Copyright 1991 by Joseph W. Grant

[Grant is an artist, writer, and graphic designer living with his best friend and their daughter in the Midwest. His documentaries on El Salvador ("Prisons and Prisons: El Salvador") and author Meridel LeSueur ("Women in the Breadlines" and "The Iowa Tour") have been shown on the Time/Life and other cable networks. He believes that never before in our history has there been a greater need for the PDI to be publishing and providing a means for prisoners and people in the free world to communicate. He is open to suggestions.

Prisons and Prisons, My Daughters and Sons

Penal Digest International. The PDI. A newspaper with two purposes: to provide prisoners with a voice that prison authorities could not silence and to establish lines of communication between prisoners and people in the free world.

Over twenty years have passed since the idea for Penal Digest International began to take shape. I was a prisoner in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, at the time. You've heard of Leavenworth one of the end-of-the-line prisons where feds, and even the state prisons, send their "bad boys." At that time the federal prison at Marion, Illinois, was being used as a youth joint while the feds perfected what was to become the most repressive monument to absolute security that the U.S. government could design. Back then, they used Leavenworth for the truly incorrigible. Leaven-worth was where they sent the prisoners when they closed Alcatraz.

Stepping into that prison was reminiscent of the opening paragraph of Tale of Two Cities. It was the best and the worst place to do time. The best place to be if you wanted to serve your prison sentence and not be bothered by anyone prisoner or guard. The worst place to be if you were hoping to make parole. The best place for quiet in the cell blocks. The worst place for informers. The best place for food. The worst place for library books. The best place if you could learn by observing and be silent until spoken to. The worst place if you had a big mouth.

I was a first-timer, a fast learner, and, in many respects, I was lucky.

So what was a first-timer a non-violent first-timer doing behind the walls at Leavenworth with guys who had averaged five previous incarcerations for very violent crimes? It's a long story. I've never told it before. But the memories of that period are clear. My thoughts frequently turn to the injustices that surrounded me then. I internalize them. Sometimes, when I am alone, maybe sitting on the patio late at night, I doze off. I awake sudden-ly, look up, and everything seems new. Fresh. The shadows on the trees are a deeper, richer, more visible green. The air is clear. The sound of the insects is sharper, crisper, vibrating. The sound waves can be felt almost seen. In the slam, one afternoon. Very hot, the last week of July. I'm in the shade, in a slight breeze. Half asleep, I find my eyes skimming along the ground, moving fast, observing, soaring over the factories, cell houses, walls. Constantly turning back in. Lightning-like through clouds and around corners. Observing. Even the shades of gray are a miracle. Dark shadows turned into a phosphorescent green. Black prisoners, working with weights in the blinding Kansas sun, become a deep, rich blue. Blood splatters black across bleached concrete as a face is smashed and a sandfilled sock disap-pears. I wondered when the war would ever end. I still do.

Godless Country not the Worst Country

Today, when conversations turn to prisons and prisoners I listen. I learned long ago that the moment the conversation turns serious, eyes (and minds) begin to glaze over in less time than it takes a Texas Ranger to kidney punch a homeless drunk. When the conversation gets around to Cuba and Castro, I remind people of writer Dorothy Day's trip to Cuba after the Cuban revolution. She had gone down to see for herself if life was as oppressive for churchgoing Catholics in Cuba as the U.S. government was reporting. In one of the columns she wrote for the Catholic Worker she said, "Better a Godless country that takes care of its poor than a Christian country that doesn't."

Believe me, talking to the average citizen about injustice is like walking into a white Southern Baptist church in Danville, Virginia the last headquarters of the Confederacy and asking for donations to the Black Panther Legal Defense Fund or the American Civil Liberties Union. Anyone present who knew what you were talking about would think you were completely mad. Those who didn't would think you were anaffront to their very selective, lily white God and attempt to do to you what the Romans did to the good carpenter. Not pretty.

When I began getting phone messages in the summer of 1989 that someone interested in Penal Digest International was trying to contact me I was only mildly interested. Over the years I have been contacted by an occasional law student or theology student who was doing research on or volunteer work with prisoners. Invariably they had gotten a taste of prison life, and had heard about the rise and fall of the PDI and/or the Church of the New Song, a prisoner religion whose philosophy had been spread by the PDI.

