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Prison riot!

Cuban refugees took over the Atlanta Federal Pen 20 years ago. It turned into the longest prison takeover in U.S. history



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Leshaw says nearly all his former clients quickly faded into the woodwork. Having left marginal lives in Cuba and gained a well-earned distrust of the American government, they simply wanted to be free – and anonymous. "I don't believe in predestination," Leshaw says. "But I do believe one of my purposes in life was to be there at that time."

During the 11 days of the standoff, none of the hostages had been hurt. In subsequent news accounts, trapped prison guards and employees said they were treated well and even reassured by their captors that they wouldn't be harmed. Even so, several former hostages would later complain of nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

In the wake of the war against drugs, the federal government decided to renovate the federal pen and continue its use as a federal prison.

Alfredo Villoch continued to work at the prison for another few months. He eventually transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, where he still works as an investigator.

He says he'll have an occasional flashback to Thanksgiving 1987, but he isn't haunted by his experience. Instead, he says it helped him learn to cope better with life's frustrations. "Those 11 days as a hostage was the worst time of my life," he says. "But I don't mind talking about it. Talking helps me be at peace with it."

He and the other remaining hostages walked out of the pen to the sounds of the inmates cheering. He was a free man again. But just before he was released, a half-dozen giddy Cubans came up to him. They acted like buddies about to say goodbye at summer camp. And they insisted on signing his shirt.

When he got home after he was released, the first thing Villoch did was trash the filthy, stained clothing that he'd worn continuously through the 11-day standoff. But he did stash away one memento in his basement – the signed shirt. "I'm not sure why I kept it," he says matter-of-factly. "I just kept it."

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