Isabel: Hello everyone. Hello to all of you. I’m Isabel Cadenas Cañón. And you are listening to De eso no se habla.
Before we begin, I want to tell you that this season our stories have expanded. They are told in more than one episode. This one you’re about to hear is Side A of a story and next week we’ll air Side B. They work exactly like that, like the two sides of a record or a tape. They are two different sides but they complement each other. You can listen to them together or separately.
Today’s story was produced with Vanessa Rousselot and it starts in the year 2000, when a woman, Consuelo, has access to the Internet for the first time.
Consuelo: When they introduced me to Google, the first thing I typed into Google was Patronato de Protección a la Mujer (Institute for Women’s Protection).
Isabel: Back then, Consuelo was 42 years old. She has spent decades searching for information about that reformatory for young women in which she spent part of her adolescence and where many, many others were interned. She wants to fulfill a promise she made to her fellow inmates 25 years ago, when she was 17, and she could not fathom what it would take to fulfill it. But in her search on the Internet she found almost nothing.
Consuelo: The only thing that showed up was a news article from 1978 announcing its disappearance.
Isabel: It seems strange to her. Those dates don’t match, but she can’t find any more information.
Consuelo: There was nothing else. There was a lack of documents and an information gap. I had to start from square one.
Isabel: So she decides to investigate on her own. She calls one by one to all the historical archives in Spain and almost always hears the same answer: “Excuse me, can you repeat the name of that institution?” or “Excuse me, what did you say, the Patronato de Protección a la Mujer?” Nobody seems to remember the name.
Consuelo: From then on, I didn’t live for anything else. From the moment I got up until I went to bed. It was like a, first it was an obsession and later it became my mission.
Isabel: Consuelo now lives with that mission, dedicating all the time she can to reconstruct what happened in that place where she spent two years of her youth. In between, she moved several times from one city to another, got married, separated, became an entrepreneur, went bankrupt and found jobs that allowed her to live and at the same time continue with her research. In 2010, for example, she writes the biography of a famous woman.
Consuelo: And my biographee says to me, “this madness that you are carrying, this, this is not going anywhere if you don’t go on TV immediately and get this documentation out.” And she passes me off to her manager. The next day I was on Antena Tres.
[Interview with Consuelo in Antena Tres]
Host Antena Tres: Who organized this plot, as far as you know? You, who were inside suffering it.
Consuelo: The origin of the plot comes from the Patronato de Protección a la Mujer, the whole scheme started from there.
Isabel: From then on, Consuelo started to go on TV and radio talk shows and every time she appeared on a show, other women who had been in the Patronato called her. None of them had ever talked about it before. Never.
Consuelo: The first testimonies I took were via Skype and at 12 o’clock at night, when the husband and the children were sleeping, right?
Isabel: And while some find her, Consuelo tries to find others.
Consuelo: I searched for a long time for those who were great friends of mine. One of them was Raquel and I was looking for her, looking for her, until one day I found her on Facebook.
Consuelo: And I saw the picture and I said, that’s her. And then I wrote to her, I wrote: “Hello, good afternoon. Sorry to bother you, did you live at 58 Padre Damian Street?” And she answered me immediately: “Yes, and I remember you.”
Isabel: This is her story, told in her own voice and intertwined with the voices of some of those friends she managed to find. Raquel, María José, Ana.
Consuelo managed to convince them to talk for the first time about their time at the Patronato. The institution that Franquism invented to indoctrinate adolescent women.
Welcome to De eso no se habla. Today’s episode is called “Consuelo” and is also part of the promise she made to her fellow inmates the day she left: that she would let everyone know what had been done to them in there.
[End of tune]
Consuelo: My mother used to say, she always said, that I became crooked when I was very little. You see, I had made up a story in my head that no one had told me, but I was convinced that just as men had to do the military service, women had to serve. We had to be service (tatas), right. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was very little because my father was alive, so maybe I was nine, maybe eight. And then, one day when we were eating, the tata came, changed the dishes and I said to my father:
-Look, when it’s my turn, I would like to have a good family like this one, and I would like to be treated well.
-When it’s your turn for what?
-Well, when it’s my turn to be a tata.
