Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

Lori Berenson

In the early fall of 2006, I traveled to Peru to visit an American woman, Lori Berenson, who has been incarcerated in Peru since December 1995 on charges of terrorism. I wrote about it for a Dutch newspaper and I also mentioned my trip on this blog.
Back then, I traveled to Peru with Lori's father, Mark Berenson. To my surprise, I discovered during my trip that I found the father at least as intriguing as the daughter. He was definitely more likeable than the daughter. Of course, it's easy to forget that it is hard to stay likeable after living for more than 10 years in prison under harsh conditions. But at the same time it is human, even when you visit somebody for professional reasons, to appreciate likeability.
I ended up writing more about Lori's father and her mother, Rhoda Berenson, who herself had written an insightful book about her daughter, Lori, My Daughter, Wrongfully Imprisoned in Peru published by Northeastern University Press.
When I was in Peru again this winter for different reasons, I didn't expect to visit Lori Berenson. So when an acquaintance of Lori, whom I had met last time in Lima, asked if I would visit Lori Berenson again I answered, "Well no, I don't think she would appreciate that."
The visit in the fall of 2006 was tense, to say the least.
The answer from the acquaintance in Lima came quickly, "Lori says that you can visit her, but don't bring her dad."
I was intrigued by this answer, but now I felt slightly obligated to visit her. I didn't have any good reason not to go.
So I took the plane from Lima to Cajamarca, took a taxi to the prison. Although my Spanish is basically nonexistent, I managed to convince the guards to let me in.
This time Lori Berenson was much more at ease. She explained to me that she was a grown-up woman and the she could not stand the fact that her father was still treating as a child.
I answered, "Well, that's what parents in general tend to do, and some parents even more than others."
I watched while Lori Berenson finished baking a cake—she works in a bakery in prison—and she asked me a few questions about my trip to Guantánamo Bay.
After a few hours she said, "I need to concentrate on my work in the bakery."
And I left.
In the taxi to my hotel, I realized that if I were in prison I would not want my mother to visit me with some journalist. I would prefer my mother to visit me completely alone.