By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
“I stand before you a free man,” Jason Puracal said at a press conference held on Friday, Sept. 21 at the University of Washington School of Law.
Puracal, an East-Indian American, was held in a Nicaraguan prison for two years on false drug charges. Thanks to the work of his family, friends, attorneys, and others that applied international pressure, he was freed on Sept. 13, 2012.
Puracal originally moved to Nicaragua when he was in the Peace Corps. He met his wife in the country, had a son, and worked as a real estate agent.
“I’m not going to sit around and cry about what happened. I’m going to move forward,” the 35-year-old Puracal said at the press conference. He thanked the many people that signed petitions and sent emails on his behalf for their support.
“You all stepped up when I needed you the most,” he said.
Puracal was arrested without evidence by local authorities in Nicaragua claiming he was part of an illegal drug ring and participated in drug trafficking and money laundering. He was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in the infamous La Modela prison, which is notorious for its overcrowding, prisoner mistreatment, and internal violence. Puracal became very ill in the prison, was severely burned, and lost 30 pounds.
“I stuck to myself and tried not to bother anybody,” Puracal said. “It’s a tough situation filled with negativity. The other prisoners try to test you.”
Puracal recalls that he was robbed and assaulted multiple times.
An appeal was heard this past August due to international pressure to review Puracal’s case.
Despite rules governing the time allotted to make a decision on the appeal, the court did not render a ruling in the requisite time, forcing Puracal and his legal team to wait longer for a decision.
Puracal’s appeal was granted, but he was not immediately released from prison. It was not until he received the immigration paperwork when Puracal felt assured that his nightmare was ending.
The case received international recognition.
A petition with 112,000 signatures from individuals worldwide was delivered to the Nicaraguan Consulate in Los Angeles, Calif. in support of overturning his conviction on appeal. Puracal’s detainment and wrongful conviction were condemned by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Forty-three members of the United States House of Representatives signed a letter to President Ortega requesting Puracal’s immediate release.
Friends and strangers alike sent Puracal messages. The support was relayed in the form of stacks of printed e-mail which Puracal’s sister Janis delivered.
“The e-mails lifted up my spirits tremendously,” Puracal said.
Janis Puracal was unwavering in the fight to free her brother.
“I would walk through hell and back and back again,” she said.
Janis made multiple trips to Nicaragua to meet with her brother, bringing food and water, e-mails, and news about his case. She also served as the liaison between the Puracal family and the many agencies, attorneys, and governmental officials they worked with to gain Puracal’s release. In addition, Janis Puracal maintained her job as a lawyer in a well-established downtown Seattle law firm.
Freedom did not come without a price. Puracal’s family spent nearly $500,000 on legal fees and other expenses, which includes maxing out credit cards and personal loans.
While in prison, Puracal recalls reflecting on his son as inspiration to remain vigilant on some of the darkest days.
I thought of how he was suffering and the holding back of his development,” Puracal said.
The Puracals’ 5-year-old son has Down syndrome. Puracal expressed the need to make it back to his son as a reason he did not give up hope in getting out.
In one of the first steps in returning to normalcy, Puracal took his wife and son to the Puyallup Fair.
He was also able to attend the much talked about Green Bay Packers–Seattle Seahawks Monday Night Football game.
Puracal is still interested in sustainable development, the reason he joined the Peace Corps. He intends on going back to school to obtain a Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis on sustainable development at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute and then go on to the University of Washington for a Graduate Program in Sustainable Urban Development. (end)
For more information on Jason Puracal, visit www.freejasonp.com or follow him on twitter @freejasonp.
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.