What's it about?
Based on a true story, Pedro Castillo will have you questioning our judicial system.
What'd I experience?
I walked into the theater, the smell of paint hit me right away. All of the sudden, the place felt so familiar - I was reminded of my neighborhood... a very urban type of feeling. Theater for the New City... I thought the name.
When I got to the community room where the show was to be performed, I was instantly drawn to a desk with different types of pamphlets on display. They contained old news reports about this story. I mean, I knew that this play would be based on a true story, but I didn't know it was known and took place so close to here. Harlem is not at all far away.
I started to read a pamphlet about The Innocence Project, an organization that provides legal assistance for those that been wrongly convicted. I read about three former inmates who had spent more than fifteen years in jail, doing time for a crime they didn't commit. I started thinking about these people's lives. For some it had almost been half of their lifetime in a cell. Thinking about who knows what and wondering whether they would ever get justice. That is if they had not yet gone crazy.
I thought about how they might have spent their youth. Would they have thought that it had all gone to waste? Or would they just have been waiting for their death? I couldn't possibly imagine myself in a situation like that. As much as I may claim to be reasonable, I definitely think I would end up losing my mind. It just goes to show you that in life, anything can happen. Even to those that are fair, nice, truthful or kind, no one is ever safe from bad things.
Fernando Bermudez, or rather Pedro Castillo in the play, was wrongly convicted for murder after a shooting that resulted in the death of a man (a real 1991 shooting occurring in Harlem, resulting in death of Raymond Blount). Incarcerated at the age of twenty two serving a total of twenty one years for a crime he didn't commit, spending nearly half of his life in jail.
Throughout the play, I was able to discover the origin of his strength to survive through all the agony. Above all there were two things that kept him motivated. One being his wife, Gwen, and one his daughter, Kaela. Despite the fact that he was in jail, his family would often visit him and tried to live their lives as normally as they could.
At times they discussed issues, for instance when Pedro's daughter asked if she could have a cellphone, Pedro quickly denied her. Just like any other protective father would be, I thought. Another instance was when Kaela had found someone who'd she wanted to go out with. But, of course, she wanted to get approval from her dad. Once more Pedro denies her, but this time approves the cellphone (rather than the boyfriend) for Kaela.
They tried to keep themselves together as a family and discuss things that would normally go on in a family home. The difference was they were doing it in jail, an odd place, and Kaela was bothered by that. In fact, she disliked coming to jail to visit her father and talk about things that she would rather do so in the comfort of her home. She disliked the fact that every time someone asked her about her dad, she had to mention his story and point towards jail. She hated seeing her father between four walls for something that he didn't do.
Gwen suffered just as much, but remained strong. She shared with Pedro a special bond that held them together. Love. They imagined where they'd take off to as soon as Pedro got out of jail. It was a place where they would both dance salsa till they dropped. They were keeping their romantic magic alive but at the same time their hopeful spirits, too.
I felt so touched by this affection between them. I felt like I was actually seeing love. Not like it's portrayed in the movies, but love in real life. And yes, I got those chills and I felt that "Oh my god" feeling. But words do not seem to be enough to describe the sentiment I got from seeing such a beautiful representation of TRUE LOVE. If you've ever gone "awww" then you know what I mean.
But to have that amazing dream-like love crash into the wall of reality was unbearable. To think, a wrongful conviction like this ruins lives... it hit hard. To me, calling it the justice system doesn't seem accurate at all. It made me furious, they were robbing years... taking time from an innocent person's life. And the saddest thing is that they can never get those back. It made me feel very disappointed.
On the other hand, were Pedro's books, a collection of at least fifty of them. From these he got motivational advice that kept him from giving up. He read novels that made him travel through the world by escaping through his imagination. He visited places without ever leaving his cell and he marked these, as he came across them in his books, on a world map that he had on the wall above his bed. How ingenious was that? It made me admire Pedro even more. He searched out knowledge to fight, to get his life back and he didn't throw in the towel. This is something very admirable to me.
Pedro knew from day one he was innocent, and he wasn't going to get out of jail on any other grounds that didn't declare him so. Determined, he was finally exonerated and declared innocent, with the help of a pro bono attorney. The one evidence that had kept him deprived of life was an eyewitness, that later withdrew.
How do you explain this MISTAKE to a family that lost so much?
How reliable does this make me feel about the justice system? Not reliable at all. The fact that mistakes are made in a system where things should be done carefully, reviewed once, twice, three and as many more times as necessary. At the end of the day, for me, the fact that one mistake could change a person's life that much...
Want to see it?
Pedro Castillo is Innocent
Theater for the New City
thru Feb. 14