On Friday evening, I entered a prison for the first time. Specfically, Lledoners prison in Catalonia.
From the C-55 motorway, you take a short road surrounded by nothing, but with yellow loops in support of the imprisoned Catalan pro-independence leaders everywhere you turn. On the tarmac, the trees, the bushes... Everything is yellow. And at the end of this road, a checkpoint. To the right is a poster reading "visitor entrance". You go through and along a track between fences to the car park. And you find yourself in a space about 30 or 40 metres wide with bars on both sides. Then you walk up a small path to the building with the visitors' entrance. Once there, you embark on a sequence of iron doors with large windows, opening in front of you and closing behind you.
Through the first door, to the right you have a whole load of lockers like those in a supermarket to leave your belongings in. They cost a euro. If you haven't got any change, the officials in the reception booth, right there, will give you one. You leave your things, you take the key with your locker's number and you go through an airport-like scanner.
Then a second door opens. And you go into a huge waiting room dominated by letters high on the wall reading "Sentences depriving [people of their] freedom and our security measures are aimed at reeducation and reintroduction to society".
After a while, another official came looking for me. She was very young. With her, we went through a whole series of doors all opening and closing. When the one behind me closed, the one in front of me would open. After going along several corridors full of administrative offices, we crossed a rectangular courtyard and entered into another building. More doors and then, finally, the visiting room area. About 30 of them. All empty. The official told me which was mine, I went in, closed the door and sat down on the white chair. In front of me, a large window which started at chest height and, behind the glass, a space identical to mine with a corridor behind it. After a couple of minutes, door M25 opened on the other side, to the left, and Josep Rull appeared. Smiling, looking the same as ever. Neither thinner nor fatter. Exactly the same as always. Dressed in an olive green fleece and a green t-shirt. A green similar to the surfaces of the visiting room that weren't glass.
He sat down, picked up a white headphone, put it in his right ear and started to talk. I could hear him through a small speaker to my left.
And we start chatting
The first thing he said to me, practically without having even sat down, was related to certain television work involving a humble servant. I was quite stunned. You go to see a political prisoner and, instead of speaking about him, after saying "bona tarda" (good afternoon), he's the one that starts talking about you. Mind-blowing.
But straight after that we got down to business. I commented that I had gone there as a member of the public and not as a journalist, but that if he wanted to pass anything on, go ahead. And he accepted. It wasn't an interview because I asked practically nothing. It was a conversation in which he was very clear what he wanted to explain and in which he did so.
He started with the topic of the alleged privileges they receive which Ciudadanos and PP have denounced in the Parliament. Oh, by the way, to clarify something: I'd applied for Friday's visit in May. Six months ago.
In an indignant tone, Rull talked to me about the "pornography of privileges" and said that the "trivialisation of the situation is ignominious". And he came down hard against this campaign trying to create the idea of this hotel with all-inclusive wristbands. And to demonstrate it's not like that, he explained to me that he can only see his children three times a month and for a limited time, which is made even shorter because they are in a strange place and it takes so long for them to become themselves that by the time they are it's already time to leave. As for his mother, who's already an older woman, he can only see her once a month and, once the trial starts and they're in Madrid again, he'll spend five months without seeing her.
He also told me that the prisoners who aren't politicians "get indignant when we mop floors like mad to be able to have more visiting hours and then they see how we're accused of getting privileges".
The subject drifted onto pretrial detention, but not his own, rather the topic in general under the Spanish justice system which he believes to be a very serious social problem. So much so that it was one of the topics he talked with Pablo Iglesias about during his visit. Rull told me about the case of a 78-year-old Ukrainian man who had spent three years in prison without trial and who hadn't seen his court-provided lawyer in eighteen months. On this matter he something for a headline: "The Spanish state is scary and the Spanish people aren't aware of it. Today it's us, but it could happen to anyone".
And from pretrial detention to prison in general. According to him, it doesn't make sense that a country with such a low crime rate should have such a large population of inmates. And he gave me some examples of fellow inmates found guilty of minor crimes which, according to him, don't deserve the sentences they were given.
