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Back after 17 Years behind Bars

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Back after 17 Years behind Bars

Screen shot from the RÚV interview.

An Icelander who spent more than 17 years behind bars in the US for aggravated assault is back in Iceland, ready to start a new life. No Icelander has ever been imprisoned for that long.

In a TV interview with RÚV last night, Geir Gunnarsson described his life in prison in Greensville, Virginia. He said the first years were the most difficult ones. He feared for his life and worried he would either be killed or have to kill someone in self-defense. From the start, he was told he needed to secure his place in the pecking order by responding aggressively to attacks.

He described how he sought solace in God, because he could no longer cope with his feeling of isolation. What helped him most was a visit he received from RÚV in 2007, when he was interviewed on TV. Following that interview, a number of Icelanders sent him caring letters, making him realize there were people in Iceland who cared for him.

He’s grateful to be back here, mostly because he doesn’t feel the stigma so common in the US toward former inmates. What he would like now is to find himself a job and a wife. He is 44 years old and ready to start a family. When talking about the future, he beamed with joy and anticipation.

He explained his aggressive behavior in the past by saying he had been very insecure and in constant need of proving himself to others, lacking the courage to say “No” when he should have. Now, he claims, he’s a different man at peace with himself. One day, he’d like to meet the person he attacked and tell him how sorry he is.

Adjusting to a society so different from the one he left may prove a challenge. The Internet is something he recently learned to use, and he just bought his first cell phone. When asked what changes he notices most in Iceland after all this time, he admired the trees, which have grown considerably since the last time he was here.

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