Alfredo Angulo does not have a criminal record. He was not accused of any crimes. Yet in January, on the third or fourth day he sat in a holding cell at the Immigration Detention Justice Center in El Centro, Calif., the then-29-year-old Mexican Olympian heard some extraordinarily chilling words from the officer in charge of his custody:
You'll never get out.
For nearly seven full months, Angulo sat in those prison-like barracks, denied what would seemingly be basic rights. He wasn't given a pair of sneakers, which were given to virtually every other detainee who asked. Requests for a book to read were denied. He wasn't permitted to put ointment on a cut.
In similar situations to Angulo, most folks are held briefly, given an ankle monitor and released within a short time. But Angulo's detention rolled on, seemingly at one point without end.
To be sure, Angulo was no angel. He had a past with the Immigration & Naturalization Service, though it is difficult to ascertain the exact nature of those problems. There have been reports that he was once caught helping illegal aliens get into the country, but that has never been verified.
His immigration attorney, Kelly O'Reilly, concedes that Angulo "had some issues" with INS in the past. He declined to identify them, deferring to Angulo. Angulo would not say.
But clearly, there was at least one person in a position of power at the El Centro detention center who had an unfavorable opinion of Angulo.
Instead of being processed and released to await a final determination of his status, he sat for months in a holding cell.
"To be honest, he did have a past," said O'Reilly, a former immigration officer. "But he was treated on a very personal level. It seems that he had struck a chord with at least one person and was going to be made an example. There was a lot of little silliness, in my opinion, to show who was boss, by denying having tennis shoes, saying no to having books, things like that."
Angulo is one of the world's most exciting boxers. On Nov. 5, 2011, about two months before his immigration nightmare began, Angulo was stopped in the sixth round by James Kirkland in an HBO-televised bout that was one of the best fights of that year.
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer was almost giddy after the bout, knowing the possibilities that existed for Angulo. There were, to be sure, many major fights that could have been made.
"He lost that fight [with Kirkland], but anyone who saw it would definitely tell you that they would want to see him fight again," Schaefer said. "Of course, a rematch would have been huge. But I can tell you, after that fight, everyone was asking me, 'When can I see Angulo again?' The interest in him was very high."
The interest in Angulo today is not nearly as high. He's been out of sight and out of mind. He was finally released from custody in July after a judge ordered his release following a trial held in the detention facility. His visa issues have been corrected and he'll fight Raul Casarez on Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles in a Showtime-televised bout.
The public has moved on and there is little buzz now regarding Angulo. He called his time in El Centro "very difficult and dehumanizing," but said he wants to put it behind him.
"When you get your freedom taken away from you, you appreciate it so much more," Angulo said. "This was like a nightmare for me. I would never have believed I would have been in this kind of a situation. But I don't want to let it consume me.
"It was a terrible time in my life. It was not easy and it was just the thought of my daughter that really kept me optimistic. This was a bad time, [but] it will never go away if I keep dwelling on it. I want to [resume] my career and do the things in this sport I know I can do."
There are a series of potentially big-time fights that could be made in his super welterweight class, so he's buoyed by what might come.
He's also, though, trying to make good come of a bad situation. He wore a buzz cut when he fought, but while he was in the detention center, he began to grow his hair out.
It now flows down his back. He also had a large, bushy beard when he was released. He trimmed back the beard, but has opted to continue to let his hair grow. He's trying to raise money for a charity, Locks of Love, that provides hairpieces to children suffering from hair loss, often as a result of chemotherapy.
"I've always believed that for every bad thing that happens in life, something good would come out of it," Angulo said. "My hair was getting long anyway, and one day, I got on the Internet and did some research and found out about Locks of Love.
"I never planned to do anything for charity until I read about it. You need to donate at least 10 inches of your hair. I haven't had a real haircut in a while and I still have a little ways to go, but once it is long enough, that's where my hair is going."
His life is headed on an upward swing now. His manager, attorney Michael Miller, said he believes Angulo is in a good spot in his life.
Angulo, who has learned to speak English in his year in exile, said the hardships he's endured as he got his immigration issues resolved have made him appreciate what he has so much more.
"I'm not going to lie," Angulo said. "It was very hard emotionally. I was innocent and I was being kept there no matter what. I couldn't understand it. It was very difficult and dehumanizing. I felt I was made an example of, but I'm lucky I had a good legal team and better advisers than a lot of people do. I was fortunate in that way.
"I look back on it and I realize that we sometimes take things for granted. I will never take my freedom for granted again. And being there all that time, it showed me how much my family means to me. That's good and now I'm free and I'm just so excited to be able to do what I love."
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