Interview in a Mexican jail By Bruce Cory Monterrey, Mexico Any way you look at it, Ramon Chacon is in big trouble. Chacon, 34, a chicano activist from Mercedes in the Rio Grande Valley, has been held awaiting trial for ten months in the state prison in Monterrey, Mexico. He is charged with rebellion against the Republic of Mexico, conspiracy to overthrow the government, and illegal transportation of arms into the country, charges which could keep him in the Mexican prison system for a long, long time. The Mexican press has had a field day with the Chacon case, reporting it as a sensational tale of international terrorism. A few days after his capture, Chacon himself signed a confession which proclaimed him part of world-wide terrorist conspiracy. Chacon has since repudiated the confession, claiming that it was tortured out of him, with beatings, use of hallucinatory drugs, and “the water treatment.” Mexican prison officials have denied the torture allegations. 10 The Texas Observer HALF PRICE RECORDS MAGAZINE ‘ ,111. $ r , WA, ATOM 1511-1 LAVACA WACO: 25TN4 coLumBeg MUM: 4535 lviclaNNEY AVE i 405 ELIA. 5119 W. LOVERS Lti. if fy 205 S. TANG .1,b1SELIcetOtt = PRIM. 41. The story of Chacon’s arrest and confinement first trickled out of Mexico after a visit to the Monterrey prison by Ernesto Chacon, Ramon’s brother and an antipoverty activist from Wisconsin. Ernesto Chacon has secured Mexican lawyers for his brother, and he’s organizing a campaign, mainly centered in the Upper Midwest, to urge Mexican President Luis Echeverria to grant clemency in the Chacon case. Locally, the Texas Raza Unida Party and the regional branch of the National Lawyers Guild have passed resolutions supporting Chacon’s case. International terrorist or political prisoner? The Observer recently spent four hours with Ramon Chacon in La Penitencieria, Monterrey, trying to answer that question. Sunday morning visiting hours at the state prison begin at 7, but the relatives and friends of prisoners began lining up in the courtyard outside the guardhouse at about 6. Women were admitted through one door, then searched by prison matrons. Men were admitted one at a time to the guard house, where we lined up along a narrow corridor and waited to be frisked in groups of five. After frisking me, a guard asked whom I was there to visit. I told him and was frisked a second time. My notebook and visitor’s visa were held. Then I was issued a pass ‘and directed toward the prisoner cell blocks. There is no visiting room at La Penitencieria, as in American jails. Prisoners and visitors mix freely. In the courtyard between the guard house and the inmate dormitories, prisoners set up displays of leather work, model ships, and other handicrafts they have worked on while in jail. The items are for sale, and the revenue from these handicrafts is vital to the prisoners because all commodities in the prisonsoap, toilet paper, blankets, foodmust be purchased by the inmates. After a few minutes’ wait, I saw Concha Chacon and Ramon. Concha made the drive to Monterrey with me. This was only her second visit with her husband since his arrest last October. 29, is the youngest daughter of a migrant farmworker family of 11. With the help of her family, she managed to break out of migrant life and attended Pan American University in Edinburg and the University of Texas in Austin. She is past president of the State Migrant Council of Ohio and a former instructor in psychology and sociology at the Colegio Jacinto Trevino, an Antioch College-style school in the Valley. Chacon was a student at the Colegio when they met. They have been married three years and have two children. Although once quite active in the chicano movement, she says she has done less politically since having the children. Ramon “attends the meetings for both of us now,” she explains. As we met in the prison courtyard, Chacon was holding his two-year-old daughter, Mitka, the elder child in the family. Ramon Chacon, 34, is tall, thin, wellgroomed with his hair combed straight back off his forehead. He speaks in a soft voice, and usually only when spoken to. He occassionally showed off his daughter to passing inmates. After a few minutes we were joined by Joel Martinez, an old friend who also had made the trip from the Valley, and who had some difficulty entering the prison because of his over-the-shirt-collar-length hair. Concha had brought her husband some clothes from home, and we climbed the stairs to his red brick dormitory to deposit the clothes before going to breakfast. The second floor of the dormitory is practically wall to wall bunkbeds, three bunks high. A large man would have difficulty walking among them. There is no heating system. On benches along the windows the men use hot plates to prepare food they have purchased. At the head of the dormitory is a small concession stand dispensing tobacco and toiletries. Chacon deposited his clothes under the mattress on his bunk, then stopped to display several belts he had made in a leather-working shop. Martinez purchased a belt. Outside again, we walked along one edge of the exercise yard. Lining the prison walls are the prison shopsshops for printing, welding, machine shops, and craft shops. All, according to Chacon, are actually owned by some of the wealthier inmates, as is the concession stand in the dormitory and the coffee shop where we headed. “If I only had a little capital, I could go into business for myself,” he joked. Shop owners contract with businesses outside the prison for work, and jobs in the print and welding shops are highly prized. The jobs in the shops usually go to the highest bidder, Chacon said. Over breakfast, I began to question Chacon about himself and his arrest. Like his wife, Chacon is one of 11 children of a farmworker family. His formal education ended when he completed high school in Devine, Tex. Following graduation, he said, he became a foundry worker in Wisconsin. When asked his occupation, he laughed and answered, “Prisoner.” Chacon has spent a considerable portion of his adult life behind bars. In 1965, he went to Huntsville State Prison for one year for aggravated assault in a Pearsall bar, a fight he describes as “part of a family feud.” Two years later, he was arrested on a much more
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