These links to my PDI past show themselves unexpectedly. I'll notice someone staring at me. Usually I walk over and introduce myself. Not infrequently the person turns out to be a former PDI subscriber or a librarian. Occasionally, after I am steered away from the crowd and into a private space, the person confesses that he or she was once a prisoner. That confession is followed by a narrative of memorable moments. "Acid flashbacks," as the person says. "I remember the Sunday church service in Atlanta," or "The Terre Haute tour was a gas whatever happened to John?" or "I was at Oklahoma Women's Penitentiary." Sometimes it's a writer, someone with a clear enough understanding of what gets into print in these United States to know that to be well informed a person has to set aside $250 a year to subscribe to In These Times, The Progressive, The Nation, Mother Jones, Z Magazine, Utne Reader, Catholic Worker, Washington Monthly, Workers World, Dollars and Cents, and EXTRA and be a member of The DataCenter,1 publications and organizations with staff who understand the insidious Rain Barrel Theory of Politics, the theory that best describes politics in the United States the scum rises to the top.2 People whose names are anathema to the FBI, the Secret Service, the CIA, Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan, Bush organizations and individuals whose existence is proof of the rain barrel theory's validity.

This most recent contact was different. Ken Wachsberger not only knew about the PDI, he had been part of the day-to-day insanity we had all learned to love in a sado-masochistic way. Ken had been hitching west on I-80 and was picked up by some PDI staff members who were on their way home. Like so many road weary wanderers, he accepted an invitation to join us for dinner and a night's rest. While waiting for dinner he wandered into the PDI offices where the lights burned 24 hours a day and went to work.

Now, 20 years later, he asked if I'd like to look back at those PDI years and share some thoughts. Thoughts on the PDI, the times, and the people. I had doubts about whether or not I was the best person to do so. For many years, friends who were witness to those three traumatic years have urged me to tell the story. I always assumed that someone else would. The PDI had staff members who were far better writers than I. But Ken wanted me to write the history because I was the founder. I agreed.

So what about the PDI years? I should include a few stories about prison experiences and observations that convinced me that the PDI was desperately needed; I should also include information on why I thought it would succeed and how, with the help of an unusually diverse group of people, we forced it to succeed.

The PDI came into existence in 1970 during politically painful times. We had caught the tail end of the Vietnam War both in and out of the can. Our detractors called us radical. We probably initiated as many lawsuits against agencies of the federal and state governments as any newspaper in history. The list of our reporters, sales agents, and prison representatives read like a Who's Who of jailhouse lawyers. Many were serving life terms with no hope for parole for committing acts that ranged from political crimes against the state to crimes for profit, revenge, you name it. In prison, they had turned to education and law as a means of self-fulfillment. They were our newspaper's strongest supporters and most committed advocates. They never gave up. They had nothing to lose. They were afraid of no one. They could be threatened, but they remained uncowed.

For over three years, with a staff that started with two and grew to 25, the PDI operated out of a three-story house at 505 South Lucas in Iowa City, Iowa. 505 became synonymous with PDI. I bought the house at 505 with the help of sympathetic realtors and a no-down-payment GI loan so the PDI and the staff would have a place to live. For three years, using a variety of means, I fed, clothed, and sheltered the staff, their friends, drifters, runaways, wanted men, women, and children, and paid the bills. Well...most of the bills.

A little over four years and a couple hundred thousand dollars later, I walked away from the PDI with exactly what I'd walked away from the slam with. Nothing. I wasn't totally without resources, however. I owned a home in Georgeville, Minnesota, in the west central part of the state that had been home to Hundred Flowers, the underground newspaper edited by Eddie Felien, the Marxist scholar from the University of Minnesota who ended up on the Minneapolis city council. My home there didn't have running water or electricity, but what do you expect for $400? I also had a 1963 one-ton International pickup that looked like it had been abandoned in Watts during the riots. The pickup had been part of the junk pile out back of the $400 house. It needed tires, a battery, and six weeks worth of hard work to get it running. Along witheverything else, I considered it a gift. Hell, the PDI was a gift that for a long time nourished prisoners and their families. And why not? It was their newspaper. They wrote for it, produced it, paid for it pennies at a time. We never refused a prisoner a subscription. We accepted whatever they could afford. Most could afford nothing. How they got it and why they got it is part of the story I will get to.

Those years were lean, hungry years. Tough years. In many respects they were violent years. By that I mean we were witnesses to violence. Violence against men, women, and children who were prisoners. Violence against the families of prisoners. And finally, violence against the primary staff members of the PDI by the federal, state, and local police that culminated in murder a murder that was committed by a man who was pushed over the "edge" by an undercover cop who sealed all of our futures by giving the man a gun and urging him to use it. Staff members were arrested for possessing drugs that were stashed by ex-prisoners who had been released from prison for the express purpose of destroying the PDI and the Church of the New Song. The seemingly unlimited power and resources of those three levels of government were more than a handful of unpaid, hungry men, women, and children could live with. Most took off trying to find a place to rest and restore themselves. Consequently, the PDI and a number of staff members were destroyed.

With the PDI's voice stilled, the prisoners lost their voice. Today the conditions in prisons are more repressive. Extreme overcrowding exists mainly because of the longer prison sentences that are handed out today, so frequently for victimless crimes. Increas-ing numbers of prisoners are being locked up for minor drug offenses many are denied the opportunity to earn a parole. With more of the poor, uneducated members of society ending up in prison, the need for educational and vocational programs is greater than it has ever been. Yet, cutbacks in correctional department budgets mean that fewer of these programs are available.

And the PDI? Today it is a mass of notes, letters, papers, and subscription lists that are safely stashed in boxes in the State Historical Society of Iowa.3 And, of course, there are memories.

I look back, see the victories, and I'm reminded of a line Barry Hannah wrote, "Not only does absence make the heart grow fonder, it makes history your own beautiful lie."

It's not going to be easy making sure that this doesn't become my beautiful lie, but I'll try.

How brief can I be? Just the experiences inside the walls that generated the energy for the PDI deserve much more than I can give them here. The people, the prisoners, living and dead, deserve more. We'll just have to see where this leads us.

Cuba: Political Beginnings

The foundation for the government's intense rancor against me goes back to an incident that happened in Cuba in 1952. There, I had knowledge of an exchange of some Springfield rifles from our Destroyer Squadron--old rifles that were being replaced by the new M1s--to a group of remarkable people who showed me first-hand what Fulgencia Batista, the U.S.-supported military dictator, was doing to the Cuban people. It was my first political act.

My activities in Cuba would never have surfaced if I hadn't "lost it" one night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That night, 12 or 13 years after Cuba, I had too much to drink at a SERTOMA Club meeting. "SERTOMA" was an acronym for "SERvice TO MAnkind." One day a former resident of Cuba visited our local branch to speak about the Cuba he had fled when Fidel Castro led the people's army into Havana. He was a gusano, Spanish for "worm," one of the haves who skipped to the United States with enough gold and connections to "make a new begin in the land of the free." He managed to leave with enough to steer clear of the fast money from criminal activity in Miami and had opted for banking. Another form of criminal activity. His new life began as a vice president in the bank that served eastern Iowa. Why settle in Miami and take chances being illegal when you could be a bank executive and steal with the blessing of the FDIC?

He talked about how he had fled the horrible Communists who nationalized industry, closed down the nightclubs, took over the hotels, and forced the doctors to practice the oath they took when graduating from medical school; that is, to provide medical care to people regardless of their ability to pay. His speech was gut wrenching. I could smell gun grease. The crowd was hanging on his every word. Applause interrupted him every few sentences. He was living proof to these people that Castro was a Communist who had to be eliminated; clearly living justification for programs of assassination by U.S. agents, programs that would work better during the sixties when J. Edgar Hoover infiltrated antiwar groups through his COINTELPRO activities.

Listening to him whine his way through a litany of greed was intolerable. I turned to my bottle of Old Style and was soon retreating into my memories. My soul warmed as I left the dry, bone chilling cold of Iowa and returned to the 98 percent humidity and nighttime temperatures of 110+ that I had found in revolutionary Cuba previous to the people's victory.

When I arrived in Cuba in the early fifties, I was fresh out of high school and sincerely believed that the United States of America was the greatest country in the world. The land of opportunity. Anyone and everyone could make it. "We hold these truths to be self-evident...etc., etc."

I was in the navy to protect the world from dictators most of whom happened to be Commies at that point in history. The generation immediately before mine had taken care of the Nazis, Il Duce's Brown Shirts, and the Japanese. Frank Sinatra was singing "I am an American, and proud of my liberty and my freedom to make derogatory remarks about Dorothy Kilgallen's chin." I was one of many young, tough Americans. I had my share of faults: no ambition, couldn't deal with routine, I bored easily, carried a book with me at all times to read as soon as the boss turned his back. On the plus side, I didn't abuse people, was generous with what little money I had, and was loyal to my friends.

