From the cross to the dungeon: a conversation with Ramsey Muniz

Enrique Salazar, Irma Muniz, Ramsey Muniz, Alan Bean, Ernesto Fraga

The conversation Raul Garcia records below took place a year ago, the day after the picture at the left was taken.  You will be hearing a lot more about Ramsey Muniz in this space in the days to come.  Eventually, all the obvious questions raised by Dr. Garcia’s reflection will be addressed.  For now, I will limit myself to a few words of introduction.

Ramiro “Ramsey” Muniz is currently serving a life sentence in the Beaumont Medium federal prison in Texas.  In March of 1994, Muniz was arrested in Dallas, Texas and accused of participating in a conspiracy to sell powdered cocaine.  Now 70 years old, Ramsey walks with a cane.  Since there is no longer any parole in the federal system, he will die behind bars barring a presidential commutation.

You will naturally wonder why Mr. Muniz claims to be innocent and why, if innocent, he was convicted by a jury of his peers.  These issues will be addressed in due course.  For now, we simply ask that you receive this little essay as what it is, an Easter meditation written from a Chicano perspective.  You will notice how the conversation moves from Christ to Cuauhtémoc, the Aztec leader swept aside by Cortez and his conquistadors in the 16th century.  This is clearly an Easter meditation with a unique twist.  AGB

In Remembrance of the Life and the Death and the Rebirth of Jesus Christ

FROM THE CROSS TO THE DUNGEONS OF AMERICA
A conversation with Ramsey Muniz
by Raul Garcia

As I prepared to visit Ramsey Muniz, a political prisoner for the last 20 years, I thought about the many years we have known each other.  In fact, we go all the way back to high school days.  Though each visit through the years has been educational and inspirational, there seemed to be something different and special about this visit.  We had scheduled the visit for April 22, 2011 without my realizing it would fall on Good Friday.  Maybe that’s the reason, as I dressed that morning, something seemed to be guiding me toward my black clothes — a symbolic color of what happened on Good Friday in 33 A.D.

When I saw Ramsey that morning and we sat down, he said, ” Do you realize today is Good Friday, the day that Jesus Christ was crucified?”  I knew then that this visit would be different, given the significance of the day. I realized that prison is like being in what the Hebrews called “Golgotha” and Latin Rome called “Calvary”, a place to suffer and die.  All over the world, including America, the Christ is being crucified, particularly the innocent ones who are thrown along with the criminals and crucified along with the Christ.  Ramsey believes that the arrest of Jesus was a political event, given that the Roman Empire felt threatened by a young revolutionary who would say things like “You have heard it said of old, but I say unto you.”

The Jesus movement had grown so big, that a new direction, a new vision, a new ethic came out from the lips of Jesus.  The authorities had to get rid of him, so they monitored him wherever he went.  The authorities had to get rid of him.  Muniz thinks and believes that his own arrest was also a political event in order to silence the leaders of the Chicano movement.  Reises Lopez Tijerina, a leader of the Land Grant Alliance in New Mexico, once said to me that Chicano leaders were constantly monitored during the height of the Chicano Movement.  He showed me evidence which he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Let us keep in mind that Jesus was betrayed by some of his closest followers, some for money, others because their egos mattered to them more than the one who had come to speak in the name of Justice.  Yes, justice is also a form of salvation, both individual and social.  Muniz thinks that he, like Christ, was betrayed, as the years went by, as the silence of some who were close to him during the movement ran scared, like the followers of Jesus who scattered and hid in and around Jerusalem.

It was Mary Magdalene to whom Jesus appeared first after the resurrection, she whom Jesus loved the most, and in whom He entrusted his deepest secrets which not even the  disciples were privy to.  Yes, she rallied the doubters, the scared, the deniers.  It is no accident that Ramsey’s wife , Irma, has suffered all these years along with her husband, for she knows him like no one else does, and has worked incessantly in his behalf.

Ramsey said to me that he now understands the agony of the Christ on the Cross, an agony that is so profound that it pierces the heart of the soul.  From the dark dungeons of America, Ramsey has come to understand why Jesus himself felt totally abandoned on the cross.  But through loneliness and suffering, he says, Christ became a pure man, a man of spiritual strength, to which I added that perhaps that is the reason why we can also see Jesus’ divinity in the strength of his humanity made pure through the holiness of suffering and sacrifice.  But just as Jesus forgave those who abandoned him or did him wrong, Ramsey likewise forgives those who accused him of a crime he did not commit.

In the end, Jesus was given a death sentence just as Socrates was sentenced to die.  Because he raised the standard of love and holiness in a world gone astray, Jesus was crucified, while Socrates faced death because of his devotion to truth in a world built on falsehood.  The death penalty comes in difference forms.  That’s why Muniz refers to his life imprisonment, which is a life sentence with no possibility of parole, as a death sentence.

After our theological conversation Ramsey touched on other matters.  He said he’d been thinking of Cesar Chavez, the great civil rights leader whom Archbishop Mahoney of Los Angeles called the prophet of the poor.  Ramsey said that Chavez once told him that La Raza was no longer afraid, that the people would no longer hold back and would speak without fear. He said that Chavez was convinced that the future would be ours.  This is why Ramsey Muniz says that we need to reach the young, for they appear to be clueless about our history and do not seem to know what is going on in the world.  There is no excuse for this, he says, given the power of the Internet as a vehicle for communication within the masses.  I mentioned to him that this is how the Zapatistas in Chiapas had gained world-wide support by mastering the new technological forms of communication.  Mastery of this modern form of communication, he says, is going to be a major key in the role we play in the 21st century.  He says that history is on our side, that the rising speed of the growing Raza population is overwhelming the centers of power which do not know how to handle us other than by passing futile immigration laws.  Laws cannot stop the inevitable.

When Ramsey says that history is on our side I cannot help but think of the great prince Cuauhtemoc who rallied the Aztecs when the Sun seemed to be in an eclipse as they fought the European invaders. Though defeated temporarily, Cuauhtemoc prophesied that the people of the Sixth Sun would rise again.

Finally, before we ended the visit, my friend of 50 years asked that we pray, which we did.  We had visited on Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  But we both knew that history does not end with crucifixion and death. It does not end with a tear or with suffering, for there is always an Easter, always a day of freedom and joy.

Raul Garcia, a graduate of Baylor University, presently teaches at Lamar State University.