BOOKS: Survivor's Ed

After finishing her book, I am incredibly excited to hear Ingrid Betancourt, former Colombian senator and political hostage, tell her story in San Francisco on October 28 for IMOW's next Extraordinary Voices, Extraordinary Change Speaker Series event.

Betancourt's book, Even Silence Has an End, is completely engrossing. I read it cover to cover and frequently had to remind myself that it was a nonfictional memoir; the life she and other prisoners endure, for six and a half years, are unimaginable.

One thing that struck me in Betancourt's telling of her experience is her constant attempts to mentally and emotionally overcome her physical imprisonment. She writes about how, lining up to receive a daily meal, she and the rest of the prisoners became greedy and desperate to get the largest portion. She admits that she tries and fails over and over again to overcome the impulse to grab what she can for herself in the jungle, where it truly is a survival situation.

It's a lesson she tries to embrace over and over again--fighting against your most base nature to rise above circumstances beyond your control. Near the end of her captivity, Betancourt experiences and articulates this lesson most profoundly:
"Having lost all my freedom and, with it, everything that mattered to me--my children, my mom, my life and my dreams--with my neck chained to a tree--not able to move around, to talk, to eat, and to drink, to carry out my most basic bodily needs--subjected to constant humiliation, I still had the most important freedom of all. No one could take it away from me. That was the freedom to choose what kind of person I wanted to be."
An admirable goal indeed, and one that I've thought about in my daily life since reading the book. For all the painful physical struggles and the miserable injustice of having spent more than six years as a political prisoner, it seems to me that the hardest part of surviving captivity would be embracing your freedom to be a stronger, braver person.