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I believe that the Mariel Boat Lift is the sort of thing that people only know about if they remember it from 1980, or, for some, they have roots in Cuba, and stories told in their families.

For me, I keep bumping up against it in my memory whenever I hear stories of total despair emanating from modern day Guantanamo. And, yeah, other than the stories of total despair there are no similiarities there. Still, I was in the federal prison system when "The Marielitos" burned down two federal prisons in 1987. Wow, if I had been in their shoes, instead of "only" working on my own more or less clear cut 8 years of lockup, it's all too easy to see how it would have made me crazy enough to choose death over a "life" like that.

To me, it seems like most folks look at prison only as what it is, the "conditions", the "amenities". the "programs". Or the lack of any or all of those. But for me, having been there, I can tell you that I never wasted even a second without fixating (at least on some level) over what prison is not. Freedom!

Oh, I played so many tricks in my mind to not notice that that many years were more than I could "handle", and all because if I had not done so there would have just been no reason to keep trying to wait the system out. Had I ever been forced to believe that the prison was never going to end, I don't think so!

The story of regular people coming togther to move 125,000 others escaping, by private watercraft, from one nation to another is simply mind boggling. Just the magnitude of it. Sure, there was the family helping family angle of it, but what else equals that in human history? Castro did leave the routes open for awhile, but, and I'm serious here, it was a bitch of time trying to find any boat owner in Florida, or on the Gulf Coast who would even stop for a couple of minute to listen to an offer of moving a load of weed out of Colombia for a suitcase of cash. Sometimes the pay was better over at Mariel, and sometimes there was no pay at all over there, but Americans, for those several months, were all about figuring out how to get Cubans from over there to over here. Amazing, simply amazing.

But what was not even vaguely surprising was that Castro found a way to put a kink in a situation that was, otherwise realistically to good to believe. The rule on the docks and beaches at Mariel was that boats were not allowed to leave with vacancies. "Got all your peeps, well there's still folks standing in line, and, uh, you and your family members can just as easily go to a Cuban prison, as to Miami, so finish loading up, and see ya". The Cuban economy crashed. Communism was failing. And it didn't take that long for all involved to figure out that Fidel not only had too many mouths to feed, but that many of his challenges had already been isolated into prisons and mental hospitals, and he drained them. Legitimately under the scenario he crafted, he did drain them.

But the ploy, considering that he couldn't, and didn't hide it, was transparent. Which is where the pale analogy to "Al Qaeda at Quantamo Bay" comes in.

Marielitos arriving here were snatched up right and left. Rightly, wrongly, or otherwise thousand and thousands were incarcerated. And then some lucked out and moved out of custody, and thousands never did.

At least not before the prison riots of 1987.

I won't claim to be able to make sense out of what was a very complex and complicated situation. But I do know what the view was from the inside when things finally exploded.

See, whatever had been going on between 1980 and 1987, the population of "problem Marielitos" (think the "Scarface" movie here) had been distilled down to the old Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, and a new immigration holding facility joint in Oakdale, Louisana (repurposed from a Leprosy Colony a long time before). Anyway, you got 1,400 Marielitos in Ga., and 1,000 in La. and they all became pissed off at once, and more than 100 hacks were taken hostage, and millions of dollars of buildings were burned down (only one peron died though), and the occupation occupied the national consciousness for nearly two weeks.

I read about the hunger strikes in Guantanamo, and I'm pretty sure that no one not already in federal prison heard about "the Marielito problem". So I have no idea who else might see things the same way that I do. But what I know from back then makes me pretty sure that the desperation I'm watching play out now has nothing to do with terrorism, Islam, etc. because I heard too many terrible stories about Marielito desparation. (And some conflicting ones as well, but I gotta go with what I personally know.)

So Oakdale was like the next federal prison east of FCI Texarkana, where I was at. And the hacks at our place (like they all do) talked. It's like "Man, Oakdale is a real shithole. They can't get local workers, and we're not allowed to decline special assignments over there. I mean, these poor bastards ain't ever going any place so we can't even work the cellblocks without Rain gear. We're trying to serve food, or distribute, books, supplies, etc., and they're using any and every container possible to save piss, shit, or whatever, and we get drenched. What are we going to do, write them up, in they're mind they ain't ever getting out anyway, so what the fuck have they got to lose.

And next month I gotta pull extra duty at Atlanta. Over there, the range bosses assign guys to dive bomb us from the third tier just to make a point. Yeah, I mean, we can protect ourselves fairly well, but scrapping the motherfuckers up off of the floor is bad enough. Eyeballing a near miss all of the way down? God, I can't wait until the kids get out of the house and i can llok for a job somewhere that actually makes some sense."

Originally posted to oldpotsmuggler on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 08:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by LatinoKos and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I had forgotten all about that. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oldpotsmuggler, Ojibwa, JVolvo

    Get the 'oopsie' out of 'keep and bear arms' see GunFAIL and Gun Crazy diaries weekly.

    by 88kathy on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 09:01:42 PM PDT

  •  My father worked as a translator... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JVolvo, bumbi, betson08 Ft. Chaffee in Arkansas in 1980 when about 20k of the Cuban refugees were housed there. There was a 'riot' that summer which is still remembered by many Arkansans.

