From his cell, Jacó entrepreneur urges action on prison conditions

My name is Patrick Hundley and I am a Costa Rican resident who currently resides in Pérez Zeledón prison.  Prior to Pérez Zeledón I lived in Jacó since 2003.  I would like to tell you my story in hopes that it will create conversation amongst the people of this beautiful country and inspire change to fix a broken system.

I first came to Costa Rica with my family in 2002.  We were drawn here by the recommendations of friends that had traveled here.  They said it was the most naturally beautiful country they had ever visited.  The weather was great, and the natural beauty reminded them of Hawaii.  My three young children fell in love with the ocean, beach and mountains.  My wife and I fell in love with the kindness and generosity of the people.  We have been very fortunate to have traveled around the world, and I am certain that the people of Costa Rica are the friendliest we have ever met.  We decided that we would move our family to Costa Rica for a couple of years to expose our children to a new culture and experiences.

During our family experience in Costa Rica I started a real estate development company called Daystar Properties.  We lived in Jacó, and I had a vision for that small beach town.  I felt we could help transform Jacó into the best beach community in all of Central America.  A town that all Costa Ricans could be proud of.  As many of you know, Jacó has always been known as the weekend get-away party spot.  There was a perceived drug and crime problem.  That would be one of the many issues we would attack in our attempt to create a better Jacó.

I started construction of our first project called Bahia Azul in 2004.  Since that time I have built five condominium projects on the beach in Jacó.  Daystar has employed 100s of local Costa Ricans and has been responsible for 100s of millions of dollars to be put into the local economy.  I am very proud of Daystar and its role in the community.  With the hard work of many local workers and government officials, we have accomplished many great things, and I believe have helped improve quality of life in Jacó.

In 2006 I started the Chamber of Commerce and served as the president for six years.  Under my guidance and with the efforts of a committed board of directors we were able to tackle some of the challenges we faced in Jacó.  Many local residents and government officials worked very hard to establish the municipal police and tourist police.  Almost immediately everyone noticed a stronger police presence and a decrease in criminal activity.  We had less complaints of theft against locals and tourist.  We helped pave roads, improve infrastructure, donated to local education programs for children and organized a beach cleanup program.  Everyone pitched in to help make Jacó the best it could be.  It became a community I was proud to call home.  After 11 years I believe we have a greatly improved Jacó.  We helped make it an international vacation destination and most importantly a community that locals could be proud of and feel safe with their families.  We created job opportunities for locals and helped build a sustainable local economy.  I recognize we still have more work to do, and I am as excited as ever to be part of the progress.  I truly believe Jacó can become the best beach community in all of Central America.

This brings me to my current situation.  I am currently being held on preventiva in Pérez Zeledón prison.  I am being accused by an American of wrongdoing in a real estate transaction from 2006.  I am a partner of his in the real estate deal.  His accusations are 100 percent false.   However, I do not want to focus on my case, but rather what I have learned while going through this ordeal.  What I have experienced and learned should be of great concern to all Costa Ricans.

To start, I need to give you a brief background to my case in order to understand where I am today.  I was taken hostage by the Costa Rican government on Feb. 17, 2014.  I do not use the term hostage in jest.  I voluntarily showed up for a deposition at the prosecutors office in Puntarenas to give my response to my accuser’s claim.  I thought that I would be there for about one hour then return to work.  I was wrong.  After answering a few personal questions about my family history, several OIJ officers came into the room and handcuffed me.  I never gave my side of the story – they were not interested in hearing the facts then, and they continue to be uninterested.  Instead of giving a deposition, I was arrested.  I was taken to a jail cell where I remained for three days.  I was never given an explanation or told of my rights.  My home for three days was approximately four meters by four meters and I had as many as 16 roommates at any given time.  You sleep on the concrete floor wherever space is open.

