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One year after release from Cuban prison, Alan Gross says he'd return to the isle

The US government contractor was sentenced to 15 years for illegally installing Internet in Cuba. He was released on Dec. 17, 2014, the same day President Obama announced historic reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. 

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Alan Gross, accompanied by his wife, Judy, speaks during a news conference at his lawyer's office in Washington, Dec. 17, 2014. Mr. Gross was released from Cuba after five years in a Cuban prison.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File

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A US government subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years said he would return to the country “in a heartbeat” as long as he wasn’t arrested again.

American Alan Gross was charged in 2009 for violating Cuban law for setting up Internet access and sentenced to 15 years in prison before his early release on Dec. 17, 2014, one year ago today, as part of a prisoner exchange between the two countries.

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"I have absolutely no bitterness whatsoever toward the people of Cuba — quite the contrary; I feel like they're my family," he told the Associated Press.

Mr. Gross said he believes US-Cuban relations will eventually normalize, though he suggests the US would first need to end a 50-year-old trade embargo in order to make that happen.

Despite losing 110 pounds during his five years in prison and struggling with health problems, the former government contractor seems to have returned to the United States happier than ever, he wife says.

"He seems to have a more positive outlook on life," she said, adding that her husband walks around whistling.

The US government announced soon after Gross returned to the United States that he would get $3.2 million as part of a settlement with the government contractor he was working for in Cuba, Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc. Gross disputed that. He acknowledged a settlement in a separate lawsuit against DAI for an amount that has not been made public.

"They put me at risk, and I paid the price," he said. At the same time, many in government also worked diligently to get him out, he said.

Despite the arduous prison term, Gross said he created a strong bond with his fellow prisoners, picking up the habit of smoking Cuban cigars.

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Gross said he would like to work toward prison reforms in the US and on efforts to end decades of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis.

He also volunteers for Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who helped secure his release.

"I know I'm a lucky guy," Gross said. "I'm one of the luckiest guys on this Earth. I got out with my life, and my life is whole again. So I have a lot to be happy for."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.