    •  I've read about various disturbances before I got (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      terrybuck, dksbook, JVolvo, jilikins, kurt

      in the system. And I've read things about Atlanta and Oakdale that are different from what I heard and saw. Through it all I feel comfortable believing that pretty much anyone and everyone would crack from what's happening at Guantanamo, and that the uncertainity is worse than the actual day to day stuff.

      Suicide watch on death row is particularly vigorous.

      There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

      by oldpotsmuggler on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 08:23:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Say hello to my li'l friend" (0+ / 0-)

    Castro did empty his insane asylums and prisons and put them on leaky boats. Didn't even get a "thank you" for his "fuck you."

  •  still a sore point in the latino community. (3+ / 0-)

    Cubans get a free pass as soon as they walk in, almost regardless of their background, while other Latinos can't hardly get their spouses or children in.

    “I’m able to fly, do what I want, essentially. I guess that’s what freedom is — no limits.” Marybeth Onyeukwu -- Brooklyn DREAMer.

    by chuco35 on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 03:44:09 PM PDT

  •  another similarity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nolagrl, CcVenussPromise

    between the Marielitos and the G. Bay detainees, is they are imprisoned for unknown sentences, in a foreign country with strange laws and no contact with family.

    After 12 years, many must be thinking they will die in G. Bay, without ever seeing their family again.  That could make some people desperate enough to prefer death to another day in prison.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 04:46:07 PM PDT

    •  By definition They are in a gulag. (0+ / 0-)

      Welcome to the police state.

      Joy shared is doubled. Pain shared is halved. Spider Robinson

      by nolagrl on Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 07:11:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There are actually big differences (0+ / 0-)

      in terms of law - because Gitmo is legally liminal, our laws such as habeus corpus don't apply. In Mariel, technically they applied. But I agree with the rest of your sentiments.

      Helping a food pantry on the Cheyenne River Reservation,Okiciyap.

      by betson08 on Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 07:17:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hmm (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Habeas corpus isn't 'our law'. It's common law, more or less throughout the first world. It came from Anglo-Saxon common law.

        There shouldn't be anywhere that it doesn't apply. The idea that we can arbitrarily decide that there's a spot that we control wherein not only the US constitution and all of US laws but international law and the common law that underlies everything simply doesn't apply, just because it is convenient for us to do so, is not just incredibly offensive but is frankly extremely unnerving.

        •  Habeas corpus did NOT apply in the Atlanta Pen. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          That's what the riots were about.

          I graduated from law school in 1985; clerked for a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Atlanta 1985-87. My judge was not directly involved in the Marielito cases, but all of us in the federal courthouse kept up with them.

          I took at job at Atlanta Legal Aid August 1987, shortly after Atlanta Legal Aid lawyers had negotiated a settlement to end the riots.

          There's a legal doctrine that, when someone enters the country without legal authorization, they are not considered officially in the USA, thus the US Constitution--including habeas corpus, no cruel and unusual punishment, due process, etc.--does not apply to them. The Marielitos in the Atlanta Pen sued; their case was assigned to US District Judge Marvin Shoob (a great and decent human being).

          Judge Shoob kept trying to find a way around the doctrine that the Constitution did not apply to the Marielitos. The government kept appealing Judge Shoob's rulings to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The 11th Circuit kept reversing Judge Shoob, finding that the Constitution did not apply. Over and over until the riot happened.

          Gary Leshaw and Bill Thompson, Atlanta Legal Aid lawyers, had been representing the Marielitos and negotiated their right to have hearings every year or two to review their suitability for release. They were to be represented by volunteer lawyers, one of whom was a friend of mine. They got these hearing rights not because the Constitution required it, but solely to settle the riot.

          In other words, the riot succeeded.

          Bill Thompson took a job in private practice shortly before I started at Atlanta Legal Aid. As a brand-new Legal Aid lawyer, I was given his vacant office. I never lived up to that legacy, but I did have some impact in the 9 years I was privileged to work there.

          Judge Shoob, who turns 90 this year, is still on the bench, though he took senior status (meaning he hears only a limited number of cases) in 1991.

          I suspect some of the Marielitos are still imprisoned.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 04:22:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for diary. ...remembering too (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Cuban government cars arrived at Cuban homes before the boatlift to put our claimed families in at a camp to wait.

    Thank you for bringing up the Guantanamo detainees as well.

    I'm mentioning the following because you brought up that other side of Marielitos which caused the stigma on all Marielitos.

    First they usually would put the families and the regular people who had been claimed, and then they would bring on the criminals and the mental patients.
    I know one of the non-criminals arrived in Miami and asked where in the USA were there were none or the fewest Cubans. Answer he got was Iowa. He went there.

    He married an Iowa farm girl. Is known today as a one of the trio of the Cuban food chefs and authors known as 3 Guys From Miami. Jorge Castillo.

    ..On May 15 I wrote a diary on the Guantanamo detainee's hunger strike.

    Blockquote from Marielito's stories

    A good horse is never a bad color.

    by CcVenussPromise on Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 01:54:48 PM PDT

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