Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Lori Berenson I met in Lima

In 1995 I went to Lima, Peru for a conference of Prison Ministries. I was working in Cochabamba, Bolivia as a volunteer after college and I happened to work in the San Sebastian Jail. The conference was in Lima- I was 28 and very idealistic full of Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero. I really believed in Liberation and Theology- I saw that as the right thing.

The conference was pretty standard for a "peace and justice" event held in Latin America at that time. It was full of Liberation Theology and justice talk. I presented a speech on San Sebastian and the fate of those Bolivians in Jail for drug trafficking offenses. There was lots of beards and macrame.

I travelled to Lima by bus from Cochabamba. It took a day to travel the 455 miles but it was worth it. When i arrived in Lima my friend Tammy and I went to the local Gringo bar . After a bunch of Pisco I was introduced to another American who was called Lori.

She was also idealistic like me. But unlike me she advocated violence and also she felt that "Charity" was the problem and that "revolution" was the answer. She was very different then the normal Generation Xer. She was committed to causes that most of my friends did not even know existed. We only talked for 10 minutes. But she was impressive- impressive in a way that I am not because she did not equivocate.

In 1996 when I was living in Brazil I heard about her arrest as a Terrorist in Lima. I was pained for her family and I kept thinking about what I have done for the past 14 years while she has sat in an Andean prison. I have to say that I do not and did not agree with Ms Berenson's advocation of violence. But I can understand the anger. I still feel that anger 12 years later at the fact that there is useless pain in the world and that justice is so far from reality.

Lori Berenson is my mirror opposite. We both went to Latin America in our twenties to work for justice. I did my stint and while I continue to volunteer and do things I am now an upstanding executive, published poet and author, husband and family person.

In a word I sold out.

Ms Berenson on the other hand- even though I disagree with her actions- did not sell out. Berenson is the exception among those of us born from 1965-1978.
I can still see her face in that Bar in Lima and wonder if I had gone her route and not sold out what would have happened? I can also feel my youth and the sheer joy of thinking that I could change the world...