Gringo Nightmareby Eric Volz
In the spirit of Midnight Express and Not Without My Daughter comes the harrowing true story of an American held in a Nicaraguan prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Eric Volz was in his late twenties in 2005 when he moved from California to Nicaragua. He and a friend cofounded a bilingual magazine, El Puente, and it/i>/i>/i>/i>
In the spirit of Midnight Express and Not Without My Daughter comes the harrowing true story of an American held in a Nicaraguan prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Eric Volz was in his late twenties in 2005 when he moved from California to Nicaragua. He and a friend cofounded a bilingual magazine, El Puente, and it proved more successful than they ever expected. Then Volz met Doris Jiménez, an incomparable beauty from a small Nicaraguan beach town, and they began a passionate and meaningful relationship. Though the relationship ended amicably less than a year later and Volz moved his business to the capital city of Managua, a close bond between the two endured.
Nothing prepared him for the phone call he received on November 21, 2006, when he learned that Doris had been found dead-murdered-in her seaside clothing boutique. He rushed from Managua to be with her friends and family, and before he knew it, he found himself accused of her murder, arrested, and imprisoned.
Decried in the press and vilified by his onetime friends, Volz suffered horrific conditions, illness, deadly inmates, an angry lynch mob, sadistic guards, and the merciless treatment of government officials. It was only through his dogged persistence, the tireless support of his friends and family, and the assistance of a former intelligence operative that Eric was released, in December 2007, after more than a year in prison.
A story that made national and international headlines, this is the first and only book to tell Eric’s absorbing, moving account in his own words.
Visit the companion Exhibit Hall at the Gringo Nightmare website for additional photos, audio clips, video, case files, and more.
-from the foreword by Bill Kurtis, author of The Death Penalty on Trial and host of A&E’s Cold Case Files
“A powerful story of injustice, iron determination, and incomprehensible strength. Proof that wrongful convictions can happen anywhere, at anytime, to anyone.”
-Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, coauthors of the New York Times bestselling Picking Cotton
“Gringo Nightmare is a brave and riveting account of a young man wrongfully imprisoned, offering insight into the history, politics, and geography of a nation. It’s major motion picture material.”
-Elizabeth F. Loftus, Ph.D., coauthor of Witness for the Defense and The Myth of Repressed Memory
“A chilling tale of how political pressure and a rigged judicial process led to the conviction of an innocent man, and a powerful story of how one man’s faith in the truth, combined with grassroots pressure from people around the world who had never met Eric Volz, eventually helped to end an unjust imprisonment.”
-KC Johnson, coauthor of the New York Times bestselling Until Proven Innocent
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
Gringo NightmareA Young American Framed for Murder in Nicaragua
By Volz, Eric
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Volz, Eric
All right reserved.
Excerpted from Chapter 4
Suddenly the Enemy
I’ll never forget the barking.
I would hear it again in other Nicaraguan prisons, but hearing it now for the first time as the truck pulled through the gates of the Rivas jail, I began to tremble. I could handle the hooting and the shouting, the clanging and banging against the rusted bars of the windows, but what I heard now went beyond anything I could have imagined. And through all that crazy noise, the sound of barking stood out, and I knew instantly that there were no dogs, that these were men I was hearing, men reduced to their lowest, most animal level, barking at me like wild, hungry, rabid dogs. The sound was the most evil thing I had ever heard.
Although it is the capital of the departmento, or “state,” Rivas is a small town. The sight of a nicely dressed Anglo man (I was still wearing the suit from the funeral) being pulled out of a pickup truck in handcuffs must have been shocking to a jail that is full of thugs and borderline psychos. At the very least, I’m sure I looked like a fresh and easy target to them. Occasional shouts of “gringo” would reach my ears. I could see through to one cell, where a young man had leapt up onto the bars and was hanging on and shaking them, as if he were some kind of sick monkey in a zoo.
Even then, I hadn’t been read my rights or told on what grounds I had been arrested. Inside the Rivas station, the anger and fear were boiling over inside me, but I forced myself to keep calm. The guard walked me to a cell—a big holding tank, really—in which about twenty men shuffled around. Some kept to themselves in the dark corners or stood quietly, staring me down and sizing me up. Others were in different states of agitation, pacing or fidgeting around like men who were going mad. Even through my panic, I could tell that I wouldn’t last long in there, but somehow I knew enough to hide my fear. I was innocent, absolutely and completely, but that didn’t matter at that moment. In a place like this innocence is one thing, vulnerability is another.
