A prison visit is always a somewhat sordid experience. You never get used to it. Lledoners is a new, well-lit facility, but you can’t get used to the sound of the gears as the heavy doors slide shut behind you, and you can’t cross the yard without feeling the height of the prison walls. On Friday there were no nervous children pulling on their mothers’ sleeves anxiously waiting to see their fathers. At the entrance there was a heavy silence. At eleven o'clock in the morning there were rumours as to what prison sentence the prosecution would be asking for. Someone told me before I went in that they would be calling for Oriol Junqueras to get twenty-five years.
I enter the visiting room and wait for several minutes on my side of the glass partition. Two chairs, a marble counter that chills your hands and that glass pane full of handprints which prevents any physical contact, force us to raise our voices and speak through the phone located on the prisoner’s side. It's not a good day: precisely one year ago, the former president of the Catalan government dismissed by Madrid’s direct rule and the current president of Esquerra Republicana was sent to prison, on his son Lluc’s birthday —he turns six today and is learning to read—, and he is waiting to hear what sentence the Prosecutor’s Office is asking for.
A smiling Oriol Junqueras enters the room in short sleeves. He jokes about the partition that separates our hands which doesn’t allow us to greet each other. It has an overbearing effect, preventing the proximity people seek when they talk. Junqueras has just finished a lesson with some thirty inmates and he’s in a good mood. He has taught them about the Cassini space probe and the Huygens descent module, about the first mission to explore Saturn and its natural satellites, which confirmed that Titan and Enceladus, with their giant plumes, contained water and were candidates for non-terrestrial life. Junqueras asks me if there is any news. When he hears that the rumour is 25 years, he smiles, as if he’d already taken it for granted, and says we must react with "firmness, serenity, dignity and enthusiasm".
The conversation returns to the lesson with the inmates, who asked him if it’s true that the Chinese wanted to build an artificial moon, and how he took the opportunity to talk about Kepler and the spaceships with solar sails that one day will cross interplanetary space. He is eager to know whether the night before his response to the "Good night" outside the prison gates was audible . He’d answered back: "Lluc and Joana, I love you, we’ll win!” (2). Raül Romeva walks past the door to the interview room, a sports bag in hand and sporting a serious look on his face. He pops in. "Have you heard the news?" "No, just rumours." "The radio has just announced it. You are getting 25 years; Cuixart, Sànchez and Carme, 17. Me and Forn, Rull, Turull and Dolors Bassa, 16 years". Romeva is unsure of the rest of the sentences. He’s just heard them and he’s not sure if he’s remembered right the sentence for a good friend of them both, the former Justice Minister Carles Mundó. Junqueras realizes the prosecution has called for him to get the longest sentence and cracks a joke: "I’m the winner!" Rull walks past the glass on the way to meet someone. He greets us with: "I'm curious about how they justify it. Do you ask for 16 years because Tweety Bird (3) didn’t dock in Palamós?". Jordi Turull, who has permission to visit his father in hospital this afternoon, greets us with a concerned look on his face and a gesture of solidarity accompanied by a "We’ll get through this". Jordi Cuixart greets the rest of the political prisoners with a smile and some encouraging words.
Junqueras reacts with composure, embracing the emotional nature of a moment that is between surrealism and the seriousness of the sentences being called for, of which they have yet to be officially informed. He calls them "completely out of proportion with reality”.And he adds that "Any honest person would reach the conclusion that no crime was committed. That the trial is a fabrication that has nothing to do with reality or who we are. It doesn’t have a leg to stand on".
Junqueras is longing for a chance to defend himself since "internationally, the prison sentences are causing an outrage" and the trial must serve as "a lever, a means to educate par excellence". In reference to the disparity between the sentences asked for by the Solicitor General and the Prosecutor's Office, he merely states that it is "better to drop from 12 to 0 than from 25 to 0". But that ultimately these are distractions, and that no crime was committed and only the way that justice can be served is with an acquittal.
Any hint of emotion ends with the news and Oriol Junqueras picks up the political discourse where we left off. You get the feeling that he has already accepted the years of imprisonment, those that will ultimately result from the trial and the closing remarks of the Prosecutor’s Office, as an investment in the political project and that he is determined to put ERC at the country’s centre and achieve a cross-party, permanent consensus which broadens the majority. So far it has been aided by the way in which the Spanish state boasts of its democratic weaknesses with overbearing pride. Junqueras gives the impression that he sees himself like a peaceful Irish leader and his leadership is more respected than ever by his people. He admits that there are ongoing “discussions” today, but that dialogue is far away, in spite of the visits and the phone calls. But politics is, above all, what goes on behind the scenes, and whatever happens will affect the future of the political prisoners and Catalonia as a whole.
(1) Every evening since most Catalan political prisoners were moved to Lledoners, a local young man has shouted “good night!” from outside the facility. Sometimes the inmates’ reply can be heard.
(2) Lluc and Joana are the names of Oriol Junqueras’ children.
(3) This is a reference to the holiday cruise ship which housed the Spanish police sent to prevent the independence referendum from going ahead.