By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO August 14, 2001 For 184 days, Jack Tobin was held in a Russian prison for a crime he did not commit.
But on Saturday, the community of Monticello treated him like a hero returning from war, showering him with praises, handshakes and hugs during a celebration of his safe return.
Tobin, a Monticello native and Fulbright scholar, was convicted on a minor drug charge and sentenced to 37 months in a labor camp while studying in Russia. That sentence was subsequently reduced to a year. After serving time for six months, Tobin was paroled on August 3.
Tobin claimed he was innocent of the charges, saying he was asked to spy and refused. Government officials claim it was payback for the United States catching a Russian spy earlier this year.
Regardless, Tobin became a political prisoner, but he did not lose faith in his beliefs, his family, or his country. And those at home didnt lose faith in him either.
While Tobin was imprisoned, his mother, Alyce Van Etten of Monticello, and the village he grew up in did not give up hope. Yellow ribbons were put up in his honor. The local residents and businesspeople stated that the ribbons would stay up until Jack Tobin came home.
And on Saturday, Tobin did come home. A ceremony was held in his honor to cut down the last ribbon in Monticello in front of the Lawrence Cooke Courthouse. Over 100 people turned out to welcome Tobin, and among them were legislators, Thompson and Monticello board members, county officials, family, friends, and well wishers.
"It has been a long, hard journey," remarked United States Congressman Benjamin Gilman. "I applaud Jack and the way he handled himself. He handled himself with honor, esteem, and dignity. Welcome home, and long may you stay."
"I am pleased and proud to have Jack back home," said United States Congressman Maurice Hinchey. "You conducted yourself in a magnificent way. I am proud and happy that you are home safe and sound."
Right after Tobin was incarcerated, Hinchey, Gilman, and a Connecticut congressman worked to get Tobin released, writing letters and making phone calls to the Russian embassy. Many of their colleagues signed that letter to get Tobin released. In fact, after Tobin was released, United States President George W. Bush personally contacted Van Etten to tell her that her son was coming home.
"Today, I cry tears of joy," Alyce Van Etten told the crowd. "I thank all who prayed. I thank my family and my husband, Jan. It will never be forgotten. I am proud to call Monticello and Sullivan County home."
"It is great to be back," said Tobin, who plans to write a book about his experiences. "The toughest part was that my parents were in the dark over my condition. I was unaware of all the support. I am grateful. I am proud to be raised here. It is great to be home."
With that, Tobin and his family cut down the last yellow ribbon.