Next, I appeared in front of a judge in Jacó.  She decided that I should be held in preventiva at Pérez Zeledón.  The prosecutor had no proof or documents to support his case, but the judge felt I should be in prison while the prosecutor had time to build his case.  So, I was taken away from my family and business with no evidence of wrongdoing.  I was determined guilty until proven innocent, which of course, is completely opposite of how the law is supposed to work.  In an effort to get to the purpose of my letter, it is day 113 of being held hostage.  I am celebrating 113 days of imprisonment and my 25th wedding anniversary today.  The prosecutor still has no proof or evidence, and he never will because the accusations are false.

More important than my own case, are the cases of 1,000s of other men.  The system is broken and in need of immediate repair.  While in prison I have made a conscious decision to make this a positive experience that I can learn from.  In spite of the inhumane conditions and unbelievable injustice, I am persevering and learning from this experience.  I will make something good come from this unjust situation.

I do not blame any particular person for this broken system.  In fact, I have met many kind and generous people that work in the judicial system.  All of the OIJ staff that I have encountered have been kind and respectful.  Many of the prison guards at Pérez Zeledón seem to be good people.  Office staff I met at Pérez Zeledón recognize the problems and try their best to work within this very broken system.

As residents of Costa Rica and as citizens our hearts should be broken and we should be ashamed to know that our country that claims Pura Vida has such a deplorable and inhumane judicial system.

To start, the system of preventiva needs to be fixed.  It is abused by overworked and sometimes lazy prosecutors as a way to buy time for their case.  Unfortunately, men are sent to prison with no proof or evidence of guilt while the prosecutor builds his case.  This goes against the laws of this country and against all human rights.  A system that punishes without proof of guilt is indefensible.  Under the preventiva system people are treated as guilty until proven innocent and we all know it should be innocent until proven guilty.

There is no question there are criminal people in prison who deserve punishment for their crimes.  However, I have met many good.  A large percentage of the prison population comes from poor backgrounds which usually means very limited education as well.  Education increases opportunities.  These people are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty that is hard to break.  Without changes, the pattern will not be broken, and we will simply continue with increased crime rates and prison over population.  I have no verifiable statistics to support my opinions but the following numbers are educated guesses based on my observations, interviews and experiences with inmates.  I believe 80 percent come from families that fall under the poverty line and at least 25 percent cannot read or write.  Of the 75 percent that can read or write, about half of those did not finish elementary school and 80 percent of the other half did not finish high school.  Without increased job opportunities and education, you can expect the same results.  Crime rates continuing to climb and overcrowded prisons.

The current prisons cannot handle additional inmates.  They are currently over capacity and the conditions are inhumane.  For example, the cell in which I am currently located was built for 22 inmates.  During my stay, we have had as many as 66 men.  That is three times capacity.  We are packed in like sardines in a can, men sleeping all over the floor.  This overcrowding creates an unbelievable hostile environment.  Plus, it creates an even more unsanitary condition.  It overburdens the infrastructure.  We have

Patrick Hundley as seen in a video promoting the Jacó Rays, the second-division professional soccer team that he owns.

Patrick Hundley as seen in a video promoting the Jacó Rays, the second-division professional soccer team that he owns.

had countless days with interrupted water service.  We had a 20-day period where it was necessary to fill a bucket with water to flush toilets and to pour water over you to take a shower.  We have had complete days with no drinking water available.  Frankly, the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions breed on an unhealthy environment which leads to many illnesses and violent actions.

The access to medical attention is deplorable.  I have seen many inmates go untreated for infections and gripe for many weeks.  I believe it is due to an understaffed and overworked medical department.  Most of the illnesses could be prevented if the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions were eliminated.  In an extreme case, I watched an older inmate have what appeared to be a heart attack.  Several guards surrounded him and simply watched.  I rushed to him to offer assistance because I am CPR trained.  Thankfully, he was having an asthma and panic attack and recovered.  The point is, the staff is obviously not properly trained to administer any medical help if needed.

