Gail Wilson Kenna’s chapter entitled Duel in Sun and Shadow falls in the middle of her latest book, but it describes most precisely her 1990’s saga of searching for justice in an unjust prison system in Venezuela. In her four years there as a diplomat’s wife, Kenna took up the cause of imprisoned Americans who languished in Venezuelan prisons in inhuman conditions because their embassy’s policy was no aid for drug-related offenders, no matter the facts or the legitimacy of their arrests or convictions. With thirty years of teaching experience, she recognized the systematic bullying of the quieter, slower students. Claiming ‘moral innocence’ with certain American prisoners who had been roped into their drug ‘middling’ gave her cause the momentum to persevere through seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Kenna’s memoir of her duels inside and outside Venezuelan prisons tracks her tense and dangerous mission to wrest justice where none existed.
Kenna’s list of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and her efforts to free them are set out in careful details from files she kept at the time, newspaper articles, letters of reference, legal documents, complete with official reprimands against acting as anyone’s intermediary. A seasoned, well-traveled wife of the military attaché, she brought magazines and catalogs to the prisoners, listened to their stories, and witnessed the dehumanizing prison conditions. First hand details of widespread bribery, and last minute orchestrations of airport departures to avoid subsequent arrests, are the stuff of mystery thrillers. Kenna, though, sets out the tale in such a personal way, linking her life to the strangers she felt compelled to help transition back to the real world. Her succinct explanations of complicated meetings and timelines ease the reader’s anxiety over the dangers she undertook for fellow humans. In the end, Kenna’s own definition of freedom and what it means to be human becomes a kind of mantra that inspires. The definition of ‘good Samaritan’ is broader and more heroic because of Kenna’s courage in taking a stand. While her intent in recording her journey is something far less heroic, to illuminate the wrongs done to those with less, this memoir serves as a reminder we are inextricably linked as humans and ‘to serve the lesser of these’ is a duty inherent in that humanity.
More at Kenna’s website: http://www.gailwilsonkenna.com