He commented on the case of a gypsy from the Sant Adria de Besòs' La Mina neighbourhood, the guy who cuts their hair, and does a much better job than a previous person who "gave poor Jordi Cuixart a mess which was very tricky to fix". "This man, since he was born, has been condemned to spend his life entering and leaving here".
And then we spoke about his case. He believes that we are where we are because the judiciary believed that the political powers were too weak and it was up to them to "take up the Holy Grail" of Spanish unity and preserve it at any cost. And he wanted to highlight the role of the Constitutional Court, which is doing everything possible to delay the day they will able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
The charges against him are based on, he joked, "three serious crimes/felonies": 1/ signing Junts per Catalunya's election manifesto, 2/ holding various meetings and 3/ preventing the Tweety Pie boat from docking in Palamós. On this point, laughing at the absurdity of the situation, he explained that his department didn't even know there were police officers on board because they weren't told initially since the request was to be able to carry out maintenance. They didn't allow them to dock simply because using up the space would have prevented cruise ships from docking, one of the port's income streams.
And we get to the most juicy part, politically speaking
And now, some of the things which happened during those days, now a year ago. "The Catalan government had information according to which, if we'd locked ourselves in the government palace doing a Maidan in defence of the republic [referring to the events in the square by that name in Kiev in 2004], there would have been serious consequences. Much more serious than the 1st October [day of the referendum]. As such, between all of us we decided on a strategy which consisted of part of the government staying there and accepting imprisonment, and another part going into exile. The choice was voluntary".
On the unity of that government during those days, Rull told me that "a great mutual understanding was created and everyone was very sincere, frank and honest. Everyone respected the individual decisions taken". Everyone was frank and sincere? "Well, the time will come to talk about this question".
(And now, a small aside. When we were in Waterloo a few days ago with Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, they both also told me that, when the time comes, they'll reveal various things. And in the case of the president, with documentary evidence. If that ends up happening, it could turn out that the story we know currently isn't what really happened).
And that story that's gone round about Rull, that nobody warned him about the situation? That he didn't know that half the government was abroad and he turned up for work unaware of the truth...
"That Friday of the vote in the Parliament, I said goodbye to a large group of workers who wanted to give me support, telling them that I would go to work on Monday. On Saturday, I was at the famous meeting in northern Catalonia [in France] and on Sunday I returned to Catalonia to head a ceremony for the FGC (Catalan public railways), aware that I was staying because that was the strategy agreed-upon. It was what I'd chosen. And on Monday I went to the office, not to empty it as some have said. The proof is that, when article 155 ended, my things remained as I'd left them".
And it was just at this point that the time for my visit ran out. As I was going to get up, Jordi Turull appeared, a little thinner. We greeted each other putting our hands together with the glass between them. For a few seconds we could chat about things that are neither here nor there now.
The two left through door M25 and I retraced my steps back out. This time, the official who accompanied me, also very young, turned out to be from Badalona. That confirms that the world is divided into those of us who are from Badalona and the rest of humanity. Well, and Josep Rull who is very much from Terrassa, but who has a little of Badalona in his heart.
More doors opening and closing, back to the locker with my things in. When I took the key out of the lock, instead of one euro, two came out. I gave the one that wasn't mine to the officials who, on receiving it, said: "Oh look, in case we need to give change".
Once outside, whilst walking to my car, I had a great sensation of unreality. I was leaving a prison after seeing a political prisoner. One of the nine political prisoners there are in my country. In the 21st century. A country which has a further eight politicians in exile. Oh, and a rapper and a protester too.
And they're here and there because, according to the people who put them there or collaborated with that process, they broke the law. Then I turned to look again at the building from the ramp which runs down to the car park. And instead of "Sentences depriving [people of their] freedom and our security measures are aimed at reeducation and reintroduction to society", the phrase that came to mind was "Who judges the judges and who has power over justice when it isn't just?". And I still haven't found an answer to that. And I'm afraid that I won't.