The blank faces would mill around behind the peeling, rusted bars, bunched together so tightly that at times they could hardly move.
Their eyes would find places on the floor to get away from their current condition, or a space on the ceiling where they could take their mind.
Cuban prison guards have been noted for their cruelty. When deceased major league pitcher Jose Fernandez was imprisoned as a child for trying to escape the small communist nation off the Florida coast, he’d ask for milk to drink. A passing guard would spit in his face, and say, “Here, drink that!”
There was one face, however, that never wore the sullen, hollow-eyed look of the other prisoners. They could be old men, children, the middle aged. They all wore the same futile look. Except one cocky teenager who refused to let the prison life control his attitude.
Each occurrence Leduan Barthelemy was caught trying to escape Cuba—and it was 14 times—he would await his captors with a big grin. He was 17 when he was first caught trying to leave. He never cried. He never despaired that his life would be taken away.
“I would laugh at the guards and the police men, because they knew I was one of the Barthelemy brothers, and all of Cuba knew the Barthelemy brothers were trying to escape,” recalled Leduan, through an interpreter, his wife, Ligzania.
The youngest of the fighting Barthelemys, behind older brothers Yan and Rances, Leduan said, “I knew I was going home in a week. Yes, I would laugh at the prison guards. I was never scared. Getting put in jail was like a hobby for us. I think it’s why nothing scares me in the ring. I had to get out of Cuba, and I was going to keep trying and trying to get out. There was no place for a professional boxer in Cuba. That was impossible."
“My brothers and I always dreamed about being pro fighters and being millionaires and help our family have a better life. That’s what drove us. It’s why each time we got caught, we’d try again. Cuban authorities knew this. We didn’t care. You can call me brave, but I think that I’m only really brave in the ring. Outside the ring, I’m a calm guy. I always see the positive side of everything.”
Leduan, a rangy 28-year- old, 5-foot- 11 southpaw, is certainly looking forward to a positive outcome when he faces Eduard Ramirez, a 24-year- old Mexican southpaw, in a 10-round featherweight fight on the Premier Boxing Champions show Tuesday on FS1 from the Cannery Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas.
Neither Barthelemy (13-0, 7 KOs) nor Ramirez (20-0- 2, 7 KOs) have ever lost.
“ I had to get out of Cuba, and I was going to keep trying and trying to get out. There was no place for a professional boxer in Cuba. That was impossible. ” Leduan Barthelemy
“I don’t really know much about Ramirez, other than he’s left handed like me,” Leduan said. “It’s going to be a good fight. Every Mexican fighter is brave and they have a lot of heart. I know he’s going to give everything he has, and so will I. I’ll need to keep my distance against him and use my jab. I’ll work my hands and my jab is one of my stringer punches.
“I’m going to wait for me to come to me and see what he has for me. After the first few rounds, I’ll have him figured out and win. It’s going to be a victory.”
Though considering what Leduan and his family endured in trying to escape from Cuba, you would think every day is a victory.
Rances was imprisoned far more times than Yan or Leduan. Since Fidel Castro’s death, Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, has taken over the island and could actually be worse than his older sibling. The Barthelemy brothers have tried to no avail to get their parents to the United States. The Barthelemy brothers also have a nation following them. But Yan had a more difficult time leaving Cuba, since the Cuban government spent money on him to become an Olympic gold medalist in the light flyweight division at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Yan was derided as a traitor to his nation and was not allowed to return to Cuban. Rances and Leduan did have some latitude, since they weren’t as accomplished amateurs as Yan.
On April 28, 2008, Leduan escaped first to Mexico on a yacht under the cover of darkness. Then he and his family arrived in the United States a few days later, on May 1. It was Yan who sent the boat from the money he made as a pro.
“Being the younger brother of Yan and Rances was great for me growing up, because I followed in their steps,” Leduan said. “We never fought with each other. Yan is nine years older than me and our mother, Mayra Valera, was really strict with us. She never let us fight among each other. We had an uncle who boxed and that’s what started it for us.
“But I have my brothers to thank for everything. They stood by me in the bad times. My attitude came from them. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
- Leduan Barthelemy