THE OBSERVER

Endurance

According to Sànchez, some political actors are “emotionally blocked” and he is determined to write, read and help to draft the pro-independence camp’s new strategy

Endurance is about keeping a clear head while in prison. If you are just visiting, a prison is noise. The slow, dull, low-pitched noise of doors closing behind you. First they let you in and then they eject you, as an afterword to a rushed conversation through a glass partition. The Lledoners prison is different from Soto del Real, or Soto, as those who have spent time there refer to it. Jordi Sànchez is grateful to be near his family; he is grateful that, rather than grey, Lledoners is an earth-coloured building; that people are not hostile to him; that visits are allowed instead of always being “under consideration”; that dinner time is later and his daily activities keep him busy longer.

We walk into the visiting room with the families of regular inmates and the friends of Jordi Turull and Oriol Junqueras. The former have had to wait months to be able see him, whereas the latter visited him three times while he was held in Estremera. We talk about the effects of prison on families and the unreal feeling that overcomes you when you walk across that silent courtyard.

A female warden has given us a booth number and we rush to locate it so as not to waste one moment of the time we have been given to speak to Jordi Sànchez. We are still not sure whether we have remembered the right number and found the right booth when Sànchez turns up wearing a black jumper and a closely-trimmed beard, smiling and seemingly calm. We instinctively touch the glass partition to shake hands and Sànchez is quick to pick up the phone that will allow us to communicate with him from our side. He wastes no time. We discuss politics and he cuts straight to the chase. There doesn’t seem to be any sadness, but the obligation to build a lucid narrative that will save the independence process, avert a violent outbreak and avoid making the same mistakes again. He is concerned about how the penalty requested by the public prosecutor will be explained —he takes it for granted that it will be very harsh— and what the reaction in the streets will be. Sànchez does not expect to get a fair trial and has begun to picture it today: his lawyer has just told him that the most likely date will be during the first two weeks of November. It’s not good news to know that the Catalan political prisoners will be moved back to a facility near Madrid and it will be Christmas again during their trial.

According to Sànchez, some political actors are “emotionally blocked” and he is determined to write, read and help to draft the pro-independence camp’s new strategy. He states that the subject is rarely broached by the political prisoners; avoiding it helps them to keep their sanity, and Sànchez says he only gets upset when there are signs of division, “which the people do not deserve”. In prison he gets the physical exercise he didn’t use to get, he is learning about photography and reluctantly admits to writing less now that he has a tv set.

He hopes the new socialist administration led by Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez will not muddle up the judicial situation further and will engage in talks so that a mutually-agreed referendum can be held in the long term. At one point he wonders whether everyone understands what it means to build a republic and he emphasises that any strategy must first be deemed useful. The former leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) is hopeful that Puigdemont’s new political movement, Crida, will be able to interpret the new political culture which Sànchez believes has taken hold in Catalonia and he thinks that it will only be effective provided it is a truly new movement. He and Carles Puigdemont write to each other and exchange messages through a third party. Sànchez recognises that Puigdemont is a charismatic leader and this allows them to resolve their differences when they arise.

We are interrupted by the sort of chime that precedes an airport tannoy announcement, followed by someone’s voice. Sànchez explains that in five minutes the audio will be cut off and we won’t be able to hear each other anymore. It turns out it is less than two minutes. Suddenly we cannot hear his words. He stays calm, seated and smiling. We shout out the end of our conversation and say our good-byes. A warden approaches and knocks on the door. The inmates start leaving their booths and walk towards a central corridor where we spot Jordi Turull walking towards us. He is thinner and is wearing Bermuda shorts. We greet him through the glass partition and then Oriol Junqueras arrives but he stays by the door, discreetly. I recall that the last time I interviewed him we met at the Ministry of Economy, in the vice president’s office. He is thinner and I crack a joke to defuse the absurdity of it all. He replies by showing off his biceps and calves and, from my side of the partition, I can hear him quip: “I ask them: what would you like me to beat you at?”. We are the last ones to leave. Some visitors wipe off their tears. It is unbearably hot on the courtyard. For some stupid reason, I recall the last text message that Jordi Sànchez sent his family: “Are you off to bed, yet? Abril, brush your teeth”.