-But what are you saying?
-Well, that men do the military service and women serve as tatas.
At that moment he explained to me that this it’s not like that, that I am not going to be a tata and that tatas are tatas because, because they are poor and have no money.
But, I was a very bad student so I got expelled from school and ended up in an academy. So, in the academy there were people from all social classes, I started to meet the children of workers, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I started to meet people from the illegal communist party. I handled a duplicator. You would turn the crank in a circle and it would print the leaflets. A leaflet is about a quarter of a sheet of paper, it’s tiny. The leaflet said: “Franco, you bastard, work as a laborer. Franco, you bastard, work as a laborer.” And then we would get into a 600 (a car), a bunch of people and we would throw them around the center of the city. My mother, my family begins to detect a change of attitude, a change in the way I dress. I start to wear long skirts, nobody wore them back then. I was carrying a basket. Nobody wore a basket back then. And well, my family starts to react and they start to follow me. They detect the places I would frequent. Of course, I moved around the most conflictive bars in Barcelona, the most conflictive in terms of very alternative people. I didn’t notice anything at all. They did everything very, very well.
I had to go to the academy, so I got up early and suddenly my mother opened the door of my room, very early, before 8 in the morning, with the family doctor. I wake up suddenly, they grab me by the arms, tell me that I have to get a flu shot. And I don’t remember anything but the needle in my vein.
Okay. There are 24 hours of my life that I lost because I don’t believe they gave me just one shot, because it’s impossible to keep a girl asleep for 24 hours. I’m sure they gave me more, but I don’t know. I wake up in a room that I know absolutely nothing about, I try to open the door and it’s locked. There was a bed, a closet and a cross, and at the foot of the bed a green checkered suitcase that was from home. My mouth was pasty, my tongue was like sandpaper, I was horribly thirsty. And I opened the suitcase. And sure enough, in the suitcase were winter, summer, spring, fall clothes. I mean, what is this? They left me here, what, where am I? And then there was a little window with bars, but it was facing the street and I open it and I see cars passing by. I lived in Barcelona, but all the cars’ license plates read M, M, M, M, M… Aaa! And I remember being drugged out of my mind and seeing the license plate M. I said, they brought me to Madrid, where am I? I didn’t, no, no, no, no…I mean, not at that time. I was confused, but I wasn’t afraid.
Then, after a long time I heard the door, they opened it with a key and a nun came in. And she says to me: “Welcome”. I say, “Where am I?” “You are in a formation school”. I said: “A formation school? Hey, all schools are formation schools. Isn’t this a correctional school?” “We don’t like this word and we don’t say it here.”
Holy shit. The nun took the suitcase and we walked down a never ending hallway. Then, I saw a row of girls with a green striped apron that I would later wear and those faces, I mean they had more dark circles under their eyes than eyes, it was shocking. There I said ok, they put me in a correctional school, I mean, the threat of all the parents, I’m going to put you in! They enforced it with me. Yes.
(Whispering) You could only talk like this.
You couldn’t speak in a normal tone of voice. They would come up to you and ask the same question: “Are you the patronato?” What about me? “Are you the patronato?” And what is the patronato? I had never heard that before. Because they asked me so many times, I thought that the Patronato could be a very good thing and I had it worse if I wasn’t from the Patronato. After the question: (whispering) “Are you the Patronato?”, came a second question: (whispering) “Are you complete?” Of course I was a virgin! But I didn’t want to say it, because if I said I was a virgin it might look bad, so I didn’t answer. (whispering) “Are you complete?” I’m not going to tell you.
But this was common. The one who was a virgin was recorded in the file as complete and the one who was not a virgin as incomplete. And this was definitive for the minor to be taken to a more or less severe reformatory. Then, I found out that I am one of what they call paid. That means my family pays for me to be there, which is like saying “I put you in jail and pay for your room”. There were many daughters of single mothers, others who had relatives in jail, others who had been raped by their father and brother, they were locked up and the rapist was free. Everything was a drama, every girl had a drama. But being there because of ideas, there were very few of us. In fact, those of us who were from the city were not allowed to associate with those from the villages because they said we were going to pervert them.
