Behind Bars: Q&A with Eric Volz
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In the June 2007 feature story The Boomtown, the Gringo, the Girl, and Her Murder” Tony DSouza reports on the murder trial of American ex-pat Eric Volz in Nicaragua. On March 26, 2007, after months of research and nearly two weeks of attempting to get access to Volz, Supreme Court Magistrate Dr. Marvin Aguilar Garcia granted DSouza permission to enter the prison where Volz was incarcerated. DSouza spoke to Volz for nearly two hours on the trial, the town of San Juan del Sur, the accusations against him, and what the future holds. Here, read selected excerpts of their talk.
LIFE IN PRISON
TD: Tell me about your treatment in prison. If you could kind of give me a timeline.
EV: I've been held in one jailhouse [Rivas], a police interrogation centerhere in Managua called El Chipote, and I've been held in a safe house when I was on house arrest, then in the Federal Penitentiary System in Granada, and here in Managua in Tipitapa. You have to distinguish between the police jurisdiction and Federal Penitentiary because the treatment has been totally different. They're much more professional here. They know this is their business. Rivas was, it was what it was; barely any food, sleeping on concrete, shit smeared on the walls; bad situation. Then the worst was being in Chipote in ManaguaI was tortured there. And there's been several threats and fights and all kinds of shit that's happened.
TD: So the Penitentiary System you feel has been good to you?
EV: Well, I mean…
TD: It's still prison…
EV: It's relative. It's fucked up. They should have me in some safe house and not even in prison. I shouldn't even have to have personal bodyguards around. That obviously is not cool. You don't get enough food here. You don't get sleep here.
TD: So what kind of threats do you get?
EV: Death threats, man.
TD: Like how? Like they come up to you and say, 'I'm going to kill you' ?
EV: Yeah. People yell through the cells. People say things in the hallway. People that I know will say, 'Hey man you need to be careful, I talked to this guy and this is what he is saying.' There's acquaintances of Doris's family in prison here. The reason why I was moved to this prison from Granada is because they had information that they were organizing a hit on me. It's very simple. These guys kill for a living. That's what they're doing here. They got a 30-year sentence and they don't care. Their life's already done.
TD: Are you making any friends here?
EV: Yeah I've made a couple friends. You know I wouldn't call them friends, they're acquaintances, you need to have a couple allies. But I'm not joining any gangs or anything.
TD: What's your day like?
EV: I have a cellmate. Very small concrete cell, an old rusty bunkbed. They come by at four o'clock in the afternoon and lock us in the cell, and then they come at four in the morning and take the lock off.
TD: So you're allowed liberty on the grounds for 12 hours a day.
EV: Liberty in my gallery. I personally, I can'tEric Volz is not allowed to leave the gallery to make phone calls. Everything I do is independent. When I go to the yard, it's by myself. It wasn't like that the first week, but now after they saw how dangerous the situation was, and how big of a problem it would be if something happened to me, they've definitely taken my security a little bit more seriously.
TD: Are you getting any kind of special treatment? Are you having a guard protect you?
EV: No. When they walk me down the hallways, there's at least one person with me. They keep an eye on me. It's still extremely dangerous
TD: How did you feel when you were on the witness stand?
EV: It felt great, man. That was symbolic of me breaking silence publicly. I hadn't spoken to any media, or got to say anything to Doris's family or the prosecution or the public. It was great to tell my story, whether people believed it or not. It felt really good.
TD: How did you feel when the shots were fired?
EV: You know, man, by then I had been through weeks of private security, wearing the bullet proof vest. My security had to pull weapons on people several times when I was on house arrest. It wasn't like the first time. I was never worried for my personal safety as much as other people getting hurt, because my security is really dangerous.
TD: Did you think they were going to find you innocent at the trial? When did you know that you were going to be found guilty?
EV: It was obvious to everyone that we annihilated the prosecution with our defense. I mean, there is no doubt about the trial itself, in terms of the judicial process and arguing back and forth. We won the trial. I definitely thought that. I thought I'd be acquitted and I thought that Chamorro would be condemned because he didn't present a very convincing defense at all. I knew that I had been found guilty when my attorneys came inbefore she even started reading the verdict, they told me, 'Hey, Eric, don't worry we are going to appeal.' So they already knew.
