Mexican convicts find new purpose through boxing

By Arturo Salgado

Mexico City, Dec 3 (EFE).- Emmanuel, who is serving a 70-year sentence for multiple homicide, proclaims his innocence to Efe with the same certainty that he credits boxing for helping him drop 10 kgs (22 lbs) of surplus weight.

For Salvador, just 10 days away from the end of a 25-year prison term, boxing drove away the thoughts of suicide that plagued him in the wake of the deaths of both his parents during his time behind bars.

“Soldier of God, assassin of the devil,” is how Felix translates the Greek tattoo on his right arm. Less than nine years into a 42-stretch for murder, he says that boxing taught him that everybody can be a victim or a victimizer.

In all, 44 inmates at the Tenango del Valle penitentiary 74 km (46 mi) from Mexico City have signed up for “Knockout no tires la toalla (don’t throw in the towel),” a rehabilitation initiative developed by Eunice Rendon Cardenas and backed by the president of the World Boxing Council, Mauricio Sulaiman.

“The change is felt by them and their families,” Sulaiman says. “Boxing is a noble sport that teaches your discipline, perseverance and strength to get up when life knocks you down.”

Emmanuel, 32, says that his tendency to violence landed him in solitary confinement for a year and that there were times he feared he would lose his mind.

“But boxing gave me back my self-esteem. It pulled me out of oblivion, told me that I existed,” he says.

Being introduced to boxing turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Salvador as he struggled to cope with imprisonment and the death of his mother.

“My mom died of cancer, but I was the real cancer for her. I felt I was worthless. I fell into crime at 22 and from there, it was one fall after another. But boxing taught me to get up, to love myself and to go out with desire to teach what I learned,” he tells Efe.

Felix speaks of his identification with the character of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”

“I feel like Jean of Les Miserables for the years I was locked up, but boxing has taught me not to quit, helps me liberate repressed feelings,” he says.

Launched seven years ago, the program is currently up and running in six prisons. EFE as/dr

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