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  • Mario Rocha spent a decade in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Thanks in large part to the perseverance of Sr. Janet Harris Rocha’s conviction was reversed in 2006. Here he shares a commentary he wrote while still imprisoned.

    “Sweet Dee,” I had written when the roof began to rumble. Lying on my stomach, pencil in hand, bare feet in the air like a teenager in love, I tried to go back to my letter, but the noise above kept on growing louder with every second, forcing everyone in the cells around me to pause in our thoughts and actions.

    As the beating and banging continued above, the sound of silence crystallized down below till somebody screamed, “Dale gas, homies!” (Go for it!) And slowly the flames of ignorance and hate broke out, causing even the quietest of souls to scream out in anger against the senselessness: “Radio, radio, radio!” (An expression used in the jail to calm the noise.)

    But the will of the weak-minded had prevailed. The sound of flesh beating flesh and bodies bouncing off the walls created an instant uproar.

    Those who could only hear and imagine what was going on inside those other cells where black and brown were mixed pounded the steel bars that held them back. And while others screamed out racist stupidities back and forth like kids in grown men’s bodies, I simply shook my head in disappointment, in disapproval,
    in disbelief. How could we, the brown and black captives of the Los Angeles County Jail system, be fighting each other after so long in the same struggle?

    “Sweet Dee,” I tried to go back to my letter, “How I wish that I could hear your tenderhearted voice and look into those luminous brown eyes…” But it became too hard to concentrate, too hard to ignore the negativity and violence all around, too hard to pretend that the riot was not happening. Delicate cursive letters became dark strokes of frustration; heavy, sweaty palms smearing the pencil lead as I tried... but just couldn’t.

    “Camaradas!” I screamed out. “Have some dignity, por favor.”

    In the whispering shadows of the aftermath, I spent that long Thursday night mad at the fact that, in my powerlessness, my views mattered not to the mighty makers of war, that, in my criminal discredibility, I was just another follower who should not have a voice—until I spoke out!

    Then, the ceiling, who could hear my thoughts loud and clear, finally responded, saying: In a place where the captors are still allowed to beat and bully the weak without reprisal, to trash any and all of our personal belongings with impunity, to delay delivery of our mail indefinitely, isn’t it only right that the cages of inhumanity should rattle?

    I remembered how Frantz Fanon explained that when the oppressor becomes so out of reach in the minds of the oppressed, we can only unleash our fury at one another.

    “How long will it be till I see your pretty face, my precious Diana?”

    How long will it be till we the see the face of our true enemy, my people?
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