TD: How do you think they knew?
EV: Well because everybody knew. They're not professional here in that way.
TD: Did they know before the trial?
EV: No. No. We thought we were going to win.
TD: How did you feel when she started reading the verdict? Because that's when I knew, about ten minutes into that…
EV: Yeah, I don't know if you saw me, but I started taking off my watch. I took the money I had in my pocket and I put it in my jacket.
TD: I didn't see that.
EV: I consolidated all of my valuables, put it in my jacket and gave it to my attorney because I knew the police were going to try to immediately grab me and try [to], you know, rob me of any valuables that I had, which has already happened. Oh man, it was a horrible feeling. It's just a dark, dark place that I've gone to on several different occasions. You just have toyou close your eyesjust have faith and you pray. Again, the most dangerous thing is being in police custody when the police know that they're responsible for you being falsely accused. That's dangerous. It's dangerous when the police know that I have a large support group and at the heart of the investigation is their irresponsible police work. It's convenient for them if something would happen to me. Which is why on several occasions I don't think they've done a real good job trying to protect me.
ERIC VOLZ THEN
TD: [How] did you end up in Nicaragua, [and] how [did you learn] to speak Spanish?
EV: My mother, she's Mexican; she was raised in the United States. Both of her parents are from Mexico.
TD: But she doesn't really speak Spanish.
EV: Not anymore. It's kind of funny. As a kid she spoke fluent Spanish. But like most, a lot of immigrants that move to the US, being associated with fluent Spanish often means discrimination. So she kind of very selectively hid her Spanish, she kind of lost [it]. She still speaks it, she still has it in her, she understands it well. But I grew up around my grandmother, and my aunt and those people speaking to me in Spanish, so I learned the accent and the culture as a young kid. I was receptively bilingual. I understood what they said, but I only produced English. And I saw my father and mother speaking English, so I knew I didn't have to speak Spanish. So I didn't actually start speaking Spanish until I was probably 13 or 14. I took it in high school, I started learning grammar, learning how to read and write. Traveling and living abroad I got to learn my skills a little bit better. When I was eleven years old, my parents got divorced. The way I kind of dealt with it, I think emotionally, was I found climbing. Climbing is so much more than just a physical sport. Climbers know that. It's very much about personality, and even exists in the spiritual realms. It really began to mean something about freedom, learning my limits, learning to trust myself. [It] really constructed an internal strength of character. A lot of what I've been able to get through here in prison is from what I learned through climbing.
TD: Could you try and describe what it feels like for you personally when you're on a big wall?
EV: It's pure freedom. You're not really touching society, you're not touching the rat race, the fast world of capitalism. It's a place where you can forget that you're in 2007. You find your breath and you leave. It spoke to me at a certain time in my life. And then I realized I was living a little of too much of a good a life, and I reached a point where I was ready to be a little more responsible socially, as an American citizen. Although I come from a middle-class family, I do feel a responsibilty for the mobility that I have to try to make a difference in the world. So I went to school, I studied international relations, and when I got out into the world I was really interested in trying to make a difference. So I think that's kind of [what]if you want to call it a transitionhappened. I learned more about the world and realized that hanging out in the mountains and staying in great shape was great, but I wasn't really doing much.
TD: Would you consider yourself a capitalist? Is that how you saw the real estate stuff you were doing in San Juan?
EV: No. I think that there's a new genre of doing business, and it's more prevalent among our generation20s and 30swhere we are care-capitalists. We have found a way to balance nature and business. You see it all over. There's an incredible fascination with organic everything, with sustainablethis, sustainable-that. There [are] marketing campaigns going on like product RED. Who'd of thought? What I was doing at Century 21 was, ironically, I saw myself more as not a real estate brokerI hate that word. I was doing transitional consulting.
TD: But you were selling land.
EV: Yeah, but we were selling more than land. We were selling a lifestyle. When people often get off the plane, I'm the first person that they talk to after six months of saving money, organizing their capital, and doing research on the internet. Eric is the first person they actually get to talk to on the ground in Nicaragua. I can present Nicaragua in any way that I choose. Often times we end up consulting them on language, on tax, on how to deal with local people, on where to buy groceries. And on several occasions I got money donated to certain projects that were going on.