The food provided to the inmates does not meet the minimum daily requirements to keep your dog healthy.  In this land of abundance where many fruits grow wild, inmates are given one banana a week, and, if lucky, maybe one small slice of papaya.  On the few days that the typical rice and beans comes with a small piece of meat, you might be one of the unlucky ones who does not receive meat.  There is not enough for everyone all the time.  The pavillan has a staggering amount of second-hand smoke resembling a bar on a Saturday night.  This just contributes to the overall unhealthy conditions.

I know that many people reading this will say “good,” that is what convicted criminals deserve.  But that response comes from uninformed and ignorant people.  First, not all people in prison are convicted criminals.  There are many in prison being held under preventiva and ultimately many of those are found innocent.  Plus, the imperfect judicial system has convicted many innocent people, and they are serving time for a crime they did not commit.  But, even for the guilty, a healthy environment is vital for rehabilitation.  They are human beings and deserve our help at becoming contributing members of society.

It is important to understand what role prison serves.  Of course it is a punishment and designed to be a deterrent.  We all know that it does not detour most criminals from repeat offenses.  Without increased job opportunities many released inmates return to criminal activity to support their families.  Additionally, without education they feel inferior and unable to secure legitimate employment that earns enough money to support their families.  If we want to reduce the number of repeat offenders and help our fellow man become contributing members of society, it is imperative to create a rehabilitative environment in prison.  We must teach job skills, improve education and offer counseling to improve mental health.  If not, then simply call prison a punishment and continue to expect crime rates to soar and repeat offenses to rise.

I know many will ask ‘Why should I care?”.  Or think that it does not affect me.  Well, it does affect you.  It affects all of us.  We must all live together and strive for a more harmonious and safe environment in which to live.  Costa Rica prides itself on being a pro humans rights country.  Government officials always brag to the international community that Costa Rica is army-free and a democratic country.  There is an arrogance to every Costa Rican who believes Costa Rica is superior to all other Latin American countries because of their enlightenment regarding democracy and army-free beliefs.  A past president won the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts.  Those efforts were not his alone.  They were supported by an entire country.  The Nobel Peace Prize was earned by a nation with humanitarian beliefs and morals.  A belief that there is value to human life and all people should be treated fairly and with respect.  The men in these prisons are grandfathers, fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, and sons.  They are members of our society.  Without necessary changes to the system and the help of everyone, the future is dim for this great country.  The current system is evil and a poor, poor reflection of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a small country in the world community but it has a growing presence on the world stage.  Costa Rica is under the microscope more than ever, and it is time to shine, showing the world the true character of its people.  Once the character and quality of the people are exposed to the world, Costa Rica will see an unprecedented prosperous period of time.  There are two old phrases that I like to live by in my life, and they apply perfectly to Costa Rica and all its citizens.

It Ain’t the Size of the Dog
In the Fight, It’s the Size
Of the Fight in the Dog”

Basically, Costa Rica might be small in size, but there is a powerful spirit to the people.  Even a small country can be a leader in the world.  They can lead by example rather than by how big their army is.

All that is needed for Evil to
Succeed is for Good Men to
Remain Silent”

No one seems to know exactly what to do, it is a feeling of collective helplessness.  But the time is now for positive change.  What are you going to do?  What are we going to do?

I have never met the new president, Mr. Solís, but from what I see and hear, he appears to be genuinely trying to make positive changes.  With most politicians we are left with broken promises after a short time.  I pray he finds the strength and courage for the challenges he faces.  It is a very difficult job leading a country.  I am optimistic as I hope all of you are that he is the right man to lead this great country for the next four years.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.  It is an open and honest love letter from me to the people of Costa Rica.  Whether you agree or disagree with me is not important.  What is important is that it creates intelligent discussions, which hopefully lead to positive action.  Regardless of what faults I believe the current system has, I love Costa Rica and I want to be part of the solution.  I am proud to call Costa Rica my home.

Editor’s Note: Much of what the writer says about overcrowding in the Pérez Zeledón prison is confirmed by news files. The case against him involves five foreign investors. A.M. Costa Rica has editorialized against the injustices of presión preventiva.

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