Looking healthy, happy and relaxed in his childhood home in Tacoma, Washington, Jason Puracal is focused on putting his life and family back together after spending two years in a Nicaraguan prison for crimes he says he didn’t commit.
“I’m doing excellent. I’m feeling great, feeling great,” said a beaming Puracal, who spoke with The Nicaragua Dispatch in a Skype video interview this morning. “It’s still very overwhelming, but I am just trying to enjoy every moment with my family.”
Dressed in a white t-shirt and looking comfortable at home, where he’s been fielding media requests in between quieter moments with his family, Puracal, 35, says his sudden homecoming has been made easier by the outpouring of love and support.
“I think I am very blessed by all the love and support around me; they have made the transition very easy,” Puracal says. “Maybe it’s because I am still in denial, or it hasn’t hit me yet that I am actually free. I don’t know if there is going to be some moment where I completely break down. I am not a psychologist, I don’t know what is going to happen to me, but so far I feel great and I am just loving it.”
On Sept. 12, the Granada Appeals Court annulled Puracal’s conviction for drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime. The following day, he and 10 Nicaraguan codefendants were all released from jail; Puracal was deported less than 24 hours later. The Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office has said they are still considering whether or not to challenge the appellate court’s ruling. If they do, it would affect the 10 Nicaraguan codefendants in San Juan del Sur more than Puracal.
Thankful for better treatment
While Puracal and his family still have a lot to discuss and process, right now the former realtor does not appear at all angry or resentful toward Nicaragua. On the contrary, Puracal says he is grateful that Nicaraguan government officials responded to his deteriorating health conditions by moving him out of general population and getting him the medical attention he needed.
“I am lucky that the prison put me in better conditions for the last couple of months. They were able to get me some medical attention; I was put on eight different medications and I was able to get food daily, or at least weekly, so I would have three of four days of decent meals. So I gained weight. I gained about 15 pounds. I was able to get the majority of my health issues taken care of. There are still some more issues that have to be dealt with, but I am very grateful that the prison officials and the Nicaraguan government allowed me to do that and put me in those better conditions. I wouldn’t be in the state I am today if it weren’t for those last two months,” Puracal says.
The “better conditions” that Puracal is referring to is a special cell that was originally prepared for former President Arnoldo Alemán, following “El Gordo’s” short-lived conviction in 2003.
“I had heard that Alemán was [in that cell] and I assumed it was where he was,” Puracal said.
But, Puracal added jokingly, he couldn’t find any writing on the wall by the cell’s former resident. “Alemán was here 2004. No, I didn’t see that,” Puracal said with a laugh.
Puracal says he isn’t sure if the international pressure campaign against the Nicaraguan government prompted his move to the “presidential cell,” but he was told that it was because the Nicaraguan government respects human rights.
“I don’t know what the reason was. I was told that the Nicaraguan government respects human rights and they wanted to show a sign of good faith and they were improving my conditions, but I wasn’t given any specific details,” he says.
That same concern for human rights didn’t seem to extend to the rest of the prisoners in general population, where the conditions were described by Puracal as “horrific.”
“It is a very hot, dirty, and nasty place that is infected with chiggers and ants and cockroaches and mosquitoes,” Puracal says. “There is no running water, there is not enough food, and the food that is given is not a balanced diet—it is rice and beans three times a day. The water is not potable. And it’s a very negative environment. You’re in murderers, rapists, and real drug dealers. There is a lot of violence and tension between them. So it is a real struggle just to stay alive.”
So how did Puracal manage to survive?
“I tried to keep to myself as much as possible. Obviously you can’t avoid everybody, but really I just focused on my son and my wife. My son was my hope; he was my ray of shining light. I knew I had to survive this and I needed to get to the end and get out to be back with him.”
Puracal’s two-year legal battle has wiped out his family’s financial resources.
“My sister exhausted every resource of our family. They took out loans, they maxed out credit cards, they spent over a half a million dollars on my defense team and on getting my freedom. So now the next big step is to try to put the family back together so we can get back on our feet.”
Puracal insists that not a cent of his family’s defense expenditures went to bribing any Nicaraguan officials or to purchase his freedom.
“We would never do something like that,” he says. “I have been saying that I am innocent from the very beginning and there was no reason why I was going to pay anybody ni un centavo for something I didn’t do. So 100% no.”
Puracal says he is looking forward to his “15 minute of fame” ending so that he and his family can get on with their lives.
He says since returning to the U.S. he has been alternately giving interviews (Anderson Cooper, Today Show) and dodging the media to try to find some privacy for his family. He hasn’t made any public appearances and hasn’t even had time to see a doctor—some he hopes to do in the coming days.
“That is in the plans,” he says. “There are obviously physical and psychological issues—not only for myself, by for my wife and my son and my mother and sisters. We all need to deal with that. And so that will be the next step, getting us back on our feet and putting the family back together and getting us all back healthy.”
After that, Puracal says, he wants to go back to school and get an MBA in sustainable urban development from the University of Washington, where he got his undergraduate degree a decade ago.
Despite the sudden change of surroundings, Puracal says he is still baffled by what happened to him back in Nicaragua. Distance has not given him any clearer perspective on his sorry plight.
“I have been asking myself the same question every day for two years, and I still don’t know the answer; I don’t know what the motivation was for the police to invent such horrible lies about me. And it’s possible that I will never know,” he says.
Still, Puracal doesn’t rule out that Nicaragua will again be a part of his future plans someday.
“My wife is Nicaraguan, my son born there, I spent 10 years of my life there, and I fell in love with Nicaragua,” he says. “Nicaragua will always hold a place in my heart. Right now I want to concentrate on my family, go back to school, study sustainable development, but it’s possible that we can return to Nicaragua at some point in the future and I hope to do that.”