As a first generation American I have been witness to the freedoms and possibilities that life in this country guarantee. My parents moved here from Ireland and Canada in search of a cliche: The American Dream. My family’s prosperity is proof of its existence.
Flip that coin over and you will find the unfortunate expatriate, someone caught in the grip of a broken justice system. Far from their home, they have lost the basic freedoms guaranteed to Americans. They can only cling to the hope that the land of their birth has not forgotten them. That is the horrible reality of Jason Puracal, an American who languishes in a Nicaraguan prison.
I first wrote about the plight of Jason Puracal, a 34 year old Foss High School and University of Washington alumnus, almost one year ago. His saga began after college when Puracal moved to Nicaragua with the Peace Corps. He fell in love with Nicaragua and decided to stay. He got married and had a child, opened a real estate business and he, too, prospered.
Then in 2010 the Nicaraguan police burst through his door and arrested Puracal for drug trafficking and money laundering. His subsequent trial was little more than a sham: No drugs were found at his residence; the “laundered money” was shown to be escrow funds for Puracal’s customers whose testimony was deemed inadmissible.
Despite the lack of evidence Puracal was convicted and sentenced to 22 years at La Modelo, an infamous prison whose hellish description is better suited to Dante’s Inferno.
The family appealed. The Nicaraguan courts, in sharp contrast to our own system, refused to reconsider the matter. Fortunately for Puracal his family and his country have remained firmly behind him.
Janis Puracal, a Seattle attorney and Jason’s sister, has tirelessly pursued the attention of anyone with the horsepower to bring pressure to bear on the Nicaraguan courts. She quickly garnered the support of U.S. Rep. Adam Smith whose office now considers Puracal’s imprisonment as little more than a kidnapping. Last June the case caught the attention of CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He did a segment on Puracal, highlighting the Nicaraguan court’s failure to administer justice as well as the inhumane conditions at La Modelo.
Put together, the media spotlight and diplomatic pressure appear to have paid off. According to a recent Trib update on Puracal’s case the Nicaraguan court will be hearing an appeal on his conviction in just a few days.
The news is timely. With insufficient food and virtually no health care, Puracal has lost 40 pounds. In the black hole of La Modelo a 22 year prison term is a de facto life sentence. His family and supporters can only stand by, waiting and hoping, until the Nicaraguan government decides whether this American pawn’s liberty is worth fighting the U.S. government, the American media and the Puracal family.
While that decision is pending we should spend the time being thankful that our justice system, for all of its bureaucracy and shortcomings, values freedom. It is a justice system that presumes innocence, that demands a large burden of proof to convict, and that guarantees the right to an appeal.
These are all rights that American citizens should never take for granted. Jason Puracal, an American citizen in the grip of a broken system, deserves those same rights.
So does everyone.