I’m not sure what made me think to get in that guard’s face just then. Something in me I didn’t completely recognize took over, as if all the tight situations I’d been in had become a part of me without my realizing it. Standing in front of the door to the holding cell, I put my face an inch away from his and as coldly as I could, I said, “If you want to sleep tonight, don’t put me in that cell. I’m not in the mood to be fucked with.”
It may have been an act, but it had the benefit of being absolutely true. Something told me that there would be trouble, and I wanted him to be thinking the same thing. For a moment, he didn’t move. We watched each other, and I could see the wheels turning in his head. Did he really want to get up in the middle of the night, to break up a fight, or worse? Did he really want to have to report some kind of trouble to his bosses? The tension eased just a fraction. His body and his expression relaxed almost imperceptibly, but enough to let me know he was giving in.
He led me away to another cell, the only empty one. He couldn’t budge the heavy metal door that was bent crooked, which I suppose explains why the cell looked like it hadn’t been used in a while. The guard strained against the door, putting all his weight into it, but could not get it to open. I still can’t believe that I did this, but I took a step forward and helped him. I gripped the bars and tugged with everything I had. It may have been my jail cell, but right then it felt like my only chance of getting through the night. Together we pulled and heaved and grunted until the cell door opened.
All of sudden, I was alone in the dark and the cold. The tiny cell was bare except for a concrete slab to sleep on and a hole in the floor for a toilet. No sheets or blankets so prisoners couldn’t hang themselves. Nothing that could be broken or held as a weapon. As the air on this frigid night moved through the decrepit jail built for tropical heat and hit my thin dress shirt, I began to shiver uncontrollably. I took off my shoes and fashioned a little pillow out of them, just something to put under my neck, and lay down. Curled up in a fetal ball, trying to wrap my arms around myself to fight off the chill, I listened to the sounds of the jail that night, the murmurs and conversations, the drug-fueled laughter and screams.
As I lay there shivering, the noise of the other inmates seemed to grow louder in my ears. I tried to focus my mind on something other than the cold and the dark and the solitude and the menace on the other side of the walls. I found it almost comforting to think about some other people I had glimpsed in the cells who seemed as out of place or at least as confused or as frightened as I felt. I remembered some young teenagers, boys really, who must have gotten way over their heads into some kind of mischief. You couldn’t miss them, mostly because they were trying so hard to make themselves invisible. Also sitting off by herself was a grandmotherly looking woman with silver hair, who seemed to be concentrating on keeping her dignity.
At about 7:00 that first evening, I was taken out of the jail and walked a couple of blocks to another location in Rivas for a physical examination. The woman who checked me over was the same woman who had taken samples of my hair and cotton swabbed under my fingernails for the police in San Juan del Sur. Turns out she had also been at the crime scene, performing that first cursory forensic examination of Doris’s body. She was never introduced to me in any way, and here in Rivas, it was hard to tell if she was actually a doctor or medical professional. She worked out of a simple storefront “office” with a plain wooden desk and chair and no sign of medical equipment. The office seemed to double as a makeshift pharmacy, with a few items—toothpaste, combs and brushes, soap and shampoo, and such—in a small display case. She never took any blood from me, either in San Juan or that night in Rivas, but she did examine all over visually, looking, I suppose, for fresh wounds or other signs of struggle that might connect me directly to the murder. This examiner clearly saw the bruises left on my shoulder from carrying Doris’s coffin but never asked me about it. In fact, I didn’t even know they were there. It wasn’t until later I learned that she wrote down in her report that “the injuries were similar to those produced by fingernails, with two or three days of evolution.”
Before I knew it, I was sitting in my cell again but still couldn’t fully grasp what was happening to me. At that moment, it was inconceivable to me that the terrible mistake of my arrest wouldn’t get cleared up in a matter of days, if not hours. I expected that at any minute, someone would walk in and tell me to gather my things and get ready to go. It actually occurred to me that if the real killers were found, the cops would probably bring them to the same jail, and I’d have a chance to see them face-to-face.
At one point in the middle of that first night, the guard who had promised he wouldn’t put anyone in the cell with me brought in a frightened kid who had gotten into a fight in town, and later two more street thugs were thrown in as well. Even as I kept myself half hidden in the corner shadows of the cell and adopted the body language of someone hard and dangerous, I stared at those guys, steaming with the thought that one or all of them might have killed Doris. I remember looking across into the crowded common cells on that next morning, trying to see if anyone gave me a sense that they might be the one. There was one guy about my age, dressed and groomed nicely enough that he seemed out of place with all the hoods in the common cells, who caught my attention. He kept looking at me like he knew something I didn’t. In my mind, hyper with exhaustion, he started to look like the type of dude that Doris might have gotten mixed up with. Of course, I had no clue who or what she might have been mixed up with, and that guy in cell across from me turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with the case.
Frigid, dark, and covered in filth, the Rivas jail felt like the underworld. You’d be amazed at the kinds of things you can get used to. The first night sleeping on a slab of cold concrete, I would either feel shooting pain through my hips and shoulders and limbs or complete numbness in these parts from the pressure on a particular nerve. Quickly, though, I started to figure out the little tricks— the right way to wrap my shirt or jacket into a pillow and place under one of my joints or how to position my shoes just so under my neck to make the long nights somehow bearable. I even started to get used to the disgusting stench from the vomit and feces smeared around the holes in the cement floor we were expected to use as toilets. Many came in drunk and spent their first couple of hours detoxing over the toilet hole. The men themselves all stank, especially if they had been there a while, with the stale, rank odor of sweat and dirt and suffering.
The guards would bring around a pot of rice and beans twice a day, but you were on your own as far as a plate was concerned. From the first day, I had to figure out how to scramble just to get a few bites of food. Like every prison, there’s a pecking order among the inmates, and there’s always someone who seems to have access to something the others need. The Rivas police jail only houses transients—people awaiting processing or trial for petty crimes or convicted murderers and rapists on their way into the penitentiary system— but even there, you needed to know which guys could get you a plate or something else you needed in exchange for some other favor. Right from the beginning, a prisoner has to negotiate for the most basic things. I felt immediately like that put me at a disadvantage, but strangely that kind of survival mentality forces the inmates to depend on, even while abusing, one another. I was getting just a tiny glimpse of what it was going to mean to be part of el sistema, “the prison system.”
Excerpted from Gringo Nightmare by Eric Volz.
Copyright 2010 by Eric Volz.
Published in April 2010 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Excerpted from Gringo Nightmare by Volz, Eric Copyright © 2010 by Volz, Eric. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
ERIC VOLZ was born in Northern California. He is a former magazine publisher and investment consultant, who holds a degree in Latin American Studies from the University of California, San Diego.
In November 2006, while living in Nicaragua, he was falsely accused and wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend Doris Jiménez, and consequently sentenced to a 30-year prison term. After spending over a year in the Nicaraguan Prison system, an appeals court overturned the conviction and Volz was released in December of 2007.
Since his release, Volz filed a petition in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, seeking a declaration of his innocence and protection under the American Convention on Human Rights from further persecution by the Government of Nicaragua. Although he is no longer behind bars, his case continues to test the role and authority of a supra-national tribunal with major potential to engage international policy discussions and subsequent reform.
He has been a guest on and featured in The Today Show, CNN, NBC News, PBS, Telemundo and Univision, New York Times, Washington Post, WSJ, People and NPR.
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This is a true-life experience which encompasses so many feelings from beginning to end. Love, hate, tragedy, triumph, despair, agony, but most of all it's REAL. I have followed this story through the media from beginning to end, and was anticipating the release of this book. I was at BN upon its release and could not put it down. I am proud & amazed that Eric uncovers what he feels is the truth about what happened. The "Exhibit Hall" feature that comes along while reading the book is a great complement to the development of the story. As Americans we are often blinded to International Affairs, but this book is a real wake up call to what happens overseas. There are many culprits to the corruption that is uncovered in the book. And though many questions remain unanswered, I am glad that Eric Volz came out victorious in this struggle and is thus far safe on American soil. His account of what happened from beginning to end is superb. Definitely a must read!!!!!
I could not put this book down. Whether you kept up with the news stories at the time or not, this book gives amazing details on what life is like for a real outsider in the Nicaraguan prison system. This will give you renewed faith in our own judicial system and perspective on what it's like to have those basic freedoms ripped away for political gain. The online Exhibition Hall you get access to really fleshes out the locations and people too. Absolutely a must read for anyone interested in Latin America, justice or international politics.
What can be scarier than being accused of a murder you didn't commit? This is what happened to Eric Volz while living in Nicaragua. As many reading this are aware, this case was publicized around the world. In fact, I personally watched this case from afar and would watch all the news stories related to the case ie. Dateline and Anderson Cooper 360. So, as you must imagine, I was extremely excited for this book to come out. However, I thought I knew most, if not all, of the aspects of Eric's case. But, once I started reading Eric's memoirs, I realized how little was actually reported. You may think you know what happened, however you will never know unless you read this book. Personally, I couldn't put the book down. Absolutely, one of the best books I've ever heard read. From a love story, to true crime to international politics this book has it all! I'm waiting for the Hollywood movie. Who will play Eric?