It was as if Franco lived there and was giving orders. So, it was crazy. All day long praying, all day long eating your head off. Prayers, prayers, church, church, so you wouldn’t think, no. I remember once I said to a nun, “Look, you can search my closet, you can read what I write, you can chase me to see how long I’m in the toilet, you can time how long I’m in the shower. But what I have in my head is not yours, that’s mine, and you don’t get to come in here.”
Raquel: Consuelo was crying all day long. Because she was locked up, because she was political, because she was a communist and because, some things! I was shocked by her and I told her “I don’t understand politics, Consuelo”. My life has been about trying to eat every day and not being treated badly. Well, the fact is that my mother, when I was 15 years old, denounced me to the Juvenile Protection Office (Tutelar de Menores). Because I didn’t help her, because I was late, because I was so and so. One morning she said to me: “Come on, come on, you have to go with me” and I went with her and I read at the door Tutelar de Menores and I said, “fuck! This woman””. And there was a man there and he talked to both of us. My mother screamed a lot: “because she doesn’t listen to me, because I can’t deal with her, because I can’t, because of this and that! Because she is late. Because I don’t know. Because so and so.” And then the officer told my mother that there was no cause. So they told her: when, if you want, when she’s 16 you can take her to the Women’s Institute (Patronato de Protrección a la Mujer).
I turned 16 on January 11. On February 14, two policemen dressed as civilians came. They came very early because I was going to school and she said: “get up, they are coming for you”. I got dressed. I remember that I wore a short skirt, a mini skirt and a white and yellow striped blouse. I remember perfectly. And I went out and they handcuffed me with my hands behind my back. And then I said: “What is this?” “I told you, if you don’t behave yourself, I’ll take you to a reformatory!” But of course, my mother, seeing that they were handcuffing me on my back, said, “But is this necessary?” And they didn’t even answer her.
We left, we left the house. I spat her on the floor, as if to say, “What are you doing to me?” And from there they took me in that car to the COC, the Observation and Classification Center. It was on Arturo Soria Street in Madrid. And it was a new building of Trinitarian nuns, completely prison-like because it had bars on the windows, we slept with the rooms locked, they only had a small piece of glass that we could look out of, but every time we looked out, if they saw us, the nuns would hit us with a stick on the glass to make you go inside.
They checked to see if you were a virgin or not. And the doctor, the gynecologist would tell you: “get up here in the sling, such and such”. And when I saw that they were going to touch me, that I had never been touched before and I had the burden of my mother being single, I didn’t want to. I was very innocent. I believed that you could get pregnant with a kiss. Look at how far it went. And then I rebelled and told her: “Oh, sister, by God, by God, sister, nobody has touched me. I swear to God. I swear to God, I don’t want anyone to touch me, please!” I went crazy because the doctor told me: “Well, I’ll examine you from behind”. And that scared me even more. I had a hysteria attack and they wrote me off as complete, which I was. And from then on they were classifying you, you know, by virginity and you were taken to different correctional institutions.
They took me in a car to the Adoratrices. I was admitted on January 14, February 14, sorry, 1974. I left on January, 1976.
Consuelo: There were different workshops, there was dressmaking, doll making, printing. But well, then they kicked me out of the workshop, you know, because I embroidered a priest’s chasuble and on the beams of the ciborium and the host I wrote things: “Don’t believe anything, I am Satan. God does not exist.” The whole convent found out and then they kicked me out of the workshop. Yes, they put me in the doll workshop.
Then we made dolls for the bakeries. They were dolls like, like red elves and the body was filled with candy. This was sold to all the bakeries in Spain. We put paper inside the dolls’ bodies. When we placed the candies inside, we would insert a little piece of paper. “I am in jail, I am innocent. Padre Damian 52. Come and get me. We are more than 200. Please, I beg you”. But this happened every day. So I have always asked myself: “Wow! The people who bought the doll must have thought or said something, but they never said anything because the nuns would have found out. And nothing ever happened. I don’t know how many cities in Spain have found that paper. If someone hears me, please, and found that paper sometime, please tell me.
They all used to self-harm, they usually cut their veins. But of course, the cut veins were covered with the cuff of the gown and the uniform. And well, they would say, “Cut the crap.” They would take them to be sewn up and told to cut the crap. But I thought, “All right. I’m going to self-injure too, but you won’t be able to cover it up. So, I remember I got in the sink, started beating my cheek bones against the sink tiles. But some, but brutal. Knowing that the next day I was going to wake up with a black face like a Siamese cat. And that was my first rebellion. Because indeed, I woke up with a black face and no one could cover up that self-injury. And I remember that I went to mass with a black face and everybody looked at me and I thought: now I know how to screw you.
And about five years ago, someone found me on Facebook. She writes to me and says: “I have seen you on TV and I never thought I would see the girl from the corner again”. The girl from the corner? But who are you? And then she started telling me: “the day you entered, the nun came and said a very conflictive intern has just entered. None of you can speak to her.” I didn’t know that they called me the girl from the corner. I found out 40-odd years later.
María José: I entered when I was 14 years old. The day after I entered I turned 15. It was March 19, 1975. It was the first birthday that nobody congratulated me, of course. I wouldn’t forget this one, okay, you turn 15 here.
They never left the church hotel empty. There was always someone praying there and with students. So they always took you in turns. There were 20 of us, and I don’t know how many of us would go four or six at a time, every night, all night long. Well, from 10 to 12, from 12 to 2. Two hours. Those on duty from 2 to 4 in the morning, those from 4 to 6 in the morning and then no more, because it was time for mass, etcetera.
They come to you like this, (whispering) softly. (Whispering) “María José, come on, get dressed, put on your uniform”. And well, well, nothing, you get dressed like a zombie, you get dressed, you put on your uniform and when you’re ready, you go down to the church. You go bam, bam, bam, zombie. You bend down and get on your knees and that’s it, you wait. And of course, two hours on your knees, there in the church, every night in the cold. And you go to confession and they take you outside. You walk with nuns, two or three girls and two or three nuns and they take you to a parish, to a church. You go in there.
My first sexual lesson was from the priest and they were some questions that were obscene, but he insisted. I told him: no, no.
-Do you have a little friend?
-Have you been with a boy?
-But has he kissed you?
-Has he stuck his tongue in you?
And I went out of there and I looked left and right and I didn’t pray anything, no penance or batons and that’s it. I got angry.
Did I feel like praying? No, not at all. To ask God to save you from there? You have to be an idiot. I mean, nobody gets you out of there. You get yourself out.
Consuelo: I helped so many of them escape. I hid them in the striped robe. I tried to get even 25 pesetas so they could take the subway and I watched the corridors or the windows through which they escaped, right. Because I became the absolute accomplice in a multitude of escapes, which, of course, in the end I learned too. Then I was caught helping two who escaped. What happened was that, of course, you had to ask someone who was not a snitch, there were a lot of snitches, you had to be very careful with that. So they caught me and put me in solitary confinement. There were rooms that had a number and I always went to 33. It was a room that was in a corridor and there they left you all alone, they placed a jug with cold water and a urinal, in case you wanted to pee. It was a horrible feeling, but not because of, it wasn’t horrible because of being in there, but because of thinking what was going to happen to you when they opened the door. I mean, am I going to be transferred? Am I going to be taken to Cuenca? am I going to end up in, you know, Galicia? Because this was the usual thing, the transfers.
Girls would arrive with their chests bandaged and they would touch their chests a lot and they would always cover their chests with their arms crossed like this, right, no. And at night they would spill blood. And then there was a day when two arrived. Just the same. Crying and crying. We all arrived crying. That wasn’t a rare thing. Then they said: “We come from Peña Grande, we had a baby and they stole it from us”. At that moment another one said to me, “Peña Gorda”. What do you mean, Peña Gorda? “Peña Gorda is for pregnant women” And? “They take away their children”.
What is so hard is that when I found out about this I normalized it, because if they had put me there without having done anything at all, what wouldn’t they do to a pregnant minor? I mean, at that moment I said of course.