Korea Is Cooking

Korea was starting to cook and I was ready. Truman was paying big bucks to anyone who would extend his hitch for two years. The combination of patriotism and pay was all I needed. After my experiences in Cuba those additional two years would become intolerable. But the bad times were yet to come. At this point, the navy was a perfect fit.

My passion during this period in my life was the Sixth Naval District boxing team. I relished it not just the easy life and the lack of supervision but the work-outs, the sparring, and the actual fighting. At 165 pounds, I was a lanky middleweight, but I fought as a light heavyweight and occasionally as a heavyweight because the spot was empty and my coach, a redheaded chief petty officer who had once been a featherweight contender, convinced me that I was faster and better than anyone bigger than me with the exception of my shipmate Freddie Krueger, who, using an alias, was prowling around South and North Carolina picking up pro fights and winning them.

Staying in shape was simple. Freddie would shake me awake at 4:30 A.M. and we would jog the five or six miles to the main gate of the base, make disparaging remarks to the Marine guards, and jog back to the ship in time for steak and eggs. The boxing team had no work detail assignments. As long as we worked out and won, every day was a vacation from the drudge work. Fighting wasn't work as long as you could avoid getting kicked around in the ring. Plus, being able to take off for town every night was sweet.

Red's orders were simple: "Stay in shape and stay on the team. Get lazy and start working."

Not smoking was easy, and the second drink never tasted as good as the first so I rarely consumed enough to adversely affect my timing. I was hell in a barroom fight simply because I was usually the sober fighter. I had an extraordinary appetite for anything that moderately altered my conscious state if it enhanced the party, the love making, or the fighting. But as the man in the toga once said, "Moderation in all things." The enhancers I used in moderation; but as a middle-weight in the ring with fighters who frequently out-weighed me by 40 pounds, "moderation" was not a word I used or heard. It certainly wasn't part of Red's vocabulary.

If I had a reputation back then it was that I had to be pushed long and hard before I could be provoked into a fight. My best friends required less pushing. One night, Nelson King, Jim Oler, Dean Bohy, Buck, and I went over to the canteen on the base in Guantanamo, Cuba. We sat and talked and drank beer until the place closed. As we were walking back to the pier to catch the launch, Buck walked over to one of the marine barracks and ripped the thin wooden slats out of two windows. Then he leaned inside and asked if there were any marines who wanted to get their asses kicked by a sailor from the coal mines of West Virginia. We grabbed Buck and started running. By the time 30 or 40 marines came piling out of the barracks, we were about a block and a half ahead of them.

Sand burrs stopped the ones with no shoes. Three caught up with Nelson, which was like catching up with a tiger. Jim had turned around and those two were like nitro and glycerine. Buck and I stopped and watched. Nelson and Jim were two shy young men, but in a fight they were frighteningly efficient.

The next morning, with all the men lined up for muster, the captain demanded to know which men had attacked the marine barracks the night before. Fortunately, when Nelson's shirt was torn off the marines didn't get the piece with his name stencilled on it.

Back in the present, the Cuban banker droned on and on. It was easy to shut myself off from the words of this fat, soft, gusano and remain lost in memories. I could almost smell the island and feel the heavy, humid heat that made our white uniforms sag and our shoes squish with sweat.

I wondered what Bobby, Julio, and Gaby would think about this banker. I recalled the night in Cuba when I met them. Buck and I were on shore leave in Guantanamo. We had been ashore for almost 24 hours and had 24 more ahead of us thanks to his shifts in the galley and mine as a coxswain running liberty launches. It was midweek, the best time to be ashore. No military personnel were around, the shore patrol units were few and far between, and the prices were fair. Even the general pace of the people slowed down during the week, as if they were storing up energy for the make-or-break hustle of the weekend.

We had closed a couple of small clubs and were walking around trying to decide where to sleep. The heat was oppressive. The humidity steamed our glasses and seemed to softened the landscape. You had to wade through it.

