Prisoner chosen for traditional Easter early release "grateful" for the opportunity to restart his life

José Manuel López Muñoz, 41, is a labourer from Vélez-Málaga.
José Manuel López Muñoz, 41, is a labourer from Vélez-Málaga. / SUR
  • José Manuel López Sánchez said that he was "very happy" about the decision to release him early from his sentence as part of the Holy Week celebrations

With his face uncovered and without concealing his identity, this is how José Manuel López Muñoz, a 41-year-old construction worker from Vélez-Málaga, appeared on Saturday at a press conference at the Malaga II penitentiary centre after learning that he would be the prisoner released on Wednesday by the Jesús El Rico brotherhood - a tradition dating back to 1759.

It was then that King Charles III gave permission for the brotherhood to release a prisoner each year after, during a plague epidemic, convicts in the city jail were refused permission to parade the Jesús El Rico image. Instead they broke out, took the image of Christ through the streets on their shoulders, before breaking back into the jail after which the plague miraculously disappeared.

The prisoner chosen this time is José Manuel López. “I didn’t expect this at all,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about this, so it has been a surprise. I am very happy and my family is also very happy,” he said.

José Manuel was in prison serving a three-year sentence for a public health crime he committed while addicted to cocaine “because there was no money”. Without the pardon, he would have remained in the prison in Archidona until 24 January 2020.

Following his ceremonial release on Wednesday, his plans were, he said, “to look for work and get on”, grabbing the opportunity to restart his life with both hands.

José Manuel also expressed his intention to become a member of the El Rico brotherhood in his hometown, Vélez-Málaga, where he will return to live with his mother. “She’s old now and she shouldn’t be alone,“ he said.

José Manuel's release on Wednesday.

José Manuel's release on Wednesday. / Ñito Salas

López, who is single, underwent treatment for his addictions in prison and according to director Noelia Moreno, his behaviour had been “excellent” ever since he entered prison.

José Manuel admitted that he is looking forward to “enjoying Easter and the village feria”, as well as going on holiday for a weekend to the caves of Guadix (Granada) with a friend.

In the long term, however, he intends to work with his brother-in-law, who is a bricklayer, and continue his studies.