Lori Berenson and SalvadorLori Berenson is the 40-year-old American activist who has spent most of the last 15 years in a Peruvian prison for terrorist collaboration. She was paroled in May 2010, but was arrested today after a criminal appeals court revoked her parole. Berenson will return to prison.
Berenson's name has popped up in the news over the past 15 years because there's long been a campaign to free her (The Committee to Free Lori Berenson) declaring she was falsely accused (her mom Rhoda wrote a book called "Lori: My Daughter Wrongfully Imprisoned in Peru").
In fact, pressure from her family and the American government was so intense that Lori's conviction for treason and her life sentence were overturned. She was then convicted of collaboration and sentenced to 20 years.
That's all well and good and I don't know if Berenson is innocent or guilty of hanging with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. I suspect she's a little of both. It's an incredibly complicated case for many reasons, and I've certainly felt for her and her family over the years.
Today though, I'm not really feeling it for Berenson. But it has nothing to do with her "wrongful incarceration," and everything to do with the bit of info that has been screaming out at me from every article I've read about her today: She's taking her 15-month-old son Salvador back to prison with her.
And if you know anything of Berenson's story you know she hasn't been bunking at a Bernie Madoff country club prison.
The life-threatening conditions of the prisons at which Lori has been held over the past 15 years have always been front and center in any news story about her. She's been in around 5 or 6 and they all sound like hell.
The prison conditions she has endured are also well-documented on her website:
"Lori was confined for nearly three years at Yanamayo Maximum Security Military Prison in Puno at an altitude of 12,700 feet where the harsh climate, lack of heat, thin air, limited exercise, and poor food led to numerous medical problems. From October 1998 through August 2000, Lori was held at Socabaya Prison in Arequipa at a height of 7,600 feet where the climate was somewhat better, but where she spent much of the time in isolation, cut off from contact with the general prison population. On August 31, 2000, she was moved to the Santa Monica de Chorrillos Prison in Lima for her civilian trial. Prison conditions improved dramatically under the interim Paniagua government following the departure of the disgraced ex- President Fujimori. However, recently there has been a regression in the respect for fundamental human rights of political prisoners. On December 21, 2001, at 3 a.m. security units wielding clubs and spraying tear gas, brutally attacked the cellblock where Lori and 17 others were sleeping. All the women were beaten, tear gassed and sexually molested. Lori and one other prisoner were dragged from their third floor cells, taken in nightclothes, hundreds of miles to the north to two separate prisons. Lori is now held at Huacariz Prison in Cajamarca at an altitude of 9,000 feet but to date has not suffered further adverse effects of the altitude. The Peruvian government "hid" the brutality when the Justice Minister publicly said the moves were normal and that prisoners were not abused."
Is it just me or does that not sound like the best place for a 15-month-old?
Every mother wants to raise her child and Lori is no exception. In her statement before the appeals court that revoked her parole, she said:
And more than that, I have a child, a 15-month-old son and he is a child I would like to be close to, like any mother. I would like to bring up my son – I want him to be a good man. That is my aspiration. Since I my release that is what I am doing. That is what I am working for. I have to raise a child. I need to live. I am working. I am studying, and I am trying to live like a normal person with my family — my parents, my son and the godmother of my son. That is what I am doing.
Lori likely (and maybe justly) feels that 15 years of her life have been stolen from her and she wants to grasp at any bit of happiness that she can get. I understand that. And I understand that oftentimes the best place for a child is with its mother.
But I don't understand how any mother could think that a Peruvian prison with such dire conditions is the best place for a 15-month-old baby.
I hope there's something I'm missing.