Ana: Well, I lived in a humble family, they were not stupid, my parents were intelligent, that is what has always shocked me the most about this story. We lived in a town with deep-rooted traditions. And well, after a relationship I had, I got pregnant and my parents were completely opposed to me returning home, so at the hospital they informed me about the patronato, which I didn’t even know what it was or that it existed. Well, they offered me the possibility of moving to Madrid to a residence for single mothers. That sounded very good to me, and I thought that I was going to be sheltered, that I was going to be taken care of, and that the government was going to give me what my parents were not going to give me. Well, phenomenal, in theory.
One or two nuns accompanied me by train to Peña Grande, without luggage or anything. And the impression I had when I arrived at this institution was that it was an enormous building, very beautiful, as if it were a museum with big galleries, with big tapestries, carpets, very polished floors that right now I don’t remember if they were marble – I didn’t know what marble was, nor did I care – but very polished floors that had to be maintained, of course, and it was like a very, very solemn and very, very grandiose building in the common parts. I mean, the dormitories and our bathrooms, they were already something else, they were already like, I’m not going to say cells. They would be like community cells, meaning, big cells, where in one room we could be about 20 people.
We are talking about 1975. I entered there in mid-May and left in mid-December 1975.
They followed my pregnancy. In the fifth month they had to test me again because I was as flat as I am right now. Then they began to doubt whether I was really pregnant, because at five months I didn’t have a belly. Meaning, I had it facing inwards instead of outwards. I did not put on a single kilo during the pregnancy, not a single kilo. I went in there with 49 and a half kilos and I came out with 49 and a half kilos, after having a child. Food was rationed so much that we were terribly hungry, we dreamed of food. I was a person who normally did not eat fruit, I did not have that habit and when I arrived there I did not eat fruit, I gave it away and they fought over the fruit. Until I started to get hungry. I no longer gave away my fruit, I ate it.
But what bothered me the most was the continuous bombardment of the nuns, these crusader nuns they were called, for me to give my son up for adoption. That was the hardest thing to deal with, because actively and passively I told them countless times that I was not going to give up my son. Even if they said that I was going to be miserable, that I wasn’t going to be able to raise him, I didn’t care, that I was going to keep him because that could mean a regret for the rest of my life that I wouldn’t be able to fix. So I did not want to live with that, I wanted to have my son, to raise him and if I was doing badly, well, what can I do, but he was my son.
And they did not stop. It was almost every month. They called me to the office to see if I had changed my mind. The harassment was so brutal that even when it was my turn to give birth in the delivery room, they came with the adoption papers in their hands for me to sign them. Even at that moment, which is a very fragile moment for a person who is going through childbirth. You are not in a position to, to be thinking about anything else and they are telling you to put your child up for adoption because it’s better for you, the titanic effort you have to make to face them and tell them to leave you alone, to say no, you have told them a thousand times! And that it’s the worst time in your life for them to come and harass you. And I remember the papers: blue first, then pink and then yellow. Three copies.
Besides refusing, I never took my eyes off my son. They couldn’t tell me, “Your child is sick, we’ll take him,” because I was constantly looking at him. There were too many children who got sick.
Prostitute is a refined term for how people labeled me. My parents never asked me what had happened or what hadn’t happened, nor did my siblings or anyone else. Nobody ever asked me. That’s why I was so surprised when Raquel called me one day and told me about Consuelo, I didn’t know Consuelo, and that she showed interest in my past when no one had ever asked me about it. Never, never.
Consuelo: Okay. First, I was in the Adoratrices of Madrid at Padre Damian 52. I was transferred as a punishment to the Adoratrices of Avila. Avila was straight out of Dickens. It was freezing cold, it was horrendous. Then they took you to a more gloomy and worse place so that you would want to go back to Madrid and you would already give up on going home, because going back home was already a distant, impossible thought. But the system managed to do that. They did it with me. In Avila I begged to go back to Madrid. It’s mind-boggling, yes, but that’s how it was.
Then I escaped. After helping so many to escape, I learned. I escaped and they transferred me to the Buen Pastor in Barcelona. There I had gained something. That’s when they told me: you’re leaving this afternoon. I said, how? You’re leaving this afternoon. The patio was a big patio, made of cement, and they were always in small groups, right. Then they found out, Consuelo is leaving. And “you’re leaving, you’re leaving, you’re leaving”. I said, yes, I’m leaving.
