Crime gathering to hear from famous former inmate

Criminal justice professionals and criminologists from all over the hemisphere begin a three-day meeting today in San José.

Wednesday they will hear from a Costa Rican who probably has more first-hand experience than most at the meeting.

He is José León Sánchez, the famous Costa Rican author who did 30 years in the old prison on the Isla San Lucas.  The 86-year-old son of a prostitute wrote his first book about the experience. It is the gritty “La isla de los hombres solos.”

The author has since written many more books after having taught himself to read on the island prison. He has a long list of honors and collaborated on a movie about the island.

He went to prison because someone stole the jewels from the Virgen de los Ángeles at the basilica in Cartago. This seems to be another case of the police finding the first available suspect. They beat him until they received a confession. There was false testimony and what appears to have been apathy by the defense lawyers to the so-called monstruo de la Basílica.

León came again to public attention when he began winning major literary awards. He has a good record in prison because he founded the institution’s newspaper, its library and a school for inmates.

The island prison has since been closed.

He has the distinction of having been declared innocent of the crime by both the Sala III high criminal court and also the Catholic Church.

León will be on a panel Wednesday morning. The event is being held at the Hotel Radisson under the auspices of the U.N. Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.

A large number of Costa Rica officials are listed as speakers or panelists including President Luis Guillermo Solís, who will speak today.

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