― 1 ―
October 25 1944
Two minutes ago I would have started this in a more rational mood...then Henry Leyvas walked in. In this office, dedicated to obtaining the release of the Sleepy Lagoon boys, I can't get used to having Henry, Bobby and Chepe here. With the other s it was different. Their parole dates had been set. It seemed less of an issue. Having any of these three sitting just a few feet away, addressing envelopes, or clipping stories of their release gives me butterflies in the belly.
I give you the story very much from my angle. I leave it to you to make it what it should be — which is definately not my story.
After five am Monday there wasn't any sleep left. For the next two and a half hours disjointed thoughts went crashing around and around in my brain. The one thing that came back again and again was "This is the day. This is it. This is what we have been waiting for and working for for two years. This is the day. This is the day." I tried to imagine how Mrs. Leyvas and Mrs. Telles and Mrs Ruiz felt.
The court action had been set for 9:30. When I got there at 8:45 the seats were already filled with parents and relatives and friends. Everyone seemed on the surface to be composed. Certainly more composed than I was. I couldn't sit. I had to go in and out of the courtroom. I had to smoke cigarettes. I was wriging my hands at the dot of 9 because Manuel Delgado and Henry Ynostroza were not there yet. I had told them to be there at 9 goddamit.
The vision of the entire proceedings was very clear. The boys would all stand up before the judge. He would dismiss the case and all the boys would leave the courtroom - free.
What a terrible disappointment when we found out that the boys would not be brought down from the County Jail to hear the dismissal. What the hell right did they have spoiling things when it was so carefully planned.
At 10 am John Barnes, deputy district attorney — one of the prosecutors during the trial, assistant to the State prosecutor who tried to uphold the conviction in the appellate action — stood up and mumbled the motion for dismissal." Whereas the appellate court had ruled that the evidence was not sufficient..whereas no new evidence .. at least no evidence that I know of your honor...ask that case be dismissed" Just for the record, said the judge, read the names of the boys. Barnes couldn't name all the boys from memory..neither could George Shibley or Ben Margolis..so they struggled through trying to remember. I wanted to jump up and tell them I can remember. I betcha I could do it alphabetically — backwards even. Finally the judge handed them the list of names and Barnes read them. And the judge said "For the reasons stated —mumble mumble.. the indictments against the defendants just named ..dropped ..each and all of them...
It just took a second and the Judge (Clement D. Nye..probably a nice enough guy) said it as though this were just an ordinary bit of business. Nice and quiet and formal.
There was a start of applause and the judge called for quiet and to clear the courtroom ..no demonstration please. Don't get excited Mrs. Lupe Leyvas. All that has happened is that we have just mumbled a few words up here that will take your oldest boy out of prison. Nothing to make a demonstration about. Just given back your favorite son. Tall, handsome, proud Henry Leyvas. The favorite of all the kids in the family. He has been behind bars for two years now, Mrs. Leyvas.. and you have spent god knows how many days and nights missing him and crying for him .. and we are going to give him back to you in a few minutes....But, please, don't raise your voice.
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And you people in the audience whose sons these boys are not. You who struggle and struggle. For Mooney and Scottsboro, Sacco And Vanzetti. Who spend bitter years in the struggle and not too often reap the happiness of this particular moment. Please don't make a demonstration. It offends the dignity of the court.
Seconds later — out in the hall there was crying and and Mrs. Leyvas said over and over "Donde esta mi hijo? Donde esta mi hijo" Where is my boy. The judge said he was free. Where is he? Ben Margolis had tears in his eyes. They applauded him..but he asked them not to do it. He was very moved.
Ben went to see that the order was sent up for their release and George and I went up to the Jail to tell the boys that they would be out of there in a little while.
The men (officers ((sheriff's men))) in the County Jail are nasty mean. In a nice polite way. "The young lady can only see one of the boys" they told George. I tried to help George make out the slips to call the boys out. My hands were shaking so that I couldn't write. The boy I chose to see was Henry.
He came out looking terrible. Very thin and haggard looking. (It seems that when the telegrams had been sent to San Quentin telling of the reversal, Henry's had not been delivered for a week. He said it made him sick and he couldn't sleep for two nights)
We stood across from each other at the table in the attorney's room and I said "Baby, it's all over. You'll be out of here in a few minutes." Henry said "When do we go to court? And I said "You don't have to go to court. We already had court. The case is dismissed. He looked incredulous. "I'm free? I'm free?" I leaned over and kissed him and the sergeant was right there "Here, here — We can't have any of that. Sit down and stay on your side of the table. We can't have any of this."
We told Henry that we were going to send him back and that George would call the others out for just a minute to tell them. It would just hold things up to talk here now. Henry said OK and left and I went back to where the crowd was waiting just outside the court room. We decided to wait on the first floor.
We waited until almost one o'clock.. . the boys had to shower, change clothes check out, pick up personal property..and then the sheriff's were in no special hurry....
Mrs Telles said "We expected to wait years. Iguess we can wait minutes, or a few hours."
There was a nervous excitement. Took hold of everybody. Even the strangers who were curious about the crowd and started to wait with us.
The elevator had a glass door so you could see the people in it before the doors opened. After a while the people around the elevator would go "aaaaahhhh" disappointed when the boys were not in it. The photographers would stand on their chairs for a while, then sit down, tired. A rumour — just a few mintes now. The photographers get up on their chairs again. At 12 — definate news. Half hour more or maybe forty five mintes. At 12;45 — just a few minutes now.
― 3 ―
Again, the "aaahhhh" of disappointment when the elevator came down with out the boys.
And then —"aaaahhhhhhh" this time it goes up instead of down. It ends with a shreik.
A blur of embracing and kissing. Crying. Mrs. Leyvas says over and over "Mi hijo. Mi hijo. Mi hijo." It sounds like "mijo" the way she says it. Everybody kisses everybody. When they kiss me they say "thank you, thank you. thank you. gracias. gracias."
The photographers want Henry Leyvas to move in front of the crowd. But he won't leave his mother. They move down together. Henry dosn't even know they are taking pictures. He kisses his mother and comforts her.
The photographers keep taking pictures. In a hurry, impatient.
The LIFE photographer gets one exclusive. All the boys together walking out of the building, smiling ...The sign "Hall of Justice" is in the picture.
Henry wants me to go to church with him and his family. We go to the Plaza church. It was promised that Henry and his mother and Lupe would go on their knees from the door to the alter. They do. and they kneel praying before the alter Henry with his arms around his mother and sister. I felt very sad then. Up to then, just happy and excited.
We walk back to the office. Henry says "This is like being born again." "It sure is wonderful to walk down the street with you."
Bobby and Chepe and Henry and their families and I go to eat at the Paraiso. Paradise, it means.
Then up to see the office. They look around. Into every corner. I can't think of anything to say except. "Well, this is the office."
The CIO radio calls and wants a story. I have a better idea. Do they want the boys on the air...the three who got life? Sure, so I write a script. But I only use stuff they have said. All I did was put it together.
The kids left to give me time to do the script. At 6 they are back with their parents and we go on the air. They were good. Read their lines with ease. I was so proud.
I left them after the radio show. I relaxed and felt more tired than I ever remember being before.
As I write this Henry and Angel are here putting together the pages of a digest of the appellate court decision. We are waiting for Bobby and Chepe so we can go to Hollywood for the boys to say something on the Jarvis program.
I can't believe it.