Weeks from his release from prison, Daniel Holmes looks to the future

Daniel Holmes has made it a point to make the most of his time in prison and not to slip into the type of self-destructive behaviour prison has been known to push inmates into

Welsh prisoner Daniel Holmes
Welsh prisoner Daniel Holmes

Daniel Holmes, the Welshman currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for trafficking cannabis, will be released in a matter of weeks and is now focused on rebuilding his life, though he knows it won’t be easy.

Holmes, 28 at the time and living in a €300-a-month apartment in Gozo, was sentenced to jail and ordered to pay a €23,000 fine in 2011, after he was caught together with friend Barry Lee, with possessing five mature cannabis plants and 28 seedlings.

According to proceedings in court, the police found small marked bags with cannabis, which, they claimed, proved he was trafficking the plant.

Despite the verdict Holmes has insisted throughout that the plants were for his and Lee’s own personal use. “We were fed up of constantly getting very bad deals and just decided we’d grow our own,” he told MaltaToday from prison.

He insisted that what the police had described as a professional operation was “just the result of some online research” he had done.

Since Holmes was sentenced, Malta has amended its drug laws, passing two amendments to allow patients easy legal access to medicinal cannabis.

Earlier this year, parliament also approved a law allowing companies to set up production facilities in Malta, from where they will be exporting medical cannabis preparations, not much different to what Holmes was growing at home.

The irony is not lost on Holmes. Although it appears increasingly likely that cannabis, personal use of which has already been decriminalized since Holmes’ sentencing, could become completely legal, he wastes little time on venting frustration at the situation, and is only focused on the road ahead.

A world of social media and touchscreen devices

He has made it a point to make the most of his time in prison and not to slip into the type of self-destructive behaviour prison has been known to push inmates into.

With a matter of weeks between him and his freedom, Holmes is looking to the future and how to go about rebuilding his life.

He said he recently set up a Twitter account and has had his family administer an Instagram account in his name.

Holmes also intends to start a regular videoblog as soon as he leaves prison, which he plans to use to discuss and share his experience reintegrating into society and which he hopes can be of help to others like him.

While in many respects, the worst will soon be over, Holmes is conscious of just how much the world has changed since he’s been in prison, and the challenges that lie ahead.

“I’ve never used a touchscreen device,” he pointed out. “I’ve been locked up for eight years, I don’t know how I’m going to react to being in a Tesco’s for example.”

Similarly, he said that he wasn’t too sure what to expect from his relationship with his family. Holmes is a father of two, with his second child having been conceived and born during his time in prison. “My kids don’t know me as a father figure,” he said, adding that in the current situation he has little contact with them.

The same goes for his wife Marzena whom he said has had to raise their two children alone.

‘I’ve written over a million pages’

Perhaps the most difficult part of being in prison is boredom and loneliness.

Writing, especially novels he says, has been essential for him in coping with being alone and dealing with his emotions. In his eight years behind bars, Holmes claims to have written over a million pages, including several poems, novels, as well as a book he is hoping to have published.

Through the book, he plans to tell the story from his perspective, starting with his arrest, the death of his friend Barry Lee, his time in prison, up to the present day.

He explained that the book was motivated by the fact that he felt he had never been given the opportunity to tell his story himself.

“Even in court I want not allowed to speak for myself,” he said. “I remember telling my lawyer [at the time] that I was a smoker and that the plants were for my personal use. Then in court he tells the magistrate I’m a junkie… that’s not what I said.”

The book won’t only be about his story however. Holmes said he had taken detailed notes of what prison is like on the inside, complete with minutiae such as the food schedule offered to inmates.

Life in prison

Asked whether the Corradino Correctional Facility was as bad as it is made out to be, Holmes said it had improved in some ways, but in many respects it was still not conducive to proper rehabilitation.

He said that while the food was not bad, it rarely changed and there was very little access to healthy food, including fruit. “I used to ask about being able to buy healthier food like fruit or brown bread but didn’t get anywhere,” he said.

He is also disappointed he was not given the opportunity to study or work even though other inmates have done so in the past. “They wouldn’t even let me send my poems to my family for them to enter them in competitions. I’d have to read them out to them over the phone,” he said.

Asked whether he believed this was because he was foreign, Holmes said he couldn’t exclude it, and recalled how there had been a number of occasions when he filed a constitutional claim, when prison guards confronted him over the case. “It was as though they had taken offence that I was challenging Maltese laws.”

Holmes’s case received extensive media coverage when it first hit the headlines, and public opinion was divided, with some people even taking to the streets to protest against what they considered a draconian prison sentence. His ordeal resonated with a particular segment of society that was growing increasingly frustrated with the courts’ inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary sentencing, where more serious crimes received much more lenient sentences than that meted out to Holmes.

Married in jail: Daniel Holmes and wife Marzena (left). “My kids don’t know me as a father figure,” says Holmes at the prospect of returning home
Married in jail: Daniel Holmes and wife Marzena (left). “My kids don’t know me as a father figure,” says Holmes at the prospect of returning home

Failed by the system

While he has been told that he will be leaving prison on 13 September, Holmes hasn’t been given any more details and believes he will be deported once freed. He has also been told he will not be allowed to return to Malta before the lapse of five years.

“They haven’t even told me which airport I’ll be flying to. I don’t know where to tell my family to pick me up. If it’s London for example, that’s a nine-hour drive from Cardiff.”

Holmes doesn’t seem as bitter as one might expect of someone who is certain they have been wrongfully imprisoned for so long, but it is clear that he feels the Maltese justice system has tried to make an example out of him.

One example, he said, was how the authorities calculated the amount and value of cannabis he was charged with trafficking. According to the police, Holmes was found to have over 1kg of dried cannabis, which they estimated to be worth €13,800.

Holmes explained that when his plants were first tested, the buds were found to have a relatively normal THC content, in the range of 15%. The samples the police had presented in court were found to be a lot weaker – suggesting that the THC content had been diluted by other parts of the plant that do not contain any THC.

“It [the sample presented in court] was something like 4% THC, you can tell they just chucked in the stalks and everything,” he says resignedly.

He stressed that the weight, and therefore the drugs’ value, would have been much less had only the valuable part of the plant been weighed.

This is just one of the many flaws in the police investigations and the subsequent court case that Holmes and his supporters point to, as proof that he has been unfairly treated.

In July 2015, Holmes’s legal team filed a case before the European Court of Human Right, in which they argue that Malta’s “archaic and unconstitutional” drug laws, the Attorney General’s discretion, the disparity in sentencing, as well as the court’s lengthy proceedings, had all breached Holmes human rights.

Despite three years having passed since the case was filed and that Holmes has made it to the end of his sentence, the case is still pending, with there being no indication as to when proceedings will begin.