Raul Garmas was imprisoned twice over a 10-year period once Castro came into power in Cuba.
The last time, he just knew he’d never experience freedom again. But he did. And even though painful memories of that time followed him to America, he found solace in two things: friends and music.
In February, one of those close friends died and it shook him to the core, Garmas said.
“Many of my friends are gone and now Señor Matos, also,” Garmas said, referring to his former cellmate in Cuba, who died of a heart attack at age 95 in Miami. “Tomorrow that could be me. But I have strong faith and keep living. You have to live all the time. Even in prison that truth was always with me.”
In the days that followed he turned to his other solace and the only hobby he’s had since age 17 — he sang and played his guitar — something he couldn’t do in Cuba under Castro’s reign, Garmas said.
There was no singing or playing of instruments there, but all that changed when he landed in Miami, he said.
“My first job was working at the Hilton Hotel in the day, but by night I was a musician,” he said. “Many nights that first month I woke up thinking I was still in prison. I had to pinch myself when I realized I was free. Music was my solace.”
A Cove resident for the past eight years, Garmas, 72, has a recording studio in his backyard, where over the years he has recorded numerous cassettes. He also has two recording albums and CDs. His favorites are the album, “Canta: Exitos al Siempre,” and the CD entitled, “Wolf,” because they help him to never forget music nor the value of life — a lesson he was reminded of with the passing of Matos.
Garmas survived being shot and failed two escape attempts, but it’s the memories of hearing friends die at the hands of firing squads that haunt him most, he said.
In honor of them, he vowed to continue writing his memoir-in-progress entitled “The Men I Knew.” He has also passed on his diaries and letters, songs and other memorabilia to his 11-year-old grandson, Danilo Zuningamadrid-Delgado, who is researching the Cuban revolution.
“I’m in the middle of a school project called ‘Pursuit of Passion’ where I pick something that I’m interested in and find out more about it,” said Delgado, who attends Fairview Elementary. “I chose my grandpa and Cuba. It makes me sad what he went through, but I want to learn more. Understanding what happened makes me feel closer to him.”