His name is Maxim Molokoedov and every week day the 24-year-old Russian can be found on a soccer pitch in Santiago, Chile. Molokoedov wasn't recruited as a player from Dinamo St. Petersburg FC, the Russian Second Division team he used to play on, but from the Santiago penitentiary, where he lives as a prisoner incarcerated on drug trafficking charges.

In 2010, on a stopover in Santiago from Ecuador, Molokoedov was caught smuggling six kilos of cocaine which he had tried to conceal inside children's books. Sentenced to 3 years in prison, no one would have guessed that he would be playing soccer again, but Molokoedov can be seen juggling the ball down the field, his teammates calling to him, "Ruso, Ruso!" which simply means "Russian" in Spanish.

Initially, Molokoedov, who has now learned to speak Spanish heavy with prison slang, was scouted to play for the prison's soccer team but soon his talent was spotted by a professional team called Santiago Morning.

"I saw in him many footballing and physical qualities," prison team coach Frank Lobos told the BBC. "Regardless of his situation we decided to reintegrate him into society…We got the relevant permissions so he could demonstrate through football all his qualities, and so that he could demonstrate to society that … it is possible to reintegrate people that were deprived of their freedom through football."

At one point Molokoedov was granted a pardon that would have allowed him to return home, but he declined to accept it.

"I like playing football," Molokoedov said, "I have faith. I preferred to stay and play, because I know I will succeed."

Molokoedov now trains 7:30 am to 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and returns to prison in the afternoon.

Hernan Ibarra, the coach of the Santiago Morning Football Club, told the BBC that the team had given Molokoedov a warm welcome.

"I think we all have it in us to improve ourselves," said Ibarra, "so why not him, too?"

Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of Latinaish.com.


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