Last night, my sleep was fitful. By 4:00 a.m., I was wide awake. The episode is not unexpected at this time of year.

Twenty-four years ago today, I woke up at sunrise on a concrete bunk in Santa Theresa, the women’s prison in Guatemala City. I had survived the events of the previous day: a false arrest, the surrender of the infant I had hoped to adopt, time in dark places while in the custody of the National Police and soldiers armed with assault rifles.

I discovered in daylight that I was one of dozens of women in a cell block for new prisoners. Despite the cold showers, meals I could not eat from communal buckets, the taunts of the other prisoners, and the torments of my own darkest thoughts and fears, I endured Santa Theresa.

Every year, I relive memories from those three days and I am shaken again by the random events that kept me from being among the disappeared. The hotel desk clerk could have ignored my plea to call my husband. The DHL driver who was at Steve’s office to pick up a package might not have spoken Spanish or could have been in too much of a hurry to join the call from Guatemala and translate. The message conveyed to the U.S. Ambassador might not have misidentified me. Without that mistake, the experienced Guatemalan civil rights attorney would not have arrived in time to represent me when I gave my official statement at midnight.

I got out of jail on my 37th birthday. September 28th marks not only my birth but also the anniversary of my release.

This year, as the past rises to the surface, a fresh layer of dread overlays old memories. The news is filled with lies and denials of objective fact. Trump’s speeches include incitements to violence, both thinly veiled and overt. His endorsement of torture for the families of terror suspects and summary punishment for political opponents echoes my brief experience of the ways authority can be misused with impunity.

Freedom is ephemeral. Do not take it for granted or relinquish it lightly.

  1. I’m listening to him as I write. And freedom is ephemeral. I loved teaching American history. Our forefathers, flaws and all, amaze me. I would hate to see their work and forethought disappear in an instant to the tune of a reality show theme song.
    Thank you, Mary, for sharing.

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