In Durance Vile
BECAUSE CASTRO AND HIS men had been convicted of military crimes, the trial judges specified that they serve their sentences in La Cabaña. But the minister of the interior, Ramón Hermida, ordered them confined at the Model Prison on the Isle of Pines. It was Cuba's largest and most modern penal institution. La Cabana was overcrowded, he said. Most likely Mirta's father intervened to spare his son-in-law the indignity of spending years in Havana's antiquated fortress. Built by the Spanish in the eighteenth century, and still occupied in the 1950s, the cells and galleries were overrun with cockroaches and bedbugs. During heavy rains floods spilled into the dungeons, sending hundreds of rats scurrying to the higher levels. Complaints about the quantity and quality of the food were unceasing. * While prison life, under the best of circumstances, could never be pleasant, the facilities on the Isle of Pines provided amenities not permitted or possible at La Cabana. The greatest disadvantage, from Castro's point of view, was the distance and the isolation from the mainland. Transportation to the island was limited, as were the lodgings, and prisoners were allowed few visitors. Mirta came only once a month, usually on Fridays. Because Hermida had classified the Moncada attackers as political prisoners, they were quartered in the hospital ward instead of the cellblocks that held those convicted of common crimes.
Castro described his initial impressions in a letter to his brother Ramón. "The people who run this prison are much more decent and able____________________