As we crossed a park I saw a hose connected to a sprinkler. The thought of cool water was irresistible. I hung my wallet on the branch of a bush, took my shoes off, aimed the sprinkler at a nearby bench, and sat down. Buck was more vocal about the cool water; his whoops and hollers attracted the attention of a young woman, who stepped out of a doorway just across a narrow street from us. She was so close Buck recognized the profile of the one-eyed Indian on her bottle of Hautuey Beer. Always the gentleman (and always thirsty), Buck stood up. As he introduced himself, water in his hat spilled down his face. She laughed so loud, I could barely hear Buck when he asked her if she had a beer he could buy. She didn't, but she offered to get some if he had the money. Buck turned to me and mimicked Hank Williams with a whining, "If you've got the money, Honey, she's got the wine Hautuey that is!" I pointed to my wallet hanging on the branch. Buck took it, tossed it to the woman, and said, "Take what you need. Bring us as much Hautuey as you can carry." She took a twenty, tossed the wallet back to Buck, and disappeared.

She returned with a half case of beer and a small block of ice in a burlap bag. I was surprised when she handed me change.

Then she went into her house with the beer.

The house was a typical "crib" house. The door led into a long narrow room, where a second door led into another narrow, but smaller room. The backyard had just enough space for a small vegetable garden. In this part of town, and in many others, the streets were lined with hundreds of these "crib" houses. Prostitutes, many with small children, sat on the steps in a never-ending hustle for enough money to live on. If she had been a hooker, twenty dollars was more than she would have made working hard on a Saturday night. But there she was with the beer ice cold beer. When she came out of the house for the second time she had two guys with her. Each had one of my cold beers. Oh well....

I Meet A Poet of the Revolution

The woman and one of the guys joined us in the sprinkler and introduced themselves as Gabriela and Julio. They were both into the humor of the situation. The other man sat on the ground. He was not amused. Gaby and Julio were both Cuban. Although they were sister and brother they could have come from different families. Gaby was very dark skinned; Julio was blessed with a skin color George Hamilton would have killed for the color of copper mixed with gold. He was also, like me, an amateur boxer. The other guy, Bobby Vaughn, was an Anglo, a poet from Key West.

That first night we smalltalked and drank beer. Before long, Buck and Bobby were asleep Buck from the beer and Bobby from washing down cough medicine with wine. It was a memorable evening. I had met my first poet and turpin hydrate addict and had become friends with the first Cuban civilians I had met outside of a bar. Bobby also was the first American I met in Cuba who didn't work at the navy base.

Buck and I spent that night sleeping on pallets on the floor. After a night of listening to Bobby howling, crying, and cursing in his sleep, I arose at dawn to the sound of barking dogs. My uniform was wet and dirty and I had a headache. No one had any aspirins, but Bobby had some pain killers that worked better than anything I'd ever taken for a headache. Julio loaned Buck and me each a shirt and a pair of old pants that we wore until our uniforms could be washed and pressed.

I offered to buy breakfast but Julio was already making coffee. He said something about relaxing and enjoying the day. Buck had already had a beer and was launching into a long rambling tale about mining coal in West Virginia. His job had been to set the charges that blasted loose the coal. With each beer, the story got longer and the fuses attached to the charges got shorter. I'd heard the story many times, almost as many times as Dean Bohy's stories of Olympic wrestlers from Clarion, Iowa--stories I never tired of.

Life in Cuba had a mellow, low pressured rhythm unlike any other place I had ever been. That first day, Bobby's pain killer had me humming songs and thinking about settling down in Guantanamo. I had enough "down-home country" in me to appreciate the simple life.

We sat around for most of the day talking. Later Julio and I walked to a nearby market for beans and rice, a couple of chickens, and some vegetables. Buck almost killed himself trying to ride a bike with a bent wheel.

That night, over beans and rice, I made an offhand remark about how nice it would be to sit down to a first-class meal some day. I was speaking facetiously but it didn't come across as I intended. Bobby exploded in anger and called me an American pig. Julio told me to ignore him because he was high. Bobby started yelling poetry and cursing a U.S. political system that was killing people in Cuba and all over the world. I thought he was nuts, but I was a guest and couldn't say anything. Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut. If I had said anything, it would have been some naive comment about loyalty and being a little more respectful about the United States of America. I didn't want to offend anyone. Bobby was beyond me, but I was eager to continue the friendship with Julio and Gaby.

Interesting day.

