September 17th, 2012
07:42 AM ET

Tonight on AC360: Exclusive interview with American freed from Nicaraguan 'hellhole'

In an exclusive interview at 8 and 10 p.m. ET, Anderson Cooper talks to Jason Puracal about his imprisonment in La Modelo, one of the world's most notorious prisons, for charges he calls unfounded.

Puracal, 35, a native of Washington state who had been imprisoned for nearly two years in Nicaragua left the country Friday, a day after he was set free, and was reunited with his wife, son, mother and sisters in the U.S. on Sunday.

He had been serving a 22-year sentence for drug-related crimes and was one of 12 people whose charges were vacated, according to his legal team and a judicial order signed Wednesday that the team gave to CNN.

Since his arrest in 2011, Puracal had many defenders who said the charges were baseless. They included human rights activists, international attorneys, a U.N. body, a former FBI investigator and a U.S. congressman.

In June, Puracal spoke by phone with Anderson, saying he was imprisoned in a "hellhole" and that he was "100 percent innocent." He described the harsh living conditions with makeshift beds in 12-by-15-foot cells occupied by 9 to 12 people.

"It's hot; it's dirty; it's festy. There's lots of insects, including chiggers and ants and mosquitoes. There's no running water. I have to fight every day to get your two buckets of water. There's no good food. We get rice and beans three times a day, and it has a bicarbonate added to it to make the prisoners feel full, so I can't even eat this stuff. Right now I survive on crackers and peanuts and raisins," he said.

Wednesday's court order resulted from an appeal hearing that concluded this summer, in which his legal team argued for his release. Puracal also addressed the court to express his love for Nicaragua after volunteering there for the Peace Corps, and to reiterate his firm belief that the charges against him were lies.

Find out more about the case and listen to Puracal's call from prison in June:

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Filed under: 360° Interview
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. aaron

    Nicaragua's had a good rep since the Sandinistas' exit. Sounds like it's trying to catch up with N. Korea and Iran now for imprisoning innocent people.

    September 17, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  2. Barbara Keeler-Barton

    It's wonderful that Jason Puracal has been released. I'm sure he and his family know just how fortunate he is. Sadly Mr. Puracal's plight is only the tip of the ice berg when it comes to Latin American injustice especially where foreigners are concerned. A friend of ours was jailed for 7 months in a Costa Rican prison on "preventative detention". No proper investigation was done nor evidence gathered to establish his guilt other than the word of his mentally unstable wife. While in jail, he was obliged to sleep on the floor, was brutalized by his captors sustaining a concussion, was denied medical attention he required for a bad tooth and ultimately had to extract the tooth himself. Fortunately, he had a wealthy friend who was able to hire the best lawyers available who ultimately proved his innocence. On his release, he discovered that everything he owned had been stolen during his incarceration. He is now living with family in the United States and, in his senior years, has absolutely nothing to call his own. This is only one story. There are many, many similar stories out there in Central America concerning corrupt judicial systems, intolerable prison conditions, inept lawyers, and a deeply rooted anti-foreigner bias. Visitors and potential retirees to Central America should be warned!

    September 17, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  3. Gareth

    Glad he is out and free!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  4. PHil

    FINALLY! So wonderful !

    September 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  5. Laura S.

    Thank you Anderson for helping get the word out about Jason Puracal's plight! Several of us contacted you about Jason's case & you took the time to look into our pleas for help! You brought awareness abt it to a lot of people. Blessings to you for doing so!!!!

    September 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |