‘A Place of Hell’: Acquitted Mercenaries on Prison Experiences


Monrovia – Sitting under a tree in a brown sandy yard beside an unfinished house, are three men formerly accused of mercenarism by the government of Liberia.

Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo/ [email protected]

“It is not a place to be, I mean the Monrovia Central Prison.

It is a place of hell; I spent one year nine months without seeing daylight and today I’m out I feel like I’m still in the cell because I can’t see clearly.

Also, since we came out, we have not had access to treatment and family members. We feel like we are abandoned” – Prince Youty – Freed Mercenary Suspect

As FrontPage Africa reporter walked in they are happy that their experiences at the Monrovia Central Prison are about to be revealed.

Prince Youty, Isaac Taryon (alias Wolie), James Lee Cooper and Sam Tarley (alias Bull Dog) were released by the Supreme Court of Liberia after their appeal was considered by the Supreme Court.

Recalling their prison experiences they said set tears in their eyes. 

Prince Yutay dressed in a white V-neck shirt, blue jeans trouser and a showers slipper is the only person who has reunited with his family since his release.

Yutay recalled once living a very happy life with his family as a manager of a goldmine prior to his arrest in Grand Gedeh.

He has four children, two currently out of school due to financial constraints. He has not been able to get a job since his release from prison.

Yutay: “I was arrested on the 28 of July 2012 when I was in my gold camp, where I do mining. On that day, I only saw the ERU and the AFL [officers] and they asked for Prince Barclay, but I told them there was no Prince Barclay but Prince Youty. We tussled over the named and they told me the President wanted to see me.

“And then they asked whether I have arm in the camp and I told them no. I have been mining since 1992 that’s the only business I know. But they still took me to Zwedru where they asked why I went to Ivory Coast to fight. I told them I had no idea of their statement,” said.

Youty’s voice shrilled as he continued: “They told me that we were coming Monrovia since I don’t want to talk. When we came, they gave me a list and asked whether I knew anyone on the list; people like George Dweh, Thomas Yaya, and George Bolay and these are the big people we have in the county so they told me to call their names and then I will be free me, but I told them no.”

He said prior going to the Monrovia Central Prison, they slept at the New Georgia Police Station for a month.

Youty added that starting life over has been very difficult. According to him, he’s not certain of getting his job on the mine back in Grand Gedeh.

His wife has been very helpful, he said. She sells empty plastic bottles to keep up the family.

Life at the Monrovia Central Prison has had some adverse effect on his health.

“Now I can’t see clearly. My feet have been swollen since I came back from prison, because when we were in the prison we sat in the cell with our knees to our chest so now as soon as I stretch my legs, it gets swollen.

“When we there one day they came and said they got information that we were about to escape; so they separated us and the reason my eyes are hurting is because they put us in a place we couldn’t see day light. We could not see day light for nearly one year, nine months. Now my eyes are giving me hard time.

“It is not a place to be, I mean the Monrovia Central Prison. It is a place of hell; I spent one year nine months without seeing daylight and today I’m out I feel like I’m still in the cell because I can’t see clearly”

“Also since we came out we don’t have access to treatment neither family members, we feel like we are abandoned.”

Youty further explained that prisoners were flogged by prison guards each time they raised a concern.

“I was in FA block which is the mother block when we got free.”

“The rice they gave us was always rocky. But we could not talk because one of our friends was flogged badly for speaking on the rice issue,” he said.

Though now a free man, Youty is concerned about the freedom of his colleagues still in prison. “I’m begging mainly the President to please free them because we all want the best of the country,” he said.

Isaac Taryon told FrontPageAfrica that he remained in the same clothes from the day in was incarcerated till the day he was released.

“I only washed the shirt when it starts to smell. This is the only clothes I had,” he said as he pointed to his striped black and white shirt, rocky blue and orange jeans and khaki cap.

Sobbing and with tears-filled eyes, Taryon said his worst moment behind bars was when he received a phone call to inform his that his 15-year-old daughter was pregnant.

He believes she got herself involved in early sexual life because he wasn’t there and also because as the oldest, she had to help feed her siblings.

He’s a father of four, but had not been able to find their whereabouts since he was released from jail. He called on the government to intervene in helping him find his children.

Taryon said he was grateful to the Supreme Court for his release.

He said he had no idea of guns or mercernarism contrary to the verdict by jurors of Criminal Court “D” and subsequent life time sentence by the court.

“The time I was in prison my father died, my step-mother, too, died. Even my first daughter got pregnant because none of them were in school.

“So she had to get stay with man to sponsor her small ones. Since I went to jail none of them went to school till now and no one to help. I only received calls when something bad happened from my hometown,” Taryon lamented.

He disclosed that during his stay at the prison, he had an operation for hydro seed and visited the John F. Kennedy eight times prior to his release.

“Right now I can’t see clear, I can’t see from distance. The four years I spent at the prison, there was only one person visiting me but he joined the BIN [Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization]. As soon as the jury came out with the life sentence verdict, it didn’t stay long my wife remarried and she currently has a kid apart from our four children,” Taryon told FrontPage Africa.

Taryon wants to start a small business to sustain himself, but getting the capital, he said is the challenge. He also complained about his sight, noting, “I think I am going blind.”

James Lee Cooper is a father of five. He is a former employee of the General Services Agency and a former secretary of the Liberia Football Association in Grand Gedeh.

He says he been experiencing severe pain in his left leg and ankle since he left the prison.

“I am grateful to the almighty God to see light. The story is bad and prison is not where anyone wants to be; but as God had it all the claims labeled against us were all false and today we are out so, I want to be grateful to God,” he said.

“I was arrested on 28 of July and was brought to Monrovia but under no condition I was brought down guilty.

“I am happy that I have been set free; but the condition I am in now is regrettable. Since I came from prison, I don’t know my way out. I left my family four years 27 days, my children are in disarray. My wife and children I don’t know their whereabouts.

“Since we came from that prison our family members do not want to help us with medication, feeding and clothes. It is painful that you’re from prison and no one wants to help you,” he said while sobbing.

“I am innocent of the crime. Even the government had no evidence; the Ivorian government had no evidence. We are appealing to the government to compensate us to so that we can get back to our families, we can’t go to them with empty hands,” he said.

Sam Tarley alias Bull Dog is said to be critically ill and could not grant FrontPageAfrica interview.

Criminal Court “D” found them along with nine others guilty of mercenary activities in neighboring Ivory Coast. However, their sentence was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor said “There was not sufficient evidence to connect and satisfactorily establish the guilt of co-appellants/co-defendants Isaac Taryon, alias Wolie Taryon, Prince Youty, James Lee Cooper and Sam Tarley, alias Bull Dog, the crime of mercenarism.