The following Wednesday I was back. Bobby was there but said nothing. For two days and two nights he listened to scratchy records by Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck. He seemed to know Chet Baker and Charlie Parker, but he wasn't in the mood to talk to me about them. During those two days, he became increasingly abusive to every-one.

Julio, Gaby, and I rode bikes out into the country and up the coast. We went swimming, brought fresh fish for supper, and made plans to go fishing the following week.

It was on the third visit that I asked Julio about the revolution that was spoken about so disparagingly by our officers. He asked me what I knew about Castro and the revolution. Not much, I told him. Castro was anti-American and Americans were good for the island's economy. He was probably a Communist. The more I said, the sillier I sounded. Julio listened calmly but Bobby turned and started yelling angrily, almost incoherently. He was spitting and sputtering, "You're a whore! Worse than Truman! Pigs!" Finally he lurched to his feet and left.

No Room in the Revolution for Druggies

I asked Julio and Gaby if I was as ignorant of what was going on as Bobby accused me of being.

"You have to understand that Bobby is going through a very bad time in his life," Gaby explained. She looked at Julio, seemingly for permission to continue. He shrugged his shoulders and she gave me a real shock.

"Try to understand Bobby. He has been rejected by people he admires very much. Don't take what he says personally. He was with the revolutionaries for a few months. He has been with Fidel and Che."

I couldn't believe it. Vaughn was the last person in the world I would picture as a revolutionary. He was small and skinny and as physically weak as any person I had ever known. I didn't know much about what was happening in Cuba but I knew that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were heading a small army that was involved in what officers said was a hopeless attempt to take over the island and they weren't going to get much done with an army of Bobby Vaughns. "You mean he's been fighting with the people who are trying to overthrow the government that we support?"

"Yes and no. Bobby is a poet. He's in love with the idea of the revolution. He has a strong mind for words. The problem is that he's a drug user an addict and nobody trusts an addict."

It seems he had been given a choice drugs or revolution choose one or the other; the two didn't mix.

As she continued, I learned that they were all involved with the revolution.

They didn't deny it.

"Tell me more," I asked.

And they damn sure did.

Cuba Owned by the U.S.

They fed me statistics on how the Cuban people lived under Fulgencia Batista. They had no medical care, no schools, no wages, no futures to look forward to. The United States controlled 75 percent of the agriculture, all of the tourist trade, and all the gambling. Pay in the factories and on the plantations was so low people died of malnutrition.

"You see hundreds and hundreds of women lining the streets selling themselves," Julio said. "You can buy any perversion you can imagine for a dollar or less. Do you think they enjoy being whores?"


"If you go down the street and buy a woman, do you think she likes you because you are clean and pay cash?"


"Do you think you are special because you have money and they do not? Can you even imagine what it is like to have no money, no resources of any kind, and need a doctor for a sick baby and know that the doctor will not treat the baby unless you have cash?"

Some questions have no answers.

"Can you imagine a doctor who will let babies die because the mother has no money?"

Julio was talking softly, but his hands were trembling. Gaby got up and left the room.

Bobby returned. He had calmed down and now added bits of information that must have been poetry because I understood little of what he said. I did understand, though, that he idolized Che and called both Castro and Che fearless: "Castro the fearless warrior/Scholar" and "Che the fearless warrior/poet."

Bobby would look you in the eye and start with simple thoughts and ideas, then slowly lead you down an increasingly complex path of words and phrases and ideas. Just about the time you thought he was trying to make a fool of you he would stop. Then he'd sit there looking through you, his mouth half open. After a long pause, he would recite a poem. A sonnet. He would recite it once, twice. Play with a word. Discuss a rhyme. Go over it. Explain a sestet. Finish a sonnet with (according to Julio) a perfect sestina. Most of the time I was completely lost, but he was a hard person to dislike.

Bobby had a very serious attachment to two writers, Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. I'd read all of Hemingway and nothing by Pound. Bobby shared with me his Pound books but Pound was beyond me. Gaby once asked him how he could admire Hemingway, who only wrote about fighting, fucking, and fishing. Bobby answered, "It's not what he writes about but the way he writes what he writes about." When it came to discussing literature or poetry with Bobby Vaughn, I kept my mouth shut.

(Fifteen years later, Bobby, John Eastman, and I spent many days and nights together near Marion, Iowa. John was working on film scripts and Bobby was working on getting high. By that time, Bobby had a patch covering the hole in his head where someone had beaten out one of his eyes late one night in Kansas City. He had been looking for Charlie Parker's mother.)

