The narrative is now Mate’s diary from prison. A friendly guard named Santicló helped smuggled her the notebook along with the other gifts from her family. Mate describes the constant fear she lives with, but how she tries to fight it and retain her humanity. Writing things down makes her feel better. Sometimes they march past the mens’ cells, but Mate doesn’t see Leandro anywhere.
Santicló is presumably connected to Margarita, and delivers the packages to the girls. We have seen many figurative prisons so far – Papá’s rules, the expectations of society, sexism, and the fears of the police state, but now the characters experience a literal prison as well.
Mate, Minerva, and the other female “politicals” are all locked up with some “nonpoliticals” – thieves, prostitutes, and murderers. Mate describes the cell and draws a diagram of it. Minerva has arranged it so that the politicals have a certain corner, and she holds discussions and meetings there. The women all take turns looking out the single little window.
Minerva is thriving in the midst of all this suffering and adversity, as she has something tangible to fight against and knows she is setting an example with her idealism and bravery.
Mate’s favorite fellow prisoner is Magdalena, who is very kind and giving and also has a young daughter. One night Mate breaks down at the usual call of “Viva Trujillo!” and Minerva helps her calm down. The prisoners have breakdowns all the time, but Mate says the alternative is disappearing into a prison within yourself.
Within this physical prison there is also the more dangerous option of losing your humanity to fear and the sense of entrapment. The sisters at least maintain their emotions and love, though it causes them suffering.
Mate describes the code language developed in the prison, with nicknames for the guards and various contraband being traded. Mate has been taken downstairs for questioning twice, but Minerva and Sina (Minerva’s old friend) have been taken many times. Ramfis Trujillo came to question Minerva personally, as she is the rumored “brain behind the whole movement.”
Minerva is the highest-profile female prisoner, and the regime finally treats her as a real threat. Minerva keeps drawing on her courage that finds strength in conflict and suffering. Ramfis Trujillo isn’t just a spoiled playboy, but also involved in his father’s dirty work.
Mate wakes up crying every morning, but Minerva insists on having a “little school” every day just like Castro supposedly did in prison. The politicals then gather and rehearse their rules: “never believe them. Never fear them. Never ask them anything.” Mate asks about Santicló, the kind guard, but Sina warns her about getting fond of the enemy.
Minerva is still heavily influenced by Castro’s revolution, and she seems to be idealizing even her own current prison experience. Mate, on the other hand, remains more personally sentimental and sensitive.
Dinorah is a nonpolitical prisoner who is always mean and emotionless, though Minerva says she is “a victim of our corrupt system.” Minerva insists on sharing all the food they get from their family with the other prisoners, so as to avoid creating a class hierarchy. Mate writes down a prayer she heard another prisoner pray: “May I never experience all that it is possible to get used to.”
The nonpolitical prisoners are generally of a lower social and economic class than the politicals, so Minerva sticks to her Marxist ideals. The prisoner’s prayer is chilling because it can refer to experiencing suffering, but also causing suffering.
Mate develops a schedule for each day to ward off panic and despair, though sometimes she succumbs and loses all hope. She learns that Leandro is not in the same prison, and she worries about him. Minerva encourages her to keep up her morale, and insists that they reject the pardon they are offered, as accepting a pardon would be an admission of guilt. She says they have to set an example for others. Mate keeps panicking, and Minerva keeps leading her through the exercise of concentrating on nice thoughts.
Minerva still sees everything in terms of the big picture and the overall struggle against Trujillo, while Mate is mostly concerned with interpersonal relations. We now see why the sisters refuse their pardon – Minerva has grown hard and courageous in prison, and refuses to compromise on anything.
For a while the prisoners all wear crucifixes that Patria sends as a sign of solidarity, but then the guards decide to break up the supposed “Crucifix Plot.” Minerva refuses to give her crucifix up, and she attacks the guards when they try to remove it. She is put in solitary confinement for three weeks, but as she is led away the other prisoners all chant “Viva la Mariposa!” Mate feels “something big and powerful spread its wings” within her and her courage is renewed.
Minerva and Mate aren’t even religious anymore, but the crucifixes are a connection to home and a sign of humanity for the prisoners. We now see how the sisters have already become national heroes, symbols of something greater than themselves and inspirations for freedom. Even Mate feels inspired to courage by Minerva’s larger-than-life bravery.
A few days later Mate is allowed a brief visit with Mamá, Patria, and Pedrito, and she learns about Nelson’s pardon. The next day Mate talks with Magdalena about the bond between people, and all the other prisoners start to join in. Mate feels hopeful about the connection being forged between the women, and how it will emerge into a new free nation. The next day she is depressed again though.
Like Patria, Mate also looks forward to a country after Trujillo and anticipates the interpersonal struggles that will occur then. This is the kind of courage the future country will need, not just Minerva’s unyielding morality. Mate’s mood swings remind us of her youth and humanity, and the tragedy of her situation.
Mate misses her periods for a while and worries that she might be pregnant. She knows that if she is, the SIM will make her carry it to full term and then give the child to some childless official’s wife. Mate’s next entry is an unknown amount of days later, and she says she has either “bled a baby or had a period.” She has undergone some kind of torture. The next pages of her diary are ripped out.
The narrative now grows disjointed, and we don’t learn the details of Mate’s torture until the end of this chapter. We see more cruel practices of the regime with both the torture and the taking of prisoners’ children.
On Easter Sunday Minerva is released from solitary. Mate hasn’t talked about her torture to anyone but Magdalena. Finally she tells Minerva that she will write out what happened. The next pages are ripped out again. The diary then jumps to four days later, Mate’s one-hundredth day in prison. She laments that there is nothing beautiful in prison – even the faces of the beautiful women have “lost their glow.”
