“Each poem or story is a port which I have entered, a tree that has given me oxygen, a lighthouse that illuminates the path on which I keep moving forward”. The voice of David Ravelo is strong and optimistic despite the fact that it is now 2252 days that he has been in prison. A “great to see you!” and a strong hug, that he gives us every time we visit, leads immediately to another proud reading of one of his stories or poems. The hours without a watch have converted him into an authentic storyteller.
His stories speak of persistence, of injustice, of longing, of hope…and while he becomes lost in his most intimate thoughts, a steady murmuring of people and clanging of plates hovers around the small space where he is located – which is sometimes his office, the hallway, or entrance to the communal kitchen. The noise has the effect of returning him abruptly to the absurd reality that he has lived for the last six years.
Read more about David Ravelo, his legal case and its irregularities
He is situated under a small library that he hangs from the wall and that he has been adding to for the last six years, and in front of a laptop to which he confesses his most intimate thoughts. He smiles, his skin is smooth and his forehead shines. He has recently had an operation for cataracts and his eyes reflect a renewed happiness in being able to visually enjoy the words that with dedication and persistence he produces everyday. Prison has not stopped him being able to grow and create. At every possible moment he has meetings with the authorities, public servants, trade unionists human rights defenders… And with all these people he creates, imagines, resolves, studies, ponders, dialogues etc. Too many verbs and clauses have piled up between the high walls and windows of his prison patio – a word that lies and deceives those who are below the roof and where the barely air, moved by the fan that doesn’t work, at moments becomes thick to the point that it smothers the soul.
This relentless human rights defender hasn’t seen the moon in six years and he asks himself anxiously if still shines as brightly as he remembers. “Well actually last night it was a full moon, David, and it shone radiantly from high in the sky, it is reflected cheekily in the Magdalena Medio region and it greets the universe with one of her smiles”, I say to him out loud while I empathise with the difficulties of being incarcerated for such a long time as a political prisoner. But immediately he changes topic, as if his daily routine has made him lose all sense of what there is outside, and we speak about Séneca, Neruda, Marcos Ana, Almudena Grandes, Lenin, Viktor Frank… Reading and writing has converted into his daily yoga routine; it helps him shake off the injustice in which he lives and possibly because of this that he doesn’t seem sad or frustrated, nor does he anxiously crave freedom.
However his mood can sometimes be grey. Like for example this year on the 8th of December (a special day in Colombia, when they celebrate “the night of the candles” to commemorate the dogma of the Immaculate Concepción of the Virgin Mary and the start of the Christmas Festivities), which has been the seventh that he has not spent with his family. It says so in his home made diary, whose pages already are in four digits, where he writes the details of his captivity. He gathers his brow and sharpens his mouth and he states: I am behind bars unlawfully because the Public Prosecutors office has shown that the evidence against me was unreliable.
David does not doubt his eventual liberty, and this inspires him to continue holding out and maintaining his positive attitude to life because “to live is to suffer, but to survive is to find the reason for suffering” he paraphrases with such a dignified smile of admiration that I immediately write down and underline the phrase in my notebook in order to not forget it.
David insists in building peace even when he is behind bars. He has presented a project to the penitentiary centre with three artist friends and at the moment he is looking for funds. It will try to address a psychosocial aspect as well as a productive aspect. They want to create a bakery and an artistic workshop where whoever wants to develop their curiosity and imagination towards collective peace can do so. And as if on purpose he came up with it at that same moment, David explains his ideas, but they are not only his, because they are ideas about advancing as a community.
He eagerly keeps reading. He wanted to reveal the introduction of “Journey from the depths of uncertainty”, a book that narrates his biography, and starts near to the town of Mompóx in a house with a palm thatched roof and adobe walls where his mother with much determination gave birth to him. This was against the advise of the doctor who had discouraged her from getting pregnant. David smiled thinking about the doctor and his confused statement, it has made him understand his own nature; that he is not someone to take heed of imperfect indications and that he prefers to follow is own destiny. This has meant that he occasionally has gone against the flow, even if the flow has the same powerful force as the Magdalena River when it passes through Barrancabermeja.
Lunchtime comes ever nearer and the smell of a delicious stew comes wafting out of the kitchen and surrounds us, reminding us that it is a good time to leave. I don’t know long we have been talking, calculating time without a watch is imprecise, and although it would seem that inside – between these walls that are high and without windows where the air is condensed and at times seems to solidify – the time is not important, David’s notebook acknowledges that the days become eternal when you wait for the unexpected.
I want to continue listening to his stories. I don’t want to leave. Even the heat, which has forced my clothes to stick my sweating body, doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I haven’t even finished the coffee that his friendly cellmate has served me, and now even the fan seems to have begun to ventilate and I find the breeze pleasant. But it is time to bid farewell, and I already want to return.
And we will return David, since you have been in prison we have come every week to visit you, to share with you and show you that your 2,252 days in prison are also ours.
Silvia Arjona Martín (Brigadista with PBI Colombia)