Those who recall the future were never meant to survive

Marta Candeloro was abducted on June 7, 1977 in Neuquen. She was then taken to the Secret Detention Centre “La Cueva.”

On January 30, 1972, British soldiers opened fire and killed thirteen men in a peaceful civil rights march in the Bogside neighborhood of Derry. That day is called Bloody Sunday. Next Tuesday, thirty eight years later, the British government will release a report that states the killings were unlawful.

Thirty eight years is a long time. Ask the survivors. Ask those who remember.

Ask Kay Duddy. Kay was 25 years old then. Her brother Jackie was 17, a textile worker. He was shot dead as he fled across the Rossville Flats car park. He was the first person killed on Bloody Sunday. “We put Jackie’s 50th birthday in the paper and I thought, `That’s all we can do for you now, a wee memorial in the paper, people will say a prayer for you on your 50th birthday when we should have been out partying with you’. It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you.”

It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you.

Ask Regina McKinney. She was the third child of Gerry McKinney, 35, a wrought-iron worker and dance hall manager. He and his wife had eight children. On that Sunday, he blessed himself and put his hands in the air when confronted by soldiers. Then, one of them shot him dead: “Mammy never got over it. It took 25 years for her to even start to come to terms with it.…These men took away everything….My daddy was shot with his hands  up. I was proud the way my father died, that he had his hands in the air, that he had nothing in his hands, that he did not retaliate. To me he was a hero….The only thing I want out of the report now is for the men who were shot to go down in history as innocent. I think that is the only truth we need. The soldiers are going to have to stand before God.”

And ask Kate Nash, now 60 years old. She was the oldest daughter in a family of 13 living in Creggan on Bloody Sunday. Her 19-year-old brother William was shot dead at the Rossville Street barricade. Her father Alex went to comfort his dying son. He was shot and wounded. According to Kate, her mother laid the blame on her father’s shoulders: “She blamed my father because he survived. She wanted my brother back, not her husband. My father accepted that blame and carried it until he died.”

It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you. Thirty eight years is a long time. Ask those who have waited, ask those who wait. Ask those who remember and those who cannot forget.

Ask Paula Luttringer. On March 31st 1977, Paula Luttringer was 21 years old and pregnant. She was kidnapped by the Argentine police and held, for five months, in a secret prison. While there, she gave birth to a daughter. She was then abruptly released and forced to leave the country immediately or face further violence. She fled to Uruguay and then to France. That was thirty three years ago. Thirty three years is a long time.

In 1995, Luttringer returned to Argentina and began to use photography as a way to explore the memories of the State violence committed against her and other women. El Lamento de los Muros (The Wailing of the Walls) emerged, a photographic essay, an archive of memories. Pete Brook, who has interviewed Luttringer, notes: “I have twice heard people urge Paula happiness in that she survived. Paula is unequivocal; having survived does not make her happy, living in a world in which people didn’t have to be survivors would make her happy. The violence once it is done, cannot be undone.”

The violence, once it is done, cannot be undone. Happiness would emerge from living in a world in which people didn’t have to be survivors, in which people don’t have to remember they were never meant to survive.

Estella Jackson remembers she was not meant to survive. Estella Jackon is 60 years old, a convicted killer, and a prisoner in Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma, the largest women’s prison in the state. Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state in the United States.

Estella Jackson chose when there was no choice: “I didn’t have a choice in what I did. It was either kill or be killed. And I chose to live”. Now the hardest thing now is explaining her life to her grandchildren. She says it’s hard to explain to children that she took a life because there were no choices and because she chose to survive. For Estella Jackson, the hardest thing is the painful memory of her grandchildren’s future, a memory in which it’s not clear they will know she chose to survive.

Herbert Murray remembers he was not meant to survive. Herbert Murray was a young man convicted by a jury for having robbed and murdered a blind man in New York City. The judge thought Murray was innocent, but had no choice, according to the mandatory guidelines, and so sentenced Murray to prison for 15 years to life. That meant after 15 years, Murray could come up for parole. He was denied repeatedly. Why? Because he claimed his innocence, he could not demonstrate remorse and so remained in jail. This is called “the innocent prisoner’s dilemma”.

And what of those who cannot remember?

New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility has the first prison unit for the cognitively impaired. The average age of its residents is 63. Everyone suffers from dementia. Many, maybe most, live with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Edward Sottile directs the center. Recently he was asked how prisoners with dementia, who don’t remember their own histories, can be rehabilitated. Dr. Sottile smiled a Hippocratic smile and replied that he had the same question and his solution is to do the best he can, to provide humane and compassionate care.

Remorse, remorse of conscience, remorse of mind is grief, sorrow, torment, painful memory. Ask those who remember, and those who cannot, they were never meant to survive, for they recall the future.

 

(Photo Credit: Prison Photography / Paula Luttringer, The Wailing of the Walls)

 

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.