Mate grows as close to Magdalena as she does to Minerva, as Magdalena is a nonpolitical and not preoccupied with struggle and idealism like Minerva is. There are more contrasts between Mate’s girlish personality and her brutal circumstances.
Twenty-five days later Mate and Minerva are taken to the courthouse for their “joke of a trial.” They are both given five years in prison and a fine of 5,000 pesos each. Minerva laughs at this, while Mate cries. Another month passes, and Mate stops counting the days of her incarceration. Minerva takes up sculpting, and collects a small arsenal of sculpting tools that could be weapons. Mate wonders if revolution is now a “habit” for Minerva.
The reactions to their sentence sum up the differences between the two sisters. Mate is worried about leaving her children, and also afraid of the despair and suffering of prison. Minerva feels these things too, but she hides them under her persona of reckless bravery and righteous anger.
The OAS (Organization of American States) is rumored to be visiting to investigate Trujillo’s suspected human rights violations. The guards are all worried about this, while the politicals are excited. Minerva warns Mate to describe her torture experience to the OAS and not give in to her pity for Santicló, as there have been rumors of guards being shot if accused by prisoners.
This is major blow to the regime, as outside forces keep turning against Trujillo because of his inhumane practices. Again Minerva is willing to sacrifice anything for the cause, while Mate worries about hurting the friendly guard.
Rumors abound among the politicals, and Mate hears that Leandro has been accused of treason. The men have all been tortured and many have talked, even Manolo. The women decide to focus on describing all the human rights violations to the OAS. Mate complains about Dinorah being selfish and mean, and even Minerva doesn’t defend her anymore.
The women still get slightly different treatment from the men, and other than Minerva and Sina they are aren’t questioned about leadership activities in the underground. Minerva’s class-based worldview doesn’t work for everyone.
Mate has always had a long braid, and now she uses it to hide notes in. In this way she smuggles in a newspaper clipping that says that President Betancourt of Venezuela has accused Trujillo of trying to assassinate him. Because of this the OAS is definitely coming to investigate the regime. At this news the divided politicals pull back together and feel hopeful again.
The incident with Betancourt was another major turning point against the regime, as international eyes turned to Trujillo and started investigating his crimes. Trujillo tried to have Betancourt assassinated for criticizing him and supporting his overthrow.
Mate describes a “close encounter” she has with Magdalena. One night the two are talking and Magdalena tells Mate the whole sad story of her life, how she lived in a trash heap with her baby until it was taken away from her. She was then thrown in prison for trying to take her baby back at knifepoint. Mate cries in sympathy, and then Magdalena kisses her on the lips. Mate pulls back and says she’s not “that way,” but Magdalena only laughs and says her body loves the people that her heart loves.
We see how privileged the Mirabals were in many ways to have had a comfortable upbringing and the opportunity to educate themselves. Mate is still naïve about many things, and is shaken by Magdalena’s kiss. The friendship and love growing between the women in prison is something unique in the macho Dominican society, where men command most of the attention and power.
The OAS committee is coming soon, and Minerva talks strategy with Mate, as Mate is the one chosen to be interviewed. Minerva says to focus on principles, not on people, but Mate is worried about getting the kind guards in trouble. They know the interview room will be bugged, so Mate will have to slip notes to the OAS. Minerva gives her a written statement from the Fourteenth of June Movement, but also asks Mate to give them her diary entries describing her torture. Mate promises to do what she thinks is right.
The guards pick Mate to be interviewed, as they can tell that she is the least likely to try and get them into trouble. This is why Mate’s diary entries describing her torture were ripped out, as they become part of the notes she hides in her braid for the interview. Minerva’s advice elaborates the differences between the two sisters’ worldviews.
At the committee Mate says she has been treated fairly. As she walks out she lets the first note fall from her braid, but at the last minute she thinks of Santicló’s kindness and doesn’t let the second note – her diary entry – fall. The next day the woman politicals are told they will be released, though none of the men will be. Mate is glad but also weeps to be leaving behind her new “sisters,” especially Magdalena. They have a farewell party, and then are released.
Mate gives in to her emotions and seems to have made a mistake in not dropping the second note, but this might also be an example of the ends not justifying the means (Santicló’s possible death). The bonds between the women have created a real sense of love and community, something that a new Dominican society will need.
The narrative is now Mate’s diary entry from months before, describing her experience at the prison called “La 40.” She is unexpectedly taken there one day, and is shaking with terror, as this is the prison famous for torture. Johnny Abbes and two other interrogators are there waiting for her, and they make Mate strip naked and lie down on a table.
“La 40” was Trujillo’s most feared prison, and Johnny Abbes was the sadistic, brutal head of the SIM. Despite her leadership role and outspoken rebellion, Minerva is not the sister who is tortured – it is the quiet, sensitive Mate.
They then bring in a man (probably Leandro, but Mate has blacked out the name in her diary) and beat him in front of Mate. They then ask Mate to help them convince Leandro to talk, but she refuses. The interrogators tie her down and shock her with an electrical torture device. When the pain gets too intense Mate feels herself floating away, and then Leandro screams that he will talk. The guards then take Mate away, looking ashamed at what they have taken part in. Mate doesn’t let them help her, and she dresses herself and walks out to the car unassisted.
The psychological torment is as important an element as the physical, as the interrogators use the couple’s love to cause them both pain, and Mate is stripped naked to feel even more helpless. The guards are often portrayed sympathetically, but they still condone these atrocities by allowing and even aiding them. Mate shows strong courage and independence after this great suffering and indignity.