Monday, June 8, 2015

4/14 and 4/15/86

4/14/86, Monday

Whew, what a scare! Sometime this morning between 12:30 and 1:00am, machine gun fire startled us awake. The rounds were going off nonstop for about half an hour. It sounded like a battle was happening somewhere in the town. Francie got up to check on the girls but they were all asleep. She came to my room and we sat quietly listening to the gun fire. Francie thought the Contras might be trying to take control of the electricity tower, which seemed to be the direction from where the gun fire was coming. I asked Francie whether we should wake up the girls, but she said no, not unless we absolutely had to. She and I were dressed and between us we figured we could help the girls get into their jackets and shoes in a hurry if it came to it. Even after the gun fire stopped, Francie and I stayed up for about another hour, unable to calm down enough to go back to bed but eventually she insisted that we both try to get some sleep.

This morning I heard Francie talking to one of our neighbors about the sleepless night. I went out to join them when another neighbor walked by and overheard our conversation. She assured us that last night’s gun fire had not been a battle but a reenactment of the April insurrection that happened in 1979. Francie became a little angry, saying that they should have made sure everyone knew and I agree with her. Several other families hadn’t known and had also been frightened. Today, the Barricada (the local newspaper) came out with a big article on the anniversary of the battle. My friend and neighbor Freddy has his picture in the paper in one of the combat scenes. The mood in the neighborhood quickly shifted from anger at not knowing about last night’s battle reenactment to pride in having our neighbor Freddy featured in the newspaper.

 4/15/86, Tuesday

Last night, I went to the movies with Audrey and my little sister Adrianna. It was a terrible, scratchy print of a James Bond movie with Spanish subtitles. The print was so bad that I lost interest and fell asleep. When they woke me up at the end of the movie I realized that I’d been attacked by fleas. That’s what I get for wearing a skirt and forgetting my OFF! My legs were covered with itchy bug bites. When we got home from the movie, Adrianna came to my room to tuck me in. Not my blankets - it’s too hot for that - but she wanted to ensure that the mosquito netting was tucked in on all side so that nothing could fly in and bite me while I slept. She is so sweet.

La Chacara 

This morning we visited the Chacara Penitentiary. I was impressed with the conditions in the prison. Everything was very clean, the prisoners seemed healthy and the majority of them were engaged in productive work. The Chacara provides opportunity for the prisoners to become involved in the prison’s incentive program, whereby they earn credits through work and education. Most prisoners take advantage of the program. There are literacy classes for prisoners to attain functional literacy: levels 1, 2 and 3. If the prisoners master those levels, there are opportunities for them to attend outside schools by special permission, provided they have a history of good behavior. All prisoners who work receive a salary and they’re trained in marketable skills that will allow them to gain employment when they are released from prison. Conjugal visits and weekend passes home are part of the benefits that can be earned through the incentive program. There is no death penalty, the maximum sentence is thirty years.

Inmates at La Chacara
We were allowed to speak to and question prisoners freely, no one was listening in or censoring our questions or the prisoners’ responses. Overall, my impressions were positive. Even the prisoners agreed that they were treated well. A couple of the inmates were Contras and I honestly think they were just happy to be alive. Others who were awaiting trial pleaded their innocence to crimes they were accused of. I asked if they were allowed to criticize the government and they all answered no, not really. There are no legal impediments to criticizing the government but I was told that you could make enemies by doing it and that could be just as bad because they might then be accused of supporting the Contras. None of the inmates complained about the conditions in the Chacara, but a few complained about the courts and the fact that some had been held for over three months and were still awaiting trial. I do think that’s really bad but even in our own country the court system can be slow and we have no excuse, we are a lot richer than this country and we’re not in the middle of a war or facing an embargo.

Upon Reflection

I got the feeling that the prisoners were open with us, they seemed comfortable sharing their points of view without reservations. I don’t know if all the prisons in Nicaragua are functioning at this level but this one is something to be proud of. It seems like there is a strong desire to rehabilitate, not simply to punish, another example of the hopeful nature of the Sandinista government. Upon Reflection I knew when I visited the prison that I was in the middle of a very controlled situation meant to promote a positive image of the Sandinista prison system. Despite my hopeful, pro-Sandinista bias, the nearly universal response that criticism of the government could be dangerous was of concern to me. I believe that a country’s freedom can be gauged by the extent to which dissidents are allowed to speak their minds.

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