20th century Prison Women


la movida  la movida 2

‘This is a convent. The sisters still wear their robes and wimples, but their shoes are soldier’s shoes. We can hear them approaching from their comfortable quarters. They never come alone to our cells either. Always they are accompanied by the real military, the female guards, bullyish monsters wearing the lie of lipstick, hair cropped for no other reason than to match the side they have taken, ie. with men, easily sporting heavy rifles strapped up between their breasts.

I remember how relieved I was to arrive here uncountable days, months, ago. How long it took me to trust that they would not come for me again to haul me back to the interrogation centre. How I could not sleep at all, propped up against the filthy wall with all the others. They asked me why I was awake if they stirred by accident from their terrifying nightmarish dozes, and I told them that I was too conflicted. Why they asked. Are you haunted by your torturers like we are? No, I’m conflicted by either waiting for the light or dreading the falling of darkness. They understood when I explained it that way. You see, in the interrogation centre, all daylight was blocked off, so we had no idea of time. I still do not know how long I was there, and probably never will.

I have forgotten how and when to sleep, what the signals are, what the purpose of it is. They told us to value every moment of life when we were children, but our minds are so primitive that we cannot keep up appreciation. We forget about it very quickly when everything is going our way with sunrises and sunsets every day, each signalled by either warm greetings to the new day ahead and breakfast, or warm introductions to the world of sleep and sweet milk.

It’s true that we cannot survive without the light of the sun. I know that during that time in eternal curtained darkness, I died a number of deaths. No, not from the torture – somehow the pain can be forgotten like appreciation because they are sensations interpreted by the brain, but the darkness involves the universe. It creeps into the body and remains there. Dark blood. Dark veins and arteries beneath.

Who will they come for next? The robes and shoes, the token men with their greased quiffs and stiff collars. We have no way of knowing what we are being called to do. To die by firing squad? To be tortured again and filled up with darkness. Who? Why? Shall we say farewell? Shall we be kissed and blessed by tear-filled beautiful women? Sent off with a moment of special nurturing?

Somehow none of it seems to matter in the heart, and yet the body pretends it knows the outcome of the clip-clop sacred and secular footsteps. It bristles. It takes on the physiology of fleeing, of fighting, of preparing for the hard stick or cigarette stubs, for the electrical current passed through sensitive tissue, to be hung upside down until your insides drop outside.

The close group around me asked me about my worst torture. It was difficult to choose. I said, ‘worst? How can I compare them? Why do I need to?’ And yet, somehow it was helping them to talk about it. There’s always someone worse off than yourself, as the saying goes.

When really forced I told them.

The darkest moment of all was the sudden appearance of a man with a black bag over his head. He was pushed into the seat next to me around the elegant dining table with it’s machinery pulled within easy reach. After several body blows from the guards with sticks to keep him still, they removed his bag. It was hard to recognize him, but eventually I did in the tear glinting among the swellings.

They encouraged us to kiss each other, to reunite, to cry and be grateful that we could see each other again. Then they stood him up roughly and pushed him behind me on to the floor. They tied the harness to his feet and turned the winch to yank him up violently into a hanging position. Then the interrogator walked around the table towards me and turned my swivel chair so that I could see him.

I hadn’t noticed when he sat next to me that he was naked from the waist downwards, but upside down I was forced to look at him. He was emaciated, scarred, crusted in dried blood, stained. They attached a battery charger connection deftly to him at the same time as they ripped open my dress and pulled out my breasts from my underwear. They attached finer charger clips to my nipples, and then we were instructed to look each other in the eye as the charge was administered.

My companions asked who he was with distress. I told them that I had met him once or twice, in ration or prison visiting queues, and we had talked a little, exchanged smiles, showed a partiality to each other fleetingly. We had no idea we were being so closely surveyed and that our genitalia would be exposed to each other and blasted with volts.

My story over, hands caressing me, pitying me, the shoes emerged down the stone corridor, marching in unison past the chapel and mother superior’s quarters rooms, towards our crowded cell.

la movida 3la movida 1

The human spirit can withstand anything. We see our spirits as flimsy, expendable: our bodies delicate and easily broken and terminated. We forget that the fabric of protein and water is a housing for energy, a vessel to allow unique spirits to use hands and legs and eyes to carry out special missions. The indestructible spirits of the women of La Movida, a countercultural movement active in Franco’s Spain, are testament to that. Many of them survive still today.



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