The fear you lose as a prisoner



“I was reborn. I have a new world to rediscover and I have accepted that lost time cannot be recuperated, but this is a new start. Life changes when you´ve been in jail for 690 days.” These powerful words were Virginia Laparra’s response when asked how she felt after regaining her freedom.

Lilian Virginia Laparra Rivas, 44 years old, is known as a former anticorruption prosecutor. She worked in the Public Ministry (MP) for 16 years and was chief of the Special Prosecutor against Impunity (FECI). She was behind bars for nearly two years. She was arrested on the afternoon of February 23, 2022 as she was leaving the MP building in Zona 7 in Xela.

“They could not rob me of my smile and my will to fight,” she affirmed. Listening to her, all that she saw as a prisoner is unimaginable. Her strength and determination defy the days and nights of anguish, sadness, uncertainty, and cruelty that she spent behind a sliding metal door in a room that was only 3 square meters. A window that was 20 by 30 centimeters barely allowed light to shine in. She tells her story so naturally thats impossible to believe the abuse that she suffered. She is a very happy woman who is convinced that justice will be served in some moment as long as those in charge do their job.

“In jail I asked myself why in college I never studied the legal codes that were now being used to prosecute me. It's as if the judges were using other laws to prosecute me.” The crimes she was charged with usually allow for house arrest, yet various times she was denied that sentence. Many in the Laparra family are legal professionals, and despite the fact that they saw many inconsistencies in the cases, they believed in the State of law and that the justice system would work as long as those in charge did their jobs properly. “Who am I if I cannot believe in what I do? The system and justice need to be upheld. I am a lawyer and I believe that human rights need to be respected. I resisted. I persisted.”

There are two cases against Laparra. In the first case, she was convicted of prolonged abuse of power for charging then judge Lesther Castellanos, now Clerk of the Office of Prevention of Torture. The second crime she was convicted of well already behind bars in October of 2022 was the crime of revealing confidential or protected information, for apparently divulging details of a criminal procedure. This trial has been delayed for about a year.

Castellanos is the plaintiff in both cases. Just like in the first case, Omar Barrios and Ricardo Méndez Ruiz Falla, President of the Foundation against Terrorism, are co- plaintiffs.

The repression and criminalization were absurd. On the day she was arrested, the National Civil Police put on a show with dozens of patrols when a simple citation in court would have sufficed. “They don’t even do this for major corrupt criminals,” she said.


“May she rot in jail”

She only had one hour of sunlight. “I spent 23 hours in darkness. In those moments I would clean my cell and walk a little bit.” She says her tormentors wanted to see her emotionally, physically, and socially destroyed. They repeated over and over “may she rot in jail!” She counted the days, but she sank deeper into the darkness. There was a time that she thought she could no longer stand the pressure: familial, professional, and personal. “I made friends with my emotions. I controlled them to overcome each day. I spent the time getting to know myself. ” There were moments in which she cried but she wiped away her tears with cold water from the spigot. “I organized my life because I knew if I didn´t, I would go crazy. Those small things helped me to survive,” she said. All that she lived through would make anybody lose their mind.

“I was in Guatemala’s maximum security prison! I’m so dangerous!” she laughed. Describing
it, she says the cells are used for a series of punishments. Nobody spends more than three
days there. That is where they send other prisoners for punishment when they break the
rules, but Virginia was there for many months. “I was deprived of my liberty in the worst
conditions: total isolation, denied food, denied water, unable to speak with anybody—not
even the guards—I couldn't even turn and look at them, let alone receive any visitors. If all of
this wasn't supposed to erase me from the map, I have no idea what it was for.” She was a
prisoner in the worst conditions. Now, José Rubén Zamora, the former director of El
Periódico, is being held in the same cell.

Behind bars she was able to write about what happened. A white sheet of paper and a pencil
were allies that allowed her to express her emotions. Write as she managed to write her first
letter, she was visited by the then Attorney for Human Rights, Jordán Rodas (now in exile).
He came to see the conditions Laparra was being held in. That was when it all started to
come to light.

“Just in case…”

During our interview, her eyes clouded over with tears every time she was reminded of those
scenes that she lived through since the day of her arrest. But she says that criminalization,
abuse, and prosecution were coming for her in 2018. Back then she already knew that she
could be arrested at any moment. She had already heard rumors that a warrant was out for
her arrest, but never imagined things would be so difficult.
She is the mother of two girls, and every time she remembers their separation, a few tears
fall on her cheek. She stays quiet for a few seconds, takes a breath, and resumes telling her
story. “It was very difficult for me not spending birthdays and parties with my daughters,” she

The slander, accusations, and harassment came through social media. She didn’t have
anything to fear, but kept a folder called “just in case” on her computer. There she saved
instructions for if one day she was captured. “Nobody is prepared to be taken prisoner, but
with all the speculation I spoke about it with my family. I have a wonderful loving family that
protected me during this time. They understood me, never drew attention or asked too much.

My daughters were spectacular despite everything we suffered. They were able to keep on
living their lives without their mother. They were very brave. I am so extremely proud of

The worst day in jail

Another difficult episode that Laparra overcame was the arrest of one of her lawyers,
Claudia González. That day, Virgina says, she heard something going on from the moment
she woke up, but wasn’t sure because everyone was shocked they had arrested a lawyer. In
jail, spaces are small so everyone hears everything that is going on, she said.

“The days were infinitely long, but that day in particular was the worst.” She goes quiet for a
few minutes. She struggles to respond but her memory finally brings her back to that day.
“They were saying that they had captured a lawyer who had visited the jail the previous
weekend, and Claudia was the only one who had been there.” Her voice breaking, Virginia
recalls how that day was the most tragic of her incarceration. Now, two lawyers who fought
injustice were prisoners. Gonzáles spent 82 days in jail, also in isolation.

“Everything my legal team did made the judges uncomfortable. Even the sound of my
attorney’s computer keyboard annoyed them, though they never said the same about
everyone else in the courtroom. I think there were laws and codes applicable only to my
case—this is the repression I suffered,” she said.
And this is how days passed for Virginia, living through torture and aggressive experiences
because her trial was going nowhere. Justice was nonexistent. The case against her in
Quetzaltenango went to alternative mediation, but she couldn’t be set free because of the
other case against her. That case, in the Capital, was resolved and she was set free on the
condition that she appear in the Public Ministry weekly.

Virginia has managed to fight against the bureaucratic, repressive, and corrupt justice
system. She has been supported by local and international organizations. The former
prosecutor is now known for her fight against impunity. She was targeted for prosecuting a
corrupt judge but insists that this is the price that has to be paid to do the right thing and
change the system. She lost time in jail, but also lost fear. Now she is convinced more than
ever that people are what corrupt laws.

A month after regaining her freedom, Viriginia visited our offices to talk to us about her fight
against a failed justice system.