Venezuelan inmates compete in rugby tournament, get taste of freedom
As part of the Alcatraz Project, inmates from 12 prisons gather together to play rugby and see their families.
Some 400 inmates from all around Venezuela left their cells over the weekend to play rugby in a tourney whose championship final was played at Hacienda Santa Teresa in the north-central part of the country, a rare opportunity to run around in the fresh air, see their families and just be athletes.
Teams from 12 prisons met on the playing field at Hacienda Santa Teresa, which for more than 60 years has been a rum distillery and for some 15 years has run a social program called the Alcatraz Project that trains inmates to play rugby.
"This is the second time we've been here to take part in this greatly appreciated event - it fills us with happiness and we thank you for having us here, for seeing us not as inmates but as the athletes we are today," Andry Bolivar, from the Rodeo II Prison in the eastern part of the country, said.
Andry now has played penitentiary rugby for three years and this practice helps him reduce his eight-year prison sentence a little.
He said playing rugby has helped him realize that, thanks to the sport, he will have the chance to reintegrate himself in society once he leaves prison and "expand my horizons."
He has also regained, he said, "those values that outside on the street are often forgotten, such as respect, tolerance, humility, perseverance and teamwork."
The event called Santa Teresa 7 for the Penitentiary Rugby Tournament's seven-minute games with teams of seven players each, was won by Tocoron Prison in the north-central state of Aragua.
Family members were allowed to accompany these athletes, as in the case of Maria Laya, 75, who went to see her grandson Ismael Laya, 24, of the champion Tocoron team, who was imprisoned two years ago on suspicion of taking part in a robbery, though he has not yet gone to trial.
"He doesn't have a lawyer," the grandma said, adding that if she had the money "I'd have gotten him out of there," and went on to say that her grandson and his brother "were dragged out of their home" and accused of possessing grenades, though "they had nothing of the sort."