I was sent to prison because I was a political activist in my country. I was very young; I was 22 and I was the Secretary of the Union of the Reserve Bank in El Salvador and my role in the revolution was to provide economic support through donations to the guerilla movement.
I come from a peasant family with a very poor background; and at the time a lot of peasants were assassinated in my country. I remember this day I was at the bank and there was a mass demonstration. The army came and blocked the avenue with tanks and police started running behind the demonstrators with machine guns. When I left that night the street was littered with bodies piled up outside shops. When you’re young and you have a social conscience and are educated and you see that, you cannot but try to do something about it.
In 1983 my house was raided by a death squad, and I was taken at 1am in the morning, blindfolded, put in the back of a van and taken to the basement of the national police headquarters which was used for political activists. I was interrogated blindfolded 24 hours a day at gunpoint for the first three days with no food, no toilet, no nothing. They also threatened to kill my family, which I knew happened regularly. It was pretty a dark period in our history. Eventually I was taken to a prison cell where the Red Cross International used to visit and they advised my wife that I was alive. I was then sent to a national prison as a political prisoner and was there for a few months until my union bribed the military judge in charge of my case and I was released.
The UNHCR put an office in El Salvador due to the raging civil war, thus around 1988 I applied to come to Australia as a refugee with my wife and two small boys. We couldn’t speak the language; it was tough. But we came with a lot of hope and determination.
I had just finished an economics degree, but I worked as a cleaner at night and learnt English in the day. When my English was good enough, I started applying for roles as a bookkeeper. Later I did a post grad in accounting, a grad dip in Aged Care and then I finished an MBA at Deakin around 2002.
One of the reasons I chose to work at ACSO is that I know how tough it is to be in jail. You miss the sky and the stars and regardless of how I got there, the experiences I went through, I share this with other people. If I can help to bring about some change, I’m happy to be part of that.