I do remember that when I said goodbye to them in my head there was a reiterative thought that this is not going to stay like this. I mean, this is not going to stay like this. I mean, what they have done to me, what they have done to all of them, has to be known and I will find the moment when it will be known, but I have to do it. I was 17 years old. So when I said goodbye I told them this: “I swear to you that even if 40 years go by, I will be a writer and the whole of Spain will find out what they have done to us”. And I had to keep that promise.
The last image I remember is the group of my fellow inmates waving goodbye to me. But I walked forward and I didn’t want to look back.
Isabel: The Patronato de Protección a la Mujer was created in 1941, two years after Franco’s victory in the Civil War. The institution had existed before, between 1902 and 1935. But the Franco regime revived it for the “moral dignification of women, especially young girls, to prevent their exploitation, to keep them away from vice and to educate them according to the teachings of the Catholic religion”. This is what the decree that re-founded it in 1941 says.
Consuelo: Seeking former interns of the Adoratrices Nuns, that was one. Former interns of the Oblate Nuns wanted. Then there was another one. We are looking for former interns of the Maria Goretti and we are looking for women under the tutelage of the Patronato de Protección a la Mujer (Women’s Protection Board).
Isabel: The Patronato belonged to the Ministry of Justice and its honorary president was Carmen Polo, Franco’s wife. The centers, like the four where Consuelo was, were managed by religious orders. And many of these orders are still running centers for minors today.
Consuelo: I was very obsessed with getting more documentation, because only documentation would give me credibility. I was very aware that if I told this story alone, absolutely no one would believe me, because it was all so brutal, so much so, that people would say, “This woman is crazy.” But every day I had to take a step.
Isabel: In 2012, Consuelo published her first book about the Patronato. It was titled “Las desterradas hijas de Eva” (Eva’s Banished Daughters).
Consuelo: There came a time when I had a significant amount of documentation, relevant enough to bring the matter to light, right. And I published it.
Isabel: That book would be followed by three more.
Consuelo: And the Patronato de Protección a la Mujer is already present. It is even on Wikipedia. Okay. I mean, okay, I’m getting there.
Isabel: Consuelo continues to keep the promise she made when she was 17 years old in a patio in the Buen Pastor in Barcelona, about to leave the Patronato forever. She thinks, perhaps, the reparation she and her fellow inmates need takes too long to arrive.
Consuelo: What I would like won’t happen, what I want is a public pardon. I do not aspire to anything other than public forgiveness. The public pardon from the religious congregations in a press conference called by the Government of Spain, but public. I am not interested in a face-to-face pardon in a meeting. No! This won’t happen in Spain, but is what I want.
Isabel: One more thing. At the beginning of this episode, Consuelo said that in that first Internet search she had only found one article and that article said that the Patronato had disappeared in 1978, but in reality the patronato did not disappear completely until 1985, in the middle of democracy.
We will talk about that in the next episode, the B side of this story.
If you want to know more about the Patronato de Protección a la Mujer, listen tomorrow to the podcast “Un tema al día”. The colleagues of ElDiario.es have made a special episode to contextualize everything you have heard in this story.
The production of this episode has been made by Vanesa Rousselot and me. Vanesa was in charge of the script and I was in charge of the editing. The assembly is by Vanessa and Paula Morais, the original music of the episode has been composed by Sara Muñiz. The sound design is by me and Marcos Salso. The recording and final mix was done at Isolé División Sonora. The illustration of this episode is by Carmen Cáceres and the tune is the song Berlin by Alba Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Thanks to Andrea Momoitio for guiding us to this episode and to Leire Ariz who was an accomplice. Thanks to all the people who listened to it and helped us to improve it. Your names are in the acknowledgements on our website.
And as you know De eso no se habla is an independent podcast and we want to keep it that way, so we need your support. If you can, become a Desafiante de silencios and support us at deesonosehabla.com/apoyanos. If you can’t, you’ll still be able to listen to our episodes the same way.
So to all of you, to all of you, thank you for being there and thank you for listening. We’ll be back next Sunday.