Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares

Valladares, Armando

Knopf, 1986

p. 264

Among the evils Castro visited on political prisoners was a refusal in his prisons to let them be clean. They had to live in their own filth, getting scummy, diseased, and slimy. And they had to watch rats coming up out of their sewer pipes (prevented only by stuffing your shoe into the putrid pipe). Also, they watched, at times, the bizarre nightly spectacle of the rats and the owls: “The prison yards were teeming with enormous rats–so many of them that you had to see it to believe it. There must have been 100 or 150 of them in every patio. In the middle of the day, dozens of them would come out and run through the cracks in the prison yard and across the little patches of grass. Nothing kept these rodents from taking over completely but the owls–they at least kept the population down somewhat. Owls are very common in Cuba, and each bird would swallow down several rats every night . . . Every evening the owls with shrieks of jubilee hurtled down on the rats, grabbed them in their claws, and flew back to the roof to pull them apart and eat them. [Many of the prisoners] would watch the hunt from their windows.” Their cell walls were meanwhile crawling (literally) with maggots, cockroaches, lice, and bedbugs.