Prison strengthens relationship, even after 25 years, for one Brooklyn, New York couple

Twenty five years in prison gives a man time to think.

And that’s what Hector Martinez, 55, did after being convicted of second-degree murder, robbery and arson in 1984. He thought about the day when he made his way to a drug house in Sunset Park to buy some heroin, the blaze that he was accused of starting and the chaos that ensued.

It was not supposed to be like this. Martinez grew up in a loving family of Puerto Rican descent, imbued by values of family, God and community. He went to church, got a job at a pharmacy and married a nice girl who spoke Spanish. But he had a double life no one knew about and it eventually caught up with him.

“The way I see it, if I would have continued, I would have ended up with AIDS or killed,” says Hector. “Even after all these years in prison, I’m not angry because this what part of God’s plan.”

In prison, Hector threw himself into work and became a health advocate for Spanish-speaking prisoners. Some had AIDS and he worked with nurses and other staff, to make sure patients’ needs were met, from asking for new medication to softer food from the kitchen.

“In 1984, I saw guys drop right and left,” Hector recalls. “But instead of wasting my time playing pea knuckle, card games and basketball, I got involved.”

Hector was released this March and reunited with his family, including wife Dulce of 30 years. But coming back into the world after a 25-year absence, especially during a recession, is far from easy. He hasn’t been able to get work and subsists on odd jobs and help from his brothers and sister.

Still, he counts his blessings.

“I see guys from back in the day and they’re on methodone, they look horrible,” says Hector. “They’re all dying, they’re on some type of cocktails and they have nothing. And I’m thankful that I’m not in their situation. I have my family and a roof over my head. I’m lucky.”

Karina Ioffee is a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, studying business and broadcasting. For more information, please visit her online at

About Karina Ioffee