by Terry Anderson
What is it like to exist for seven years in darkness and chains, not knowing from one day to the next how much longer you will be a prisoner? Or if you will be released from captivity the next day-or killed. In his autobiography "Den of Lions", Terry Anderson attempts to answer some of these questions. He tells of how his hope got him through those seven horrible years he was held captive. He tells of how he was physically imprisoned, beaten, and treated as an object rather than a human being.
Terry Anderson was a reporter who was covering the region of Johannesburg for a very long time. On one of his trips to Lebanon he saw what he recalled as "incredible violence." He found it very exhilarating to avoid danger and bring the news back to the United States. In April of 1983, Anderson became chief Middle East Correspondent. He moved to Beirut in 1984 and stayed there in spite of the danger that he was facing. While on a car ride with his friend Don Mell, he encountered four guards with guns. He was pulled out of his car and pushed to the floor of his kidnappers' car. He was unable to see anything because they had tied a blindfold around his eyes, however he was able to feel guns being pushed into his neck. Terry Anderson recalls that after he was kidnapped, he ended up in a half-finished apartment building in Beirut, Lebanon. The date was March 16, 1985. The guards that kidnapped him, taped up his eyes so that it was very difficult for him to see what was happening to him. As the guards dragged him, his head bounced off the walls and the floor. After they arrived at Terry's unknown destination, they dumped him on a steel cot and chained him up so tight that he was not even able to sit up. He was blindfolded and told if the blindfold comes off he would be killed. As he helplessly lay there, he is told about the rules of his new and terrible existence. He is not allowed to talk or move. He was not even allowed to move from side to side to help relieve the pain from his aching muscles.
Anderson kept track of the days by scratching a line next to his head on the wall. After approximately twenty-four days, he asked the guard for a bible. The guard was agreeable enough to give him an old bible. He was given thirty minutes to read each night. However, he was still required to wear his blindfold, so the bible really was no help. It was approximately April 9, 1985, when they moved him to another cot with a curtain around it. This time he was allowed to take his blindfold off when the curtains were shut, so he would be able to read. He was told however, that if he saw one of the guards he would be shot. He remembered the days, and how they fell into a kind of routine: Sleepless nights, watching the dawn light grow slowly on the ceiling, shifting and turning, and trying to ease the stiffness and pain from lying on the bed for twenty-four hours a day. The most fun he had for these days was watching the roaches trying to climb the wall and falling off when they reached the top.
The guards also liked to amuse themselves. One guard named Sayeed told him, "You go home now!" and unfastens the chains. When Anderson attempted to sit up he was pushed back down and rechained. Then the guard laughed for about fifteen minutes and went to sleep. Sometime in July of 1985 Anderson was moved to another room. In this room, there was another prisoner and they were permitted to talk quietly. They started asking each other questions and Anderson learned that the man's name was Jacobsen. While in the new room, the two prisoners were given time to exercise and wash themselves. The guards were also allowed to give them books and magazines to read and help pass away the long hours. Throughout the next week, the prisoners heard much banging and loud claps. By asking the guards, Anderson learned that there would be a new prisoner in the next room named Father Jenco. The guard told them that he was some kind of religion teacher. Anderson understood what the guard meant and corrected him by telling him that Father Jenco was a Catholic Priest. Sometime in September of the year 1985 Anderson was allowed to have a pen and paper. He was now able to keep a diary, which he put in the form of a letter to his wife Madeleine. Every day he would write a few paragraphs. He knew he would not be able to mail the letter however, he wanted to keep track of the things that had happened to him over the past few months.
On October 29, 1985, the guards brought in a small black and white television showing Anderson's family and children. They also mentioned how long he had been in captivity, so far, two hundred and twenty-seven days. The prisoners stayed in that same place for the next nine months. Sometime during the end of July they were moved to another building in Beirut. This room however contained three more prisoners. There was hardly enough room to sleep and the ceiling was only six feet high. All that the prisoners were able to do was lie on their mattresses for hours on end and talk quietly. Next October the guards brought Anderson a birthday cake, and wished him a happy birthday. They gave him some fruit and a rather large slice of cake. They divided up the cake and served the rest to the other prisoners. That whole entire day they video-taped the prisoners eating and enjoying their cake. Anderson had now been a prisoner for five hundred and ninety-two days.
