HAVANA (AP):William Potts burned with the desire to change the world. Nothing really turned out the way he planned.
Dreaming of joining the struggle to uproot global oppression, he dropped out of college, became a Muslim and went to join the Namibian freedom movement. He got stuck in Liberia, half a continent away.
So he returned to the United States and in 1984 he concealed a .25-calibre pistol in a plaster cast and hijacked a plane to Cuba, among the last in a flood of dozens of self-styled revolutionary hijackings.
To Potts' surprise, Cuban authorities didn't offer him guerrilla training. He was convicted of air piracy and imprisoned for more than 13 years.
Now, 29 years after he changed into a black beret and leather jacket in a plane bathroom and hijacked more than 100 people on their way from Newark to Miami, Potts is optimistic that he'll soon be heading home. He said Friday that US officials in Cuba are processing a passport application he submitted earlier in the week and they have told him it could be completed in a matter of weeks.
While he faces virtually certain arrest upon return, he said he believes that the time he served in Cuba will allow him to avoid a lengthy second jail term.
"Some people believe I should spend the rest of my life behind bars, but that's not my position. I was sentenced in a recognised court of law to 15 years in prison. I did the crime, I did the time," Potts said. "I don't expect to pay two times for a crime I already paid 15 years for."
Potts said going home will help him move beyond what he acknowledges was a mistake that put dozens of passengers' lives at risk and separated him from his siblings and parents in the US in a way that's increasingly painful as he ages.
Prosecutors in Florida, where Potts was also indicted for air piracy, did not respond to requests for comments on his case. The US Interests Section in Cuba declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but noted that "through our missions overseas, US citizens travelling or residing overseas are accorded a full range of passport services".
political refugee status
Cuba has granted political refugee status, along with free housing, health care and other benefits, to dozens of fugitives like Potts, many black militants and other leftists who fled here from the US in the '60s and '70s. Many are believed to remain in Cuba, including several who are among the US most-wanted fugitives.
The US and Cuba signed a 1971 agreement under which each government agreed to prosecute hijackers or return them to the other country.
Periodic tensions with Washington have pushed Cuba to suspend the deal several times, but the communist government stopped giving new arrivals sanctuary in 2006, returning a handful of Americans who fled to avoid prosecution in recent years. The US still labels Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, largely because of its sheltering fugitives.