I still think about wrestling. I watch it here in prison every Monday and Tuesday. I wrestled for over 25 years, in many countries. You can see my videos on YouTube – just search “Rico Casanova Lucha.”
I want to fight again when I get out, but a different kind of fighting. I want to fight for criminal justice reform. I’m in federal prison for seven years on white-collar charges, and I am a 100 percent disabled, decorated combat veteran.
Wrestling has helped me deal with life here in prison – but not the way you might be thinking. In the wrestling business you have to work with people from all walks of life. That’s how it is in here – people from all over, all different types. As a wrestler, it’s your job to keep the guys you work with safe. I feel the same way in here. I find myself helping people whenever I can. It keeps me sane.
It helps that I speak Spanish. There are so many people here who need help translating things. Once I helped an older gentlemen, Senor Pedraza. He had received court papers in the mail and did not understand them because they were in English. These papers were actually saying that a detainer he had was removed because they closed his case. I went with him to the Case Manager to show him the papers, and they took the detainer he had in the record off, and he was eligible for halfway house. Senor Pedraza was going to just throw the paper away! He ended up getting his halfway house and getting out. I am happy when I see anyone go home to their families. There are so many people who need help with their paperwork – from figuring out disability and veterans’ benefits to communications with the courts to filling out papers for halfway house placement. I also go with other prisoners to their team meetings and translate. Doing all this stuff feels good and makes me feel like I’m not the throwaway the system makes me feel like I am.
Recently, I began being the Spanish GED Tutor here. Today, after months of work, I am proud to say that Laurentino Benitez passed his final GED exam. He only went to fourth grade in his native country of Mexico. He worked hard studying and I was happy to help and tutor him. The graduation ceremony earlier this year did not have any Hispanic people graduating. So far, at next year’s graduation ceremony, we will have two Spanish-speaking people that received their GED.
I guess you could say that I had a lot happen in my life that has helped me learn how to deal with the bad stuff and keep positive while I’m in here. Not just the wrestling. I was raised by my grandparents, and my grandmother was alcoholic and abusive. Then I joined the Army. I was exposed to chemicals in Kuwait during operation Desert Storm, which caused me major renal problems. I’ve had three kidney failures, two kidney transplants, and years of dialysis. But I never allowed any of this to hold me back or stop me from achieving my dreams. I was the first pro wrestler to wrestle with a kidney transplant, and then the first to wrestle with two kidney transplants.
I stay positive because I have a fiancée and kids waiting for me at home who love me and are there for me. It is hard for them to visit me because the BOP has me placed so far from home. I have grandkids who have lost their mom and dad, and I need to be positive for them as well. The first thing I think of in the morning when I wake up is all my children and grandchildren and my fiancée. The first thing I do every morning is go to the computer to read her message from the night before and write her my daily “good morning, have a great day” message. Her love and support have helped me tremendously, having to be here without my family. She is my rock.
I have been poor and hungry. I have been very sick on my deathbed. And now I’m in prison. I see so many things wrong with this system – guys who are in here for terrible, unfair sentences. Prison policies that make no sense. Families suffering most of all. I would like all Americans to know the truth about our justice system. While Congress drags their feet on reform, many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children are being held longer than they should be away from their families.
But as I said, I’m a fighter. And I’m fighting for justice, for me and a lot of other people in here. I’m fighting for reform to this system. Con todo mi respeto, I will never stop.
By Jorge Maldonado