Through Many Bridges: A Modern Application to Byron's Sonnet

The Pelican (Baldwin County, AL) -- 25 August 1999

by Amelia Fletcher

One of the grand pieces of literature my tenth grade teacher thought we should put to memory was a sonnet written by Lord Byron. The 19th century work focuses on the plight and heroism of Bonnivard, a political prisoner in Chillon on Lake Geneva. He paces in his cold, damp prison cell until he has worn a groove into the floor. His captors have chained his body, but not his mind. Byron writes, "Eternal spirit of the chainless mind, brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art. For there thy habitation is the heart. The heart which love of thee alone can bind." Powerful words written amid the revolutions of America and Europe.

But, these words have taken on new life for me. Ten years ago, I kept a count of how many days Terry Anderson, an American journalist, was imprisoned in Iran and wrote Congressmen and his sister regular letters of encouragement and support. There was a happy ending to that story. When political advantage could be made of his release, he was freed after years of confinement. Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, I rejoiced.

Sadly, dictators and governments have continued to confine young journalist. Lori Berenson has been in a Perivan prison for three and a half years and for eleven months high in the Andes in isolation. She has no window, no running water, no heat in her 6-by-10 cell, and suffers from the extreme altitude sickness. Lori is 29 years old.

Byron's words ring on in my ears as I read page after page of information about Lori's situation, "And when thy sons to fetters (chains) are consigned. and the damp vaults dayless gloom" Peru has fetter Lori and charged her with "treason against the fatherland of Peru" and sentenced her to life in prison, without parole. A hooded tribunal of military officers meted this punishment with a 97% conviction rate in their trials. She was not allowed to mount a defense or present evidence in her own defense. Interestingly enough, her arrest coincided with the US approval of Israel's sale of jet to Equador, a country with whom Peru was fighting a border war. Since her imprisonment, Peru's president, Alberto Fujimori has used Lori's picture on national television in order to tout how tough he is on criminals and how the United States will not bully him.

Amnesty International has declared Lori a political prisoner, and that her trial did not comply with international human rights standards. Peru refuses to grant her a re-trial and on 7 July 1999, it's Congress voted to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

What can I do? I'm just a soft, middle-aged woman in south Alabama. I worry about what I'm going to have for dinner, if I'll ever lose any weight, and if I should start my Christmas shopping. Then I stop and think about my own daughter. She is free to pursue her education and looks forward to being on her own.

I've crossed the bridge of decision and have committed myself to write letters to Lori and support her family in their quest to free their daughter. If you would like to do the same, additional information can be found on the web. Go to Bryon states in the last quatrain of his sonnet that the steps and sacrifice of the patriot, "appeal from tyranny to God!" I would like to appeal to you to put Lori in your prayers and thoughts until she is free is body and well as in spirit.