because it 
marks the 30th anniversary of the capture of 
Alberto Torres alongside 10 other political 
prisoners. After decades of activism and a 
swelling movement, all were released by 
presidential clemency in 1999 except López Rivera 
and Haydee Beltrán (who was released last year). 
It is also the birthday of the last volunteer 
prisoner, who at one time was a real political prisoner in federal prisons.

Ricardo Jiménez, 53, was 23-years-old when he was 
captured by the police in Evanston, Illinois in 
1980. “Based on international law colonialism is 
a crime against humanity. We were part of a 
national liberation struggle for Puerto Rico,” 
says Jiménez in a strong tone, stating what was 
his crime. The 11 who were captured in 1980 were 
sentenced with a peculiar crime called seditious 
conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. 
Though, they were not charged with any particular 
violent crime. For this, the group received 
sentences ranging from 55-105 years. Jiménez was sentenced to 98 years.

Now Jiménez spends his time ensuring that his two 
imprisoned compañeros get released just as he 
was. “We must bring them home,” he says with 
determination. He recently traveled through the 
East Coast with the NBHRN sponsored play “Crime 
Against Humanity,” visiting the multiple NBHRN 
chapters, speaking at community centers and 
universities. The play, which offers first hand 
accounts of the suffering the political prisoners 
experienced while in incarcerated, is co-authored 
by former political prisoner, Luis Rosa, who will 
be attending the April 3 event.

When asked what she would say to Oscar López 
Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres if they were 
released, Julia Montañez paused and thought 
carefully for a moment, and with a smile uttered, “I’d say, ‘We did it!’”

*If you’d like to see the cell project and its 
volunteer prisoners for yourself, it is located 
at the Café Teatro Batey Urbano, 2620 W. Division 
St (by Rockwell St.). The culminating event will 
be at the same location on April 3 from 6-9 PM.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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