By Ana FERNANDEZ
It was a story of friendship between a Mexican journalist and a life sentenced prisoner. It has become a podcast, “Suave”, an uncompromising look at American justice, which has just won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize. On the day in 1993 when she first met David Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, at a graduation ceremony for a group of inmates from a Pennsylvania prison, Maria Hinojosa was surprised that he asked her “how he could help her”.
“It surprised me that someone who knows he’s going to spend the rest of his life behind bars is asking you this question,” the founder of Futuro Media Group, an independent media outlet based in Harlem, told AFP. At New York. The journalist replied to this Puerto Rican prisoner that he could be a valuable source in prison: “The voice of the voiceless”.
Words that changed his fate. Illiterate at the time, he was serving a life sentence, without possibility of review, following his conviction at the age of 17 for the murder of a young man. He had been found guilty on the sole basis of the testimony of a young woman whom he vigorously contested. Suave spent 31 years in prison. At first, in isolation. “I was talking to myself to survive,” he admits in one of the seven episodes of the podcast, which lasts more than five hours in total.
The letter and telephone relationship, punctuated by a few visits, that the journalist and the prisoner maintained throughout these years, turned into a journalistic project in 2012, when a Supreme Court decision declared unconstitutional the sentences of life imprisonment without review imposed on minors. Today, the recordings of the conversations bring to life “roller coasters” of emotions, says Maria Hinojosa, in a still human, sometimes heartbreaking audio document.
A review of his case led to Suave’s parole four years ago. Today, the 58-year-old has started a family, exhibits his art in a Philadelphia gallery and devotes himself to rehabilitation programs for ex-convicts. “This is the first time that a small business created by a Latin American woman has received this Pulitzer prize, awarded in the audio reporting category, proudly declares Maria Hinojosa, director of Latino USA, a program of American public radio NPR focuses on the 60 million souls that make up the Hispanic community of the United States.
But it is above all the recognition of an “independent journalism of women, where sensitivity and heart go hand in hand with history”, she assures. The prison community also welcomed this award as its own. “I hope this will draw attention to the (need) to reform the penal system as it relates to minors,” says Suave.
According to data from the NGO Sentencing Project, in 2019 there were 2,900 inmates under the age of 18 in adult prisons, 41% of them African Americans. “This country says it is the country of freedom, democracy and freedom of expression, but in reality it is the country that has the most people behind bars”, remarks Maria Hinojosa, who denounces the system’s ability to “dehumanize people” and “hide” them.
With 1.9 million detainees at the start of 2022, according to the non-governmental organization Prison Policy Initiative, the United States holds the world record for the incarceration rate, with 573 detainees per 100,000 inhabitants. “This (Pulitzer) prize means that we talk about it and that we hope that things will change,” hopes Maria Hinojosa.
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A story of friendship between a Mexican journalist and a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment: The podcast “Suave”, an uncompromising look at American justice, has won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize