Santiago, Chile: A young Russian man jailed for drug trafficking in Chile credits football with saving his life after a Santiago league team hired him from behind bars.
Each day after practice, a police officer escorts 24-year-old midfielder Maxim Molokoedov back to prison in the Chilean capital where he's serving a three-year sentence.
"I was going down a bad path, I had a bad moment, but today I have an opportunity that I hope will allow me to earn a living," Molokoedov told AFP.
Blond and 1.8 meters (5 feet 11 inches) tall, the former second division player in Russia stands out on the pitch. His teammates call him "The Russian".
He said that playing on the Chilean team has helped him turn his life around.
"This, to me, is living and living well. I hope to be an example for everyone," said Molokoedov, a native of Saint Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city.
He spoke in Spanish, a language he learned in the Santiago prison, one of the country's largest, where he is one of 5,000 inmates.
In 2010, Molokoedov was caught at the Santiago airport trying to leave for Europe with six kilos (13 pounds) of cocaine hidden in children's books.
Speaking to AFP, he refused to discuss the events of that day, which led his family to cut him off.
"I haven't spoken to my mother for months. I would just like to tell her I miss her, that I love her, and that soon we could talk again," Molokoedov said.
Molokoedov first caught the eye of a recruiter for Chile's national team, Claudio Borghi, during a jailhouse match in 2011. He began to advocate for the Russian's talents to be used in national competition.
The Santiago Morning coach took notice.
"I was aware (...) of all that was being said about Maxim, and so I gave him a tryout. After two workouts, I realized that nothing that was being said was false, and I decided to incorporate" him into the team, Hernan Ibarra told AFP.
The second division team signed Molokoedov for six months. The inmate is allowed to go to practice every day -- as long as he is back in his cell by 3 pm.
It's a first in Chile, a prison official said.
"Maxim is the first to benefit from a rehabilitation program by Chile's police. Given his strong football abilities and his past as a second division player in Russia, we negotiated with Santiago Morning for him to become a player," said Flavio Huenupi, head of the jail's sports program.
The young Russian, who under provisions in Chilean law could complete his sentence in his own country, has chosen to remain in Chile instead, in order to keep playing for Santiago Morning, where he has already scored two goals in a scrimmage against Palestino, a first-division club.
Molokoedov is a versatile midfielder, coach Ibarra said, which has earned the young player "the respect and affection of his teammates".
He will soon debut in his first official match of the Chile Cup against first division Santiago Wanderers.
Molokoedov told AFP he's confident about his game.
"I feel good. They support me and told me not to worry," he said, adding that "I know I play football well and God willing, I will score a goal against the Wanderers."