Any Prostitutes in your Family?

Julio never spoke about himself. Once when we were discussing how a poor woman survived in Cuba with only four square yards of garden to feed her family, he told me that their mother his and Gaby's had been a prostitute on this very street. The two of them had grown up here. He would use the word "prostitute," but he never used the word "whore." "You must be careful about the words you use," he told me seriously. "Be careful how you categorize people. A woman sells her body. Batista sells our country."


Then, "Think about who the prostitutes are. Maybe you have a prostitute in your own family. Tell me, Joe, who in your family are selling themselves and what price are they being paid?"

I didn't like talk about having whores in my family, but I understood the point he was making.

"Which is worst, Joe, a rapist or a prostitute?"

"The rapist, of course."

"Which is worst, Joe, a pimp or a prostitute?"

"The pimp, of course."

"Don't you understand that Cuba is a woman who is being abused by your country. Cuba is being used like a prostitute. Small countries all over the world are the prostitutes and the United States is a rapist and a pimp."

Strong words.

Why Do Poets Have to Carry Guns?

One night Bobby announced that he was leaving and returning to Key West, or maybe New York City. He was sad that there was no place for him in Cuba sadder still over his own drug habit. "Why does a poet have to carry a gun and be prepared to kill?" he asked.

"Because a poet of this revolution must be pre-pared to kill for this revolution, not just write poems about it," Julio answered.

For some reason Bobby turned to me and asked, "Who broke your nose, Joe?"

"A person who suffered far more pain doing it than I suffered having it done," I answered.

Bobby was grinning, and he didn't grin much. "A poet with a broken nose?"

Julio asked me if I would fight for the revolution. "If this was my country I would be in the mountains. But it's not my country," I answered. Then I added, "I think that I would fight for the three of you. I love you all. I even love your revolution, but I don't even know the language of your revolution at least not yet."

Julio looked at me. "Do you know any more or any less about the Cuban people than you know about the Korean people?"

The question jolted me. I had come to know these people. I knew they were right in what they were doing that it was the only way their lives would ever have any meaning. I was in the U.S. military, but I could never take action against them. Now Julio had made me realize that people just like Gaby and him were sitting in houses just like this one half way around the world in small towns in Korea. And I was soon to be heading over there. If we were wrong in Cuba, were we wrong in Korea also?

I didn't even have to ask.

As for Cuba's revolution, I knew at least enough of the language to understand what was happening. I learned that many other military personnel also understood. Julio worked hard at smuggling. He made regular trips into the Sierra Maestras with weapons and spare parts that came from the naval base.

The talks always went on late into the night. Bobby would be high on turpin hydrate or thorazine or heroin. He slept in the corner while I listened and learned about pain and how to kill and why they believed such actions were necessary. Bobby didn't hear many of those conversations; he'd heard them all before and may have written some of them. Occasionally he would wake with a start, grab a pencil, and start writing. Then he would look over at us like we were strangers and go back to sleep.

He awoke one night and scribbled a poem about an Anglo named Toth who would go to prison because there was a doubt and because Fidel did not have time to sort through a person's politics.

The conversations went on, broken only by the time I spent on the ship. I'd return weekly. We would ride bicycles up the coast, sometimes sleeping on the beach. We'd go fishing. Occasionally we'd buy fruit from people who were on their way to the markets. Once we were stopped by some police. While Julio talked to them, Gaby stood close to me and began acting like she was turning a trick smiling, teasing, being irritated with the delay, asking for money to buy beer for everyone, which I gave her but which the police declined. It was a strange, yet arousing, incident. I was responding to her differently than I ever had. When the police finally left, Julio said, "More names for the list."

Gaby told me I was not a very good actor. I could have told her that.

Julio always referred to his "list" whenever he had a run-in with anyone who worked for the Batista regime. Whether he had an actual list I never knew. Years later, when the revolutionaries had successfully defeated the military dictatorship, it was said that Castro had a list of the names of people who had caused the people great suffering. It is said further that these people were arrested and executed no questions, no trials. They were, it was said, given exactly what they had given to the Cuban people. Whether it's true or not I do not know. I do not approve of summary executions, but I can damn sure understand why it happens.

