Visiting Dolors Bassa, the minister with the green felt tip

Bassa explains that she stands accused of having set minimum services that were “too minimal” for the strike of October 3

The days go by with hours that are tremendous, regimented, round and undistinguishable, with matching sleepless nights. Every night the thick summer heat dampens our knee-pits. This is my first visit with Dolors Bassa since she was moved to a Catalan prison. As ever, there are four of us. We are an odd, sisterly, fun, wild bunch: Natza Farré, Helena Garcia Melero, Sílvia Soler and myself. We arrange to meet in Figueres, at café Astoria (Sílvia is a local and has given us directions). From there, we drive to the Puig de les Basses facility to visit the lady who pens her letters with a green felt tip in beautiful, polite longhand and writes about all sorts of prison stuff, about the hopeless, directionless women that she is staying with.

It is a modern prison, this is. The guards recognise us from TV, radio or St. George’s Day. As always, you show your ID and state your postal code. Is this your current address? We go in five minutes late, so they might take it off the total time we are allowed. Ours is booth number 31. We walk through a maze: twenty, twenty-five, twenty-nine. She is there already. She’s put on eye make-up for the occasion (an unwritten rule among women: I’ll make an effort). I am the one with some prison-visiting experience, the others have none. I sit and huddle on a marble surface. The others keep standing because they daren’t pick up a chair; and for that gesture, just for that gesture, I would kiss them till my lips hurt. Natza ought to be the toughest, but she is the most devastated of us. Her lips are puffy and her eyes are tearful. Afterwards we agree that her piece will be about the problems that Dolors encounters for being a woman. Sílvia manages to put on the bravest of faces. In her bag, Dolors is carrying Sílvia’s latest book, Els vells amics (“The Old Friends”), the one with paintbrushes on the cover. “I’ve got the hardcover edition, but we’re only allowed paperbacks in here”, Dolors says. Helena’s blue eyes, so sincere, open wide and are about to well up as her hands cover her mouth. These are my friends.

Dolors is a chatterbox. She rests the palm of her hands against the glass partition, she smiles, like a teacher, like a sister, and she tells us things. We ask her about the trial. “How can you know what you have been charged with, if you have no internet access?”. She explains that now they have been allowed to read the case file (60,000 pages long) off a USB drive. The judge has charged her —and so he holds her in custody— because [as Catalonia’s Employment Minister] she set the minimum services for the general strike on October 3 last year. And he thinks those services were “too minimal”, which means that many more people took to the streets and, therefore, “they could have behaved violently”. We put our hands against the glass, we gnaw on our fists.

There’s more. “One day Jaume Soler came to see me —he was the mayor of Arbúcies— and asked me to help him get in touch with [Foreign Minister] Raül Romeva so they could discuss something to do with cooperation with Latin America. Well, it totally slipped my mind, you know. A few days later Jaume sent me an email which read: ‘Minister, do you recall that you said you’d get Romeva to get in touch?’”. She has got our full attention. “Well, now they are saying that Jaume Soler’s email proves that we had plans to travel to Latin America to discuss independence”.

“Let’s hope this is all worth our while”

We ask her whether she thinks that the trial will be broadcast so that these shocking fabrications, all this simmering, deliberate wickedness may be exposed. She says she doesn’t think so. She explains that she is horrified at the prospect of being transferred back to Madrid for the trial. “They get you up at 5 am, take you to court and leave you locked up in a cell the size of this booth, with only a toilet. You are not even allowed any writing paper. The hours go by and by the time it’s your turn to appear in court, you are in bits”.

It’s time to leave. All four of us step outside and we are hugging each other when, suddenly, we realise that she is watching from the corridor. So she has seen us cry, which we didn’t want. But perhaps it’s better this way. Maybe she has a point: “I hope my time in prison is not a waste, that it’s worth something”.

We go out. Outside we meet her sister and her son, who live very close by. We hold each other like strangers do, we kiss each other and lick off our tears. Who would have known, years ago, that we would be crying over this sort of thing? Over an innocent woman held in prison who writes letters with a green felt tip pen? “She told me: you know, I haven’t smelled a scent for months”, her sister says. We look at her. And she adds: “Now I send her letters dabbed with perfume”.

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