Visiting Antonio in Marianna Prison

by Margaret L. Becker
June 23, 2014

Antonio said something like it himself and I had felt it again, the phenomenon of the vanishing, even obliteration of time spent apart between people with a certain connection of heart and mind (some might say “soul) which transcends time when they meet again.

Maggie & Tony

It had been four years since I last saw Tony at the maximum security Penitentiary in Colorado. So much life had whizzed by in the interim including a move for myself to St. Petersburg, Florida and Antonio to a medium security prison allowed by the remedy of less draconian sentence guidelines, to Marianna, Florida.

For me, the former visit had been a solo trek from the Florida Keys to Atlanta to Colorado Springs to Palmer Lake (where friends of the Five kindly put me up) and then finally to the rocky desert outpost of the Florence prison metropolis. And so it happened again on this visit to Marianna, that feeling of no time passing. This time I was accompanied by my sister, Joan, her husband Lou, and our brother, Richard who traveled from Seattle, Washington and Oakland, California. It was maybe the second day Antonio said that he felt like he knew Rich, Joan and Lou much more than the time spent between them would suggest. Time flew. Each day we were shocked when the six hours allotted to the visit came to an end.

The first thing everyone noticed was how well he looked (Lou compared seeing him now to many of the photos he had received copies of over the years in Antonio’s holiday letters). If not the most perfect physical health (as the ravages of so stressful an ordeal necessarily etch their mark), Antonio radiated a health more firmly in his own hands, even as the 16 prison years accrue. We are healthy, first, because we believe ourselves to be and act accordingly. The quality of energy Tony projected towards us in his animated, generous sharing of significant threads of his journey was a delight to see and hear. As he spoke to us, gestures and humor, marks of his youthful personality shone through and he seemed even more “himself” to me, more relaxed and at peace than in previous visits, though he has always been positive thinking and strong and clear of mind.

He began with details of the arrest on September 12,1998 and fleshed out details of life in Miami prior to coming to the Keys and those early days in the Keys in which chance or synchronicity and friendships forged led to various jobs he undertook. With each step, even through horrors and stress of isolation, cruel treatment and blanket injustice, Tony remains true to his cause and himself. I see his journey as the journey of a hero in the classic sense of the word (which we all may encounter in our own lives). He is to me, the peaceful warrior (guerrero) brave and true of heart, purposeful and idealistic, who fights the dragon which is ultimately one’s own fear. In the end, the goal (on-going) is to heal, to make whole (and more beautiful), ourselves and the world.

Antonio described the conditions of the SHU, of the trial, the sentencing, the appeal, Leonard Weinglass and the lawyers who preceded him, the transfer via Oklahoma, the crippling black box which surrounds handcuffs during transport, the early days in Florence, the re-sentencing hearing. We talked politics and of the case as it stands now, of Rene, Gerardo, Ramon and Fernando, and of Cuba in the present moment. Tony offers his philosophy of politics and life. We ask about his view of the situation in the Ukraine and hear news of Manuel and many other friends and family members.

For a change of focus we play cards, which seem to be the only game available at the front desk. We all join in a spirited match of Casino which both my “card shark” brother Rich and I learned at a young age from our grandfather, Elias… and on another day, some rounds of Hearts which Rich taught us on the spot. We hear about the project of the book on chess in prison and the many connections made with student chess enthusiasts and their teacher.

Due to the random absence of a cheese cake in the vending machine we celebrated my brother’s birthday, Monday June 9th, with five Reese’s peanut butter cups arranged like a cake with pretzel sticks as candles. Earlier in the visitors waiting area, a Mother and her two children sang Happy Birthday to him in Cherokee and an older man of a couple from California offered his rendition of an alternate Happy Birthday in English. We join with Antonio to sing Cumpleanos Feliz.

And then Antonio talks of art. It is a joy to see the artist that Antonio has evolved into by nature of so many elements converging, primarily his love and dedication. I know his drawings and calligraphy which lead to colored pencil, then pastels, then water colors, then oils, like his poems were produced to give what he could of himself to others as much as to survive, even thrive. He spoke of the decision not to exchange art for money in the early days of becoming proficient in portrait making, a decision congruent with Antonio’s true nature. After the last visit on Monday, we drove to the nearby modern Jackson County Health Department building and viewed Tony’s painting [above] of the man bending over to hold the hand of the little girl who wraps her arms around his leg. It hangs in the conference room adjacent to the Director’s office.

For all of us it was a truly significant and inspiring visit with Antonio and clearly the highlight of my family’s trip “out east.”


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