Cuban Review PanelsCuban Review Panels
By Dick Mauer
Sometime after the Mariel boat lifts calmed down we ended up with Cuban criminals locked up in every jail/prison facility in the country. Some Federal "do-gooder" judge decided that these folks should have their A files reviewed once a year to justify keeping them locked up as opposed to freeing them to prey on society. The unstated answer in these cases was always there. If any Cuban prisoner being held on revoked parole had requested voluntary departure, they could have left jail and returned to Cuba. They obviously felt that remaining incarcerated in the U.S. was better than returning to Cuba.
After the court decision, the I.N.S. made a decision on how to conduct Cuban Review Panels and detailed Border Patrol Agents across the country for 2 week periods to different prison facilities to begin interviews. Guidelines and training manuals were formulated and the first panels consisted of a supervisor and 2 Agents. The panels quickly learned that even native Spanish speakers were having problems with Cuban Spanish and Cuban interpreters were quickly added to the panels. The panels also quickly expanded to include other I.N.S. officers besides Border Patrol Agents.
I caught 2 week details to Oxnard, Wisconsin, Lompoc, California, and Marianna, Florida, all Federal Penitentiaries where Cubans were being held as revoked parolees. These were well run, clean facilities operated by Bureau of Prisons and probably the "best" jails in the world. Now let me tell you about the other side of that story.
I was detailed to Avoyelles Parish Sheriff jail in Marksville, Louisiana.We had to stay in Alexandria, Louisiana and had a 40 mile drive to Marksville every day. The first day we met with the Sheriff/Warden who had decided we would use the prison "library" for our interviews. The library was a room off the mess hall and he decided to remove both books. We also had to pick up broken furniture and, in general, clean the place up. The panel consisted of myself, a female Immigration Inspector from San Ysidro and a Cuban interpreter. Even though she was a native Spanish speaker, she was glad we had the interpreter. After cleaning up and before we started interviews she decided to use the bathroom. The only femaie restroom was in the public portion of the jail on the other side of the big mess hall. Without giving it a second thought she left to walk through the mess hall to the bathroom. We didn't realize that the mess hall doubled as the weight/workout room for prisoners and she had to walk through a contingent of prisoners pumping iron.She came back white as a ghost and said that no one had touched her, but there would be no need to serve dessert at their meals as her walking through there would serve as their dessert. We thereafter called for a guard or escorted her on bathroom trips. The jailers themselves were another story. Uniforms consisted of dungarees, a brown shirt and running shoes. Shaving was also frowned upon. The jail itself was supported by the Federal Government in return for their agreement to house Cuban prisoners, All in all, a sorry place.
The Cuban interviews themselves were eye opening testimony to the primitive conditions that existed in communist Cuba. I heard numerous Cubans explain that their life of crime in Cuba began with stealing food, the killing of a cow, goat or pig, or something else in Cuba's starvation existence. The killing of a cow for beef was specifically forbidden in Cuba. Incarceration was truly a dog eat dog existence. It was understandable that they rather stay in jail in the U.S. rather than return to jail in Cuba. These prisoners had all been convicted of various crimes in the U.S. since their parole from Cuba and, at the time of finishing their sentences had their parole revoked to keep them in jail. The panels were to make that decision on their release. I do not know the percentage of interviews that resulted in release but believe it was low. See also the recuerdo "Hotlanta"
The mental patients we inherited with the criminals during the boat left wer eventually all corralled in St. Elizabeth Hospital, Washington, D.C. and afe the subject of another sad recuerdo "St. Elizabeth Days."