In the few days since he’s been home in Minnesota after spending months in a United Arab Emirates prison, Shezanne Cassim has gotten a haircut and devoured his favorite cheesecake, which helped make up for all the time he spent eating what he called “JFC” — jail-fried chicken.
“It wasn’t very good,” the 29-year-old from Woodbury said Tuesday in a brief interview in which he again thanked those who pressured Emirates officials to release him after serving nine months for a mock YouTube documentary poking fun at Dubai youth culture.
Cassim, surrounded by his parents and brother at the office of his Minneapolis attorney, said he was grateful to Minnesota’s congressional delegation, the U.S. State Department, the media and even comedian Will Ferrell for supporting “the campaign to get me out.”
“When I was in prison I didn’t have access to much information, so I really didn’t know how big this whole campaign was,” he said. “For the past few days I’ve just been reading up, and I’m just overwhelmed. It’s unreal.”
His next steps, he said, might including writing a book or pursuing film “at a more serious level.”
Cassim declined to comment on his prison ordeal, saying he preferred to focus on how good it was to be home. The family was scheduled to leave Tuesday for the larger spotlight of New York City.
Cassim, a Sri Lanka-born U.S. citizen who graduated from Woodbury High School and the University of Minnesota, was working as a business consultant in Dubai last spring when police arrested him and four friends over the video spoof. He was moved in June to a high-security prison.
Officials said the video threatened national security and violated cybercrimes laws. Cassim declined to discuss the government’s motives Tuesday, but said last week at the airport that he thought the heavy-handed tactics were designed to scare dissenters.
Cassim said that it was important for people to understand why he made the video.
“Dubai’s a very multicultural city, there [are] so many people from different countries living there, and there’s a lot of funny stuff that happens there that makes the city charming,” he said. “So we thought, why do we need to import all our entertainment when there’s such funny stuff happening here? It’s just a way to express ourselves, because we’re not robots there.”
While Cassim was imprisoned, his family kept busy working all the channels they could to get him released. Cassim’s father, Sanath, a businessman, moved to Dubai last summer to work for his release.
“We knew that we had to stick together and do whatever we had to do to get Shez out,” said his brother Shervon, a graduate student who lives in Durham, N.C. His friends also have since been released.
Cassim’s reunion with his family has been joyful, his mother, Jean, said. “He was the missing link all this time,” she said.
Cassim said that he’s adjusted so quickly to being home that he doesn’t need a minute when waking up in the morning to remember where he is. “Not really, because I have a pillow now,” he said. “The comfort is just immense.”