Ruskin man who landed gyrocopter on Capitol lawn is free from prison

Published September 7 2016

RUSKIN — Doug Hughes, the former mailman who landed his gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol last year to protest government corruption, returned home on Wednesday, his 62nd birthday, after serving three months of a four-month prison sentence at Federal Detention Center Miami.

He arrived home wearing prison-issued sandals and carrying meager belongings in a paper sack, along with bundles of letters from admirers who had written him in prison from places such as Walla Walla, Wash., and Bonne Terre, Mo.

"As your incarceration draws to an end," one of his correspondents wrote from Kansas, "I wanted to thank you for your bravery in highlighting the cause of Big Money in our democracy with your creative gyrocopter landing."

In good spirits, Hughes hugged his wife, Alena, and daughter, Kathy, 13, and sat down to a plate of Kentucky Fried Chicken, his first good meal since June.

"The baked chicken on Thursdays was okay," he said of prison grub. "The spaghetti, it was edible and it had enough carbohydrates to meet the requirements, but I'd rather eat the tray."

He said he spent his time in the pokey writing letters, listening to NPR and practicing speeches on other inmates about campaign finance reform and recruiting candidates for the 2018 mid-term elections.

"It's good to have a captive audience," he said.

His cell mate was a muscled University of Florida graduate who provided orientation to prison life and, later, after Hughes accidentally upset a fellow inmate, protection. Hughes said he never asked his cell mate why he was serving time in the maximum security prison.

"I don't think he wanted to know," said Kathy.

One man asked what Hughes was in for.

"Illegal parking," he replied.

The man was curious.

"I parked my gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol building."

The respite at home was brief. He was due to check into a half-way house in Tampa to serve his remaining month. Then he'll be on probation for a year.

After that? Only he knows.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8650.

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