Bring my husband home

By Judy Gross

He was sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for doing his job.

Four years ago was the last time anyone saw my husband Alan Gross free and well. Four years ago was the beginning of a nightmare that continues with no end in sight.

Alan and I have been married for 43 years. We met when we were just 18, says Judy Gross.
Alan and I have been married for 43 years. We met when we were just 18, says Judy Gross.

Alan was arrested by Cuban authorities on December 3, 2009, for his work on a U.S. government project in Cuba to facilitate Internet access in Cuba’s Jewish community. Cuban police pulled him from his hotel room, and months later, the Cuban government charged him with “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” for his distribution of communications systems not under government control – precisely the work he was sent to Cuba by the U.S. government to do. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. If he survives his imprisonment, he will be 75 years old when he is finally set free.

My husband is an American citizen, holding an American passport, being held in violation of international law. He is a community development specialist, devoted to helping people. For decades, he has helped small communities throughout the world, including Africa, the Middle East and Asia to better connect to the world by facilitating access to the Internet. He contributed to the building of schools in remote villages and counseled sheep farmers on how to become profitable. He is also a loving father, son, and husband who is suffering immeasurably in a cramped Cuban prison cell.

All we want is to bring Alan home.

During these past four years, our 29-year-old daughter underwent cancer surgery, and Alan’s elderly mother has been suffering from inoperable lung cancer. The Cuban government has repeatedly denied Alan’s request to visit his mother one last time before she dies.

Our lives inevitably have kept moving while Alan remains in prison, but so many important parts of life simply do not exist without him. In August, our eldest daughter walked down the wedding aisle without her father by her side. While he was with us in spirit, his absence loomed over what should have been the happiest of occasions. Alan cried over missing her wedding. He cried when he learned that our younger daughter has put parts of her life on hold awaiting his return. I have lost my best friend and am fearful that I will spend the remainder of my years alone.

Since his arrest and imprisonment, Alan has lost more than 100 pounds. Arthritis is crippling his joints. And he is suffering from a deep anguish and sense of hopelessness as he faces more of the same for another 11 years — a bleak future away from his family. His health and even his life are in danger. I fear that he will not survive his term in prison. Alan shares this fear.

Alan and I have been married for 43 years. We met when we were just 18. Life was good as we raised our two daughters in suburban Maryland, less than an hour’s drive from the White House and our nation’s capital. We did all the little things that families do together that make life so sweet — game night with the girls, neighborhood parties, family BBQs. We taught them to have strong morals and values which they keep to this day. We lived a full life.

Those happy family activities have been replaced with letters, pleas, meetings and paperwork. A dark storm cloud hangs over our family while Alan deteriorates in a Cuban prison. I wake up with thoughts of Alan, and fall asleep thinking of what is to become of our lives.

This is the fourth year that Alan was missing from our Thanksgiving table. He sits in a small cell just 90 miles from the U.S. border, waiting for his government to act – waiting to come home.

I recognize that the forces that set our nation on a collision course with Cuba more than half a century ago are far greater than one man, his wife, and his family. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs may seem like distant events that we only read about in history books, but the fallout is still very real for families who are split apart, both Cuban and American, and Alan remains a political pawn between the two countries.

As we approach the four-year anniversary of Alan’s arrest, imprisonment, and nightmare, I hope that the United States and Cuban governments will hear my plea. I ask my country – Alan’s country – the country he was serving – and my president: please do what it takes to bring my husband home.

Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government, and it is up to our government to secure his safe return to his family. To do nothing could well be a death sentence for Alan. I refuse to accept that fate for my husband, for the father of my children. I refuse to accept that we, as a nation, would leave a fellow citizen behind. I refuse to give up.

Judy Gross is a clinical social worker in Bethesda, Maryland.

(From USA Today)