TD: Like what projects?
EV: There's all types of stuff: sports things, [the] “clean town” [project], the A. Jean Brugger Foundation, all kinds of stuff. Surf boards, jerseys. Things that were small. But the point is that it wouldn't have happened otherwise. Yes, we were selling land, but we were also able to direct people away from the bad developments and the developers who have one foot in the airplane and one foot in Nicaragua, which is a lot of them. So I really felt I was somebody who was trying to control the development the best that I could.
TD: Give me a timeline of your relationship with Doris.
EV: I met Doris, probably, like, I dunno, April of 2005, and just kind of casual dating on and off for probably eight months. At one point she kind of ran into some hard times financially with her family, and she came and actually stayed and lived with me in my house for about three or four months. After that I moved into a house that was across the street, another house, and she came over and lived with me over there. Doris was great. Really fun to hang out with, charismatic, focused.
TD: Did you guys say like, 'I love you,' to each each other?
EV: Uhhhh, yeah. Yeah, man. Yeah.I definitely had a lot of love for her. I wasn't in love with her to start a family. I wasn't trying to have kids with her, and I've heard rumors…
TD: That she was pregnant.
EV: Well that's not true. I know that she's not pregnant. She wasn't pregnant.
TD: Who was ending the relationship when it ended?
EV: Me, definitely. You have to understand, [it] wasn't like I moved to San Juan del Sur and I was just, 'Oh my God, a Latina, sexy.' I knew what I was doing. I knew I wasn't going to be in Nicaragua forever and I was always very up front and honest with Doris about that. And for that reason, I always kind of kept the relationship realistic.
TD: And you kept a distance from her family?
EV: Let's set the record straight on that. She didn't really have family. She had an aunt that lived and worked in Rivas. Her mother lived in Managua, completely aloof. In the two years that I knew Doris, I met her mom twice.
TD: So what's her mom's investment in this, what's her motivation?
EV: I wish I knew. There's a lot of potential reasons. I think that part of it is is kind of an issue of pride. It's an issue of culture. There's a deeply rooted tradition of retaliation in the Nicaraguan culture. If somebody kills a family member, you can't just let it happen, you have to somehow retaliate and save your family's honor. I think that has a lot to do with why she's kind of stepped up. Surprisingly enough, her father, who I actually did have somewhat of a friendship with, has been very low profile.
TD: Why do people in San Juan say that you are arrogant, and you were disliked?
EV: A lot of the ex-pats in San Juan, the majority of them, are not the kind of people I'd naturally gravitate toward. There's a lot of people down here who, for whatever reason, weren't able to function in society in the United States. Some of them actually have warrants [out for them]. They can't be in the States. A lot struggle with alcoholism; they spend a lot of time in the bars. Quite frankly, I don't connect with a lot of them. So I could see how they could see me being an arrogant person. I really didn't give a lot of them that much attention. I wasn't your normal ex-pat. I worked a lot, pretty much all the time. Century 21 by day, doing EP by night. I wasn't hanging out. Lastly, I was really good at the investment consulting. I was doing well and there were a lot of people who were really jealous. And not just of me, but of my other associates at Century 21 as well. Lastly it's a way for them to devalue, undermine, support for me.
TD: One of the biggest rumors in townyou organized a hit.
EV: It's a town that is hurt. Collectively they want to fill their heart with somebody who's the culprit. It's almost to the point where there's a psychological function where people convince themselves of what is convenient. It's bullshit. I didn't pay to have Doris killed. I had nothing to do with her death. I'm one of the people that has been most hurt by it. It's just bullshit. It's rumors, and San Juan is a small town, and it's very hearsay, he-said she-said bullshit. And not only people in town, but also people in the real estate industry [who] also have tried to convince themselves, 'Oh Eric must be guilty.' It's an easy way out for them.
THE REAL KILLER
TD: Who do you think murdered Doris?
EV: I have my suspicions, but I'm not going to say who it is right now.
EV: We know a lot.
TD: How do you feel going into the appeal?