The Case of the Missing Springfield Rifles

Around this time, the navy replaced the old Springfield rifles, bolt action 30-06s if I remember correctly, with the new M1s. The Springfield was becoming obsolete, we were told a good rifle, but the M1s were superior. With the help of a chief gunner's mate, who was gay and whose passion for a beautiful man with a golden tan was greater than his fear of losing his retirement, Julio ended up with most of the old Springfield rifles from our COM DES DIV 302 destroyer group, which was made up of the USS Bronson (DD668), USS Smalley (DD565), USS Cotten (DD669), and USS Daly (DD519). "Oh yes," Julio would say, "I sure do love your old chief gunner's mate. Too bad he isn't in charge of the armory on the base."

During this particular period, Julio was always on the move. He had little to say and when I visited he was often not there. When he returned he would be relaxed, ready for bike rides, conversations, and cooking. One day, soon after returning from a trip to the Sierra Maestra Mountains, he was sitting with Gaby and me in the same park where we first had met. We were eating rice and beans and drinking Hautuey beer.

Julio asked me if I'd tell the chief gunner's mate that he wanted to see him early Sunday morning. "He knows where to meet me. Tell him it is important that he is there."

Before I could answer him, Gaby reached over and put one hand on her brother's arm and the other on mine. With a confidential tone to her voice and a smile on her face, she said, "Now I think Julio is a prostitute, just like our mother was a prostitute. I wonder if I will be next?"

Gaby laughed. Julio laughed. I laughed. I laughed out loud!

My laughter interrupted the gusano. People at the SERTOMA Club turned and looked at me, whispered to each other, and shook their heads.

Kicked out of Sertoma

The speaker was going on and on about "Castro and his thugs" and how they had created a grim military dictatorship on his island paradise. When he finished he asked if anyone had any questions.

I said I had a few. By then I had had a few too many Old Styles. First I asked him if he was opposed to Castro closing down the thousands of whorehouses that were run by U.S. organized crime who split the profits with Batista's military police and probably the bankers.

The room became suddenly quiet.

While he was thinking about the first question I asked him why he hadn't described how 90 percent of the Cuban people lived in abject poverty with no access to education or medical care until the Cuban people's revolution removed the U.S.-supported military dictator and the organized crime.

I asked him why he hadn't informed the SERTOMA Club of how the revolutionaries had received more help from navy personnel than from any Communist countries. And why he hadn't mentioned that U.S. corporations owned 75 percent of the farm-land and paid Cuban laborers pennies a day to insure that stockholders got rich while babies died of malnutrition.

I asked him to please describe the slums, the sweat shops, and the exploitation of child labor that personified U.S. corporate involvement in Cuba.

Looking around, I could see that everyone thought I was the outrage. I'd had too much to drink and I was angry. This Cuban banker's rap had brought back too many memories, too much rage. Anger and too much beer had brought me to my feet to spill my rage. I had a problem all right: I was unable to turn my anger into the kind of poetry my partner Tom Kuncl would spew forth when he was still sober enough to get to his feet in front of whoever was handy.

As a result of my outburst, I was kicked out of SERTOMA and labeled a crazy recalcitrant which I was and probably am, but why scare people?

You can't be too careful. Not a good idea to mix politics, tootsie pops, and too much Old Style beer.

So the SERTOMA Club suffered an uncomfortable few minutes. They'll never know that they suffered far less listening to me than I did listening to the Cuban banker. I'm sure the banker had never been asked such questions--questions I'm sure they had all put out of their minds by breakfast.

In looking back over my life, I believe that this outburst was one more element in the government figuring out that I was speaking about my own personal involvement with assisting Cuban revolutionaries. During the period I am talking about, the navy was lecturing personnel about the revolutionaries. They were quick to use the term "Commies." We were constantly being reminded that we had to be careful about who we associated with on the island. Bobby Vaughn's presence on the island, the fact that he had spent time with the revolutionaries in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, my association with him then and later in Iowa, the possibility of the government investigating and finding out that all of the Springfield rifles from our Destroyer Squadron were never turned in when they were exchanged for M1s, all of the above may have led investigators to identify me as a subversive who may have provided Castro with weapons from our squadron's arsenals.

Little did they know.

Looking back, the one thing that I found incredibly humorous is that the chief petty officer who everyone thought was gay was straight, and the toughest old chief on the ship was gay. He had been having an affair with one of the young seamen on the ship and then had fallen hard for Julio. ##



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