I have this old, dog-eared copy of Terry Waite’s book, that I have read several times in the 20 years or so since his release.
I bought a copy when it was released and enjoyed it so much that I gave copies to various friends as Christmas presents. I was reminded again of this man when reading about a recent failed attempt to free hostages in Nigeria.
In 1987 Terry Waite, as the special envoy for the archbishop of Canterbury (though not a clergyman himself), went to Beirut to negotiate the release of several hostages, including John McCarthy, Terry Anderson and Brian Keenan. He had already successfully negotiated the release of hostages in Iran and Libya, but when he arrived in Lebanon to meet with Islamic Jihadists, he too was taken captive.
As he said on his release, he foolishly believed the words of an intermediary that he would not be taken. As he says “I went without guards, arms or a locator device”. So far from being a hostage negotiator he found himself a hostage. He was taken to various houses to shake off any followers and then eventually to a prison cell in Beirut.
Besides being chained to a radiator, he was regularly blindfolded, beaten on the soles of his feet, subjected to mock executions, and moved from place to place in a large refrigerator. But he maintains that the mental torture of being in solitary confinement for so long, far outweighed any physical torture.
We have heard tales of prisoners retaining their sanity by practising their golf shots, running marathons or as in Waite’s case, writing their autobiography in their heads. Waite spent 1,760 days in solitary confinement, his only contact with the outside world being through wall tapping to his fellow hostages. Apparently, these hostages had a radio and could listen to the BBC World News.
In his book he reveals the inner strength that helped him endure the savage treatment he received, his constant struggle to maintain his faith, and his resolve to have no regrets, no false sentimentality, no self-pity. of photos.
Waite was released in November 1991 some 20 plus years ago.
After his release and giving one interview to the media, he realised he needed time to readjust to life and so with his wife Frances and their four children he stayed away from the spotlight for a year to recover and convalesce. During this year he put the harrowing account of his ordeal down on paper and then published it in his book, Taken on Trust .
Then, rather than dwell on his own suffering, he turned his energies to helping others in desperate situations. He campaigned for the welfare of prisoners, and gave support to families of hostages through Hostage UK; he even offered to negotiate on behalf of military personnel held captive in Iran in 2007.
This is a difficult book to read, but one that is also difficult to put down. We are told that “Waite no longer works for the Church of England, but retains the faith that kept him going through nearly five years of captivity. His experience as a prisoner, he says, also helped him to see the shallowness of modern materialism. In 2009, angered by the MPs’ expenses scandal, he considered running for office as in independent candidate, but now believes he can do more good as an active humanitarian rather than as a politician. And despite his religious affiliation, he is sympathetic to the Occupy London protesters who have set up camp at St Paul’s Cathedral. “Our society is going to fragment unless we are very, very careful,” he said in an interview with the Guardian last week. “ We have a responsibility for the elderly, for the sick, for children and for those who are casualties of society.” Source The Irish Times, November 26, 2011.
Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence.
Other books to read by fellow hostages:
Some Other Rainbow by John McCarthy and Jill Morell
An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan
- Hostages killed as Danes fire on hijacked cargo ship (thetimes.co.uk)
- “A Time to Speak Up”: Prisoner Freed After a Decade in Solitary Confinement in Pennsylvania (moorbey.wordpress.com)
- Nigerian tragedy: hostage rescues are always a gamble (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)