EV: We have a good chance. What you have to understand is that my case really at this point has nothing to do with evidence, it doesn't have to do with the Constitution, it doesn't have to do with my attorney. It has to do with politics. I'm in prison today with the general population. If they wanted me out of here, I would be out. I wouldn't be in jail. One phone call, one paper, boom you're done. That's how things work here. Right now it's just kind of political checkers, the media that's taking an interest in the case; that's really an important part of the effort to free Eric Volz.
TD: Do you think about the possibility that you'd have to do the whole time?
EV: Oh no, there's no way. I don't think about 30 years. I think about what happens if I don't get out on the appeal, and it goes to another, Supreme Court process. It's not over in the appeal. It's a mental state of mind, doing time's a state of mind, and you can't give yourself false expectations, you can't let yourself get excited. I got to be really realistic. And no matter how many people say, 'Oh I know this is almost over Eric,' I mean people were saying that before the trial. People don't know what it's like, what's really going on, the type of meetings that are happening. I've accepted the challenge. I don't think that, nobody ever does their full sentence in Nicaragua, never. And there's ways. We're not going to stop. They [are] not going to be able to resist this for 30 years. There's no way with this many people supporting me and really coming together on a global scale. I've gotten letters from Sweden, Australia, Japan, Germany, Mexico, all over Central America. People are outraged. It's embarrassing for Nicaragua, and I really think that eventually it's going to squeeze and squeeze and I'm just going to get popped out the other end I hope.
ERIC VOLZ NOW
TD: Who was Eric Volz? Who is Eric Volz now?
EV: Eric Volz before, I did my best to be a responsible citizen of the planet. I was working hard to create mobility to be able to influence some change in the world. Unfortunately that meant getting money together. I was very focused on my work and my goals and I didn't spend enough time with my friends. I didn't spend enough time cherishing the friendships that were there and close by. I realize now that's really where the true wealth lies, in family and friends and the love that we share for each other.Who am I today? I'm stripped down, I'm very simple. My day-to-day life in prison is just that, day to day. There's days that I feel confident, I feel good, I get exercise, I get to go out in the yard. And there's days that I don't feel good. There's a lot of negative energy in this place. It takes a toll on you physically and mentally. And even the strongest person, eventually it gets to you. I'm developing regardless, developing spiritually and personally. I'm reading a lot. I'm reading a lot about other people who have been in prison unjustly. The amount of support I'm receiving is incredibly, incredibly encouraging for me. To know that I might on a physical level have nothing and my freedom stripped from me, but I have so many people that care about what's happening that I feel like the richest man in the world. It just takes the pain away. While I'm reading those letters, I just feel free again. We'll see, the story's not over yet. I'm really just kicking back and trying to stay alive and stay healthy and get out of here in one piece.
TD: Do you think this is happening for a reason, do you see any good in it, is there a spiritual attitude towards this?
EV: You can't really go through this and not reason with the spiritual side of it. You have to askyou know I believe in God, I consider myself a spiritual person, I'm not very religious. If you could have walked this journey through the eyes of Eric and seen, no one has as many details as I do, nobody has dealt with the police and heard what the prisoners have said and heard all the inside things. I mean, I hear all the classified information, I know it all, I have the whole story. When you know that whole story, it's like a modern Biblical tale. You look at some of the stories even in the Bible and they're very similar to what I'm going through. And that's pretty heavy for me.
Why me? The attention, I'm not used to this kind of attention. I feel a tremendous responsibility to the people that are pursuing, to know what happened to Eric, what's going on with Eric, to really presenting the situation in not a bitter way, but a realistic way. There's a reason why this has happened. I got a batch of letters yesterday, and one of the guys told me that he really, that God whispers my name in his ear, and he can't stop thinking about the case. He's stopped to really appreciate the small things and the details that he was taking for granted. Every other letter that I get from people, it's like, 'Wow, your story has really touched my heart,' or, 'You're really an inspiration. You forced me to really kind of reconsider my reality.' People tell me they're in the grocery story looking at which kind of juice to buy and the think about me. They all of the sudden feel very appreciative for what they have.
There is some good that's happening. The story, it's causing people to kind of, it's serving as a reference point for people to kind of consider their own, their own life, and the grid that they see reality through is kind of being polished off, cleaned up. Those are the kind of things that really make me feel this is not all for nothing. At the bottom, base core of it is, yeah, Eric Volz is a man in prison, but Doris is the one who lost her life.