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Inmates Free One Hostage; Food Delivered For 1st Time In Over a Week

August 29, 1991

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) _ Cuban inmates fighting deportation freed one of 10 hostages - a woman in need of medical treatment - and this morning were given a delivery of food for the first time in more than a week, authorities said today.

Roger F. Scott, warden of the Talladega Federal Correctional Institution, also said medical personnel were able to see the nine remaining hostages through a grille at the entry to their cellblock. He said they also saw some of the 121 Cuban detainees in the unit.

″Medical staff were not allowed to fully assess the condition of the hostages,″ Scott said at a news briefing today. ″However, we have strong continuing concerns that the medical needs of both the hostages and detainees are not being met.″

The food, delievery about 12:40 a.m. today, included hamburger, rice and bread, he said.

Scott spoke in the aftermath of the release of a prison secretary, the first major break in the standoff that began on the morning of Aug. 21, when guards were seized and the ″Alpha″ unit was overtaken by inmates. The uprising occurred the day before 32 of the Cubans were to be deported to their homeland, which they fled in the 1980 boatlift from Mariel Harbor.

Prison authorities identified the woman who was freed Wednesday as secretary Kitty Suddeth, one of three woman who had been held. Scott said she was undergoing medical treatment today but declined to give details. Sources variously gave her age as 24 or 34.

Inmates had asked to meet with reporter Cynthia Corzo of the Spanish- language edition of The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, in exchange for the freeing of Suddeth.

″She looked a bit shaken,″ Ms. Corzo said. ″She was crying, but she kept saying, ’I’m all right. I’m all right.‴

After the release, Ms. Corzo and photographer Carlos Guerrero met with the inmates through a grille outside the cellblock. Guerrero said they met with groups of up to 12 prisoners while more than 150 officers in riot gear stood by.

Ms. Corzo, 23, said the inmates told her they had requested food but had none, only water and coffee. A sign placed on the cellblock roof by inmates Wednesday said, ″We aren’t hungry for food but freedom.″

Asked why the food was provided at this point, Scott replied, ″It was the first request they ever made for food.″

At a news conference, Ms. Corzo said the inmates demanded that all deportations of Cubans be halted.

″More than one did say they want a peaceful resolution as soon as possible,″ she told Miami TV station WPLG. ″They did not make any threats to the hostages, and they indicated that all the hostages were fine.″

The besieged cellblock houses 121 Cubans facing deportation for crimes committed in the United States and 18 non-Cubans. The Cubans are among thousands who arrived in this country during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, and some have said they would rather die than return to their homeland.

Ms. Corzo has written about Cuban inmates for El Nuevo Herald. Her name and the names of two other reporters were on a sign posted by the inmates on the unit’s roof Wednesday morning.

Ms. Corzo spoke with the inmates by bullhorn from outside the cellblock and told them she could tell readers their story if they would release ″all hostages and detainees requiring treatment,″ Scott said. Hours later, the inmates freed the one hostage, and the meeting took place.

Scott didn’t say how many hostages need treatment but has said one inmate has diabetes.

Authorities have said that 31 of the Cubans at Talladega took part in 1987 uprisings that involved the taking of 136 hostages at federal prisons in Atlanta and Oakdale, La.