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Pennsylvania man Bryan Hagerich speaks out as he awaits sentencing for transporting ammunition to Turks and Caicos

A Pennsylvania man spoke exclusively to ABC News as he awaits the possibility of being sentenced to more than a decade in prison for bringing hunting ammunition to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Bryan Hagerich and his wife Ashley sat down with ABC News' Matt Rivers.

“It was nothing short of a fight – a nightmare,” Bryan Hagerich said.

Bryan faces a dozen years in prison on a paradise island after airport security found ammunition in his suitcase in February.

River asked Bryan, “When you see them grab the ammo box and you realize it's in there, what's the first thing that goes through your mind?”

“Just complete surprise. Shock,” Bryan recalled. “I honestly wasn’t sure what was next?”

The family has been coming to Turks and Caicos for years. Her children, ages 6 and 4, always enjoyed counting down the days before another trip to the beach.

“I would definitely say it was probably the best one we've had so far,” Ashley said, referring to her last trip before heading home.

Their vacation was over and as they were about to board a flight to Pennsylvania, Bryan said his name was called over the public address system.

His checked bag had been selected for a random search, and when authorities opened it, they found hunting ammunition that Bryan had forgotten was inside after a recent trip.

Within minutes he was arrested and taken away in front of his children.

“I remember pleading like, ‘Can’t we just give this to you? Can't we just pay a fine?' “It was an honest mistake,” Ashley said. “It was a resounding 'no.'” So, um, it happened quickly. And the children cried and we said goodbye. And disbelief is probably the best word I could possibly use.

Bryan was taken to prison and spent eight nights there.

“Those were the absolute darkest days and nights of my life,” he said.

A tough law change in Turks and Caicos imposes a minimum sentence of 12 years for anyone found with illegal weapons or ammunition.

The State Department and the US Embassy have released guidance on the law, which is intended to combat increasing violence and arms trafficking in the island nation. But there are also entangled Americans who say they are nothing more than forgetful tourists.

Bryan is now out on bail and sharing an Airbnb with fellow American Ryan Watson, who was also recently charged.

“This is probably the loneliest experience I’ve ever had in my life,” Watson said. “Having someone who experiences the same things as you. It gives you a little support.”

Both men are fathers of two young children – children who understand that their fathers are not home but don't really understand why.

“The first question I'm asked at the start of every day and the last question I'm asked before I put my kids to bed at night is, 'When is my dad coming home?'” Ashley said.

Since then, Bryan has missed important milestones in his family's life, including both children's birthdays.

He's afraid he won't be able to see his daughter graduate from kindergarten or possibly even high school.

“Twelve years is a long time. And all those special things, you know, that you look forward to as a parent even though you know you might not be there for them, uh, that keeps me up at night,” he said.

A court will soon decide on Bryan's sentence, with him saying he accepts he did something wrong.

“What do you say to people who say, Look, you broke the law? “It’s a shame what your family is going through, but you broke the law here,” Rivers asked.

“I’m the first to acknowledge that,” Bryan said. “I take full responsibility for my actions. I'm not one to be out here asking for forgiveness and just letting myself go. You know, there are alternative ways to deal with this and deal with it that are within the laws of Turks and Caicos that will allow me to return home to my family. And we just pray so much that there are thoughts and considerations that can make this happen.

“I just ask people for a little grace to understand that we are all human. And that was an honest mistake,” Ashley added.

“I am a good person. You know, we love this island. We love the people, we love the culture, everything about it. An honest mistake – please don't let it define me for the next twelve years,” Bryan said.

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Anna Harden

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