Sometime in March of 1987, Anderson and the rest of the prisoners were shipped to southern Lebanon. They were wrapped tightly in plastic so that the only part of their body that was showing was their noses so that they could breathe. They were thrown into another wooden box and then thrown into the back of a van. They traveled for several hours in this condition before they reached their destination.
The same routines continue until April of 1990. The negotiations which the United States had been carrying on with Anderson's kidnappers, finally got recognition. Conditions inside the cells got better and the prisoners were being treated more humanely.
The prisoners later found out that President Bush had been trying to help the Iranians find some of their people who were kidnapped years earlier, in hopes that the American prisoners would be released.
By August of 1990 conditions improved even more, and they received more fresh vegetables and meats, more water to drink, and more freedom in what they were and were not allowed to do. It was now March 16, 1991. Anderson was allowed to hear news reports and he learned that the negotiations were almost over and he most likely would be released soon. Some of the other prisoners with whom had stayed were talking on the radio and mentioned Anderson's name and told him that if he was listening "Good Luck!" This was very heartwarming for Anderson. He couldn't help but get into higher spirits. He knew that he was going home.
The date was now December 4, 1991. Anderson had been a prisoner for two thousand four hundred and fifty four days. Two subchiefs came in and told Anderson the most beautiful words that could have been spoken to him at the time. "You are going home tonight!" They gave him new clothes, shoes and then left. After a few more hours Anderson was put into a car. This time he sat in the back seat. After traveling a few hours the car finally stopped. Someone opened the door, put his hand on Anderson's shoulder and said, "I'm a Syrian colonel. You're free."
Overall, I found this book to be very compelling. I found it to be very interesting to learn about how Terry Anderson coped and got through this tragic experience. The way Anderson gave a description of what happened to him in chronological order gave me a feeling that I was there too. Anderson made it very easy to understand the ways that they were being treated; the good and the bad. Everything was in great detail. The way Anderson wrote the book made me want to keep reading it to find out what would happen to him next and, what finally happened. However there also were some bad points. Until I totally understood the way the book worked I was confused. Anderson wrote the book with his spouse Madeleine. She wrote every other chapter and gave her view on what happened. It took me a couple of chapters to understand the way this worked.
Generally I thought this book was great. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the ways prisoners are treated in the middle eastern countries. It was very clear how Anderson felt and he basically wrote everything that happened to him. I learned a lot from this book. It taught me how to appreciate the little things in life that most people take for granted. Anderson went through a long period of time where he was not even able to see. I know for a fact that if I would be constantly blindfolded, I would go nuts. Even after reading all of this, very few people could understand what it was like to go through the horror that Terry Anderson experienced. I also learned about how religion and a strong inner belief can help people. Before the kidnapping, Anderson really was not a religious man. He never went to church and never prayed. However after the kidnapping, he turned to religion. He prayed every day for God to help him get through this experience. He made his own rosary beads and he memorized passages out of the bible. Anderson stated that religion got him through those seven long horrible years. I also learned about the religion of the people in Beirut. Most of the guards were Shiites, so religion was a big part of their lives also. The only way that Anderson was able to make the guards feel compassion for him was to ask them if God tells them that they are allowed to harm another human being. The guard can never answer the question and usually apologizes for the way they were treating him. Another thing that I learned was how countries negotiate with each other. The United States did every thing that they could possibly do to help free Anderson. However the only way to free Anderson was to help free Iranians that were kidnapped by other countries.
This was a very educational book and taught me many social, political, and religious concepts. I plan to read other autobiographies by prisoners who were imprisoned with Terry Anderson to see how they coped with their tragedies. This book has taught me one overall lesson, never let the little things in life that go wrong bother you; life is too precious.