If you tuned in to Jerry Amster’s incredible story on Locked Up Abroad: Escape From the Gulag, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Jerry to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say.

Did you have any second thoughts about going through with the smuggling operation beforehand?
Yes, but the thought of adventure and making money overwhelmed me.

The episode of Locked Up Abroad shows archival news footage of your trial in Moscow. What went through your mind when you saw the footage?
I felt embarrassment for both my family and my country, a sense of shame.

What were the conditions like in the Gulag?
Extreme cold, -50 degrees centigrade. Giant mosquitoes which bite in the summer. Constant hunger, physical feeling of weakness and isolation.

What type of work did you do in the prison camp?
Carpentry, manufacturing of wooden chairs. I was also in charge of the Infirmary.

Why did you drift apart from Darrell and Pete when you entered the prison instead of relying on each other for support?
Animosity resulting from the arrest. Each blaming the other for their personal greed.

Were you able to communicate with any of the Russian prisoners? Did you get to know any of them?
Yes, I was placed in two Russian camps at certain times.

Were there any other Westerners in prison as well? What were they in for?
The camp had 500 western and socialist country prisoners in 1976. When I left the camp, there were only about 100 prisoners remaining. The reasons some of the prisoners were in the camp were due to contraband commercial speculation, money changing, rape, assault and murder.

Were you able to communicate with or send letters to any of your friends or family members while in prison?
Yes.

You escaped from the prison by crawling through barbed wire and climbing over a tall wooden fence. How did you keep yourself from being seen by the guards? Did they not believe that anyone could escape successfully?
There have been escapes from time to time. I was the first American to have done so. The electrical system for the perimeter lighting was not functioning, and it is a long distance between the 4 watch towers.  The place where I penetrated the fence, was a considerable distance to be seen in the dark.

When you finally made it to Moscow, where did you stay and how did you support yourself until you could make it back to the United States?
In a “Safe House” ran by dissidents who fed and cared for me. I did not have a need for money.

The fact that you found love while in a hellish prison is an amazing story. Have you made contact with Marinka since the last time you saw her? Have you heard anything about her since then?
To protect her identity, I have always said no, but after Gorbachev came to power, I returned to Moscow, and called her by means of alerting her local post office that she had a phone call. She said she still loved me, but was now married for 8 years, and she said that I fathered a son who would now be 31 years old. The town of Le Play where she lived was a closed territory. It was impossible to visit there without a special visa from the interior ministry.

Have you spoken with or heard from Darrell or Pete since your escape?
The only time I’ve seen Darrell was upon his arrival at JFK when he was released. I saw Pete on two occasions, at Las Vegas and Laguna Beach, CA.

How has this experience changed you as a person?
It made me appreciate the simple things in life which everybody takes for granted – especially freedom, food, comfort and privacy.

Can you share a bit about your life now? What are you up to?
I import medical devices from China and Europe and do some consulting as well.

Do you have any regrets?
I regret that I allowed greed to overcome my emotions and motivate me to commit the crime that I was arrested for. I also regret that I couldn’t leave the soviet union with Marinka.  I also regret that I cannot see a son that I never met.

Comments

  1. Michael
    US
    September 9, 2012, 7:59 pm

    I was amazed by your story. I would encourage you to find your son. I’m sure this experience made you a better and stronger person. You were very fortunate to have Marinka.

  2. eric
    lapeer
    September 10, 2012, 6:22 pm

    You are a very strong person everybody makes a bad decision sometimes. And your story was very touching, and God bless you. You have my forgiveness. At least you know she loves you still .

  3. Robert
    Phila. Pa
    September 10, 2012, 6:23 pm

    Jerry you are a courageous man god bless you on your safe return. Your story was touching.

  4. Jose
    D.C.
    September 16, 2012, 2:27 am

    Do you have any contact with your son now? It was a great history. Good luck Jerry!

  5. Jack
    September 19, 2012, 12:48 am

    Well, the town “LePlay/Леплей” (54°18’36″N 42°51’18″E) was and still is a penal colony for Westerners (still one American there); a town now of about 2,000-2,500 people. I’m sure, if you truly wanted to, since it’s no longer a closed city, could find this woman/son; especially given a name and the power of social networking on the internet at minimum or a direct visit.

  6. Steven
    Vancouver, BC
    September 21, 2012, 1:49 am

    Very interesting story. But system of GULAGs stopped its existence January 16th 1960. Everything that was after is a little bit different.

  7. smith
    pasadena,ca
    September 30, 2012, 9:31 pm

    there is a show airing on Russian Federation Channel 1 called “zhdi menya” (wait for me) it helps locate and connect loved ones who lost touch over many years and due to various circumstances. They have reconnected people who have met even as far back as WWII. They have located people abroad as well. There is a very good chance they can help you find your love and your son. Good luck!

  8. Audrey
    North Vancouver, BC
    November 27, 2012, 2:13 am

    Heart-felt story, Jerry. Like the other fellow said, why dont you try to find your son? Although, i’m sure you have your reasons. what a beautiful love story, sort of a parallel along the lines of jack & rose.

    to those of us lucky souls that has experienced that one love – true;)

    thanks Jerry,

    Audrey

  9. DonLeo
    November 29, 2012, 8:36 pm

    Just seen your story and I really do hope it’s real. However,growing up in an ex-communist country, and knowing how well organized the state police was, all I can say is that you were extremely lucky. For example, the first place they would have looked for you was exactly at your girlfriend’s place – nothing was really private in Soviet Russia and I do find it hard to believe that your affair was unknown to the authorities. It is true however that, if the two of you really managed to keep the relationship a secret, they would not have been really concerned about your chances to make it alive out of Siberia and that would explain the “relaxed” attitude of the soldiers looking for you. There are other issues that come to mind regarding your story but I’d rather think that it was true and you escaped the devil’s playground. Congratulations, Jerry!

  10. darrel
    nyc
    December 10, 2012, 12:16 pm

    REAL………..ly

  11. Gozuku
    toronto
    December 18, 2012, 12:54 am

    THE Darrel?

  12. primus
    December 20, 2012, 3:33 pm

    Just one question… when the power went down you were able to get to the wire…..Were there no locks on the doors in that place and why was the wire not swamped by prisoners with the same idea?

  13. jerry
    Philippines
    December 20, 2012, 7:33 pm

    I do not believe his escape, the gf, and the son, no evidence of it, what a liar,

  14. Alvin Anceno
    Philippines
    December 21, 2012, 5:34 am

    I am very curious how he made escaped in Gulag, it is very strict in that camp, but I think he is not lying, and I am also amazed in his escaping ………….

  15. Midhun madanan
    Indian
    January 7, 2013, 1:50 pm

    sir,you should meet that russian woman ,who helped you .

  16. Amrit
    India
    January 8, 2013, 4:51 am

    You have no mercy for mrinka and your son please find him ?

  17. Amrit
    India
    January 8, 2013, 4:53 am

    And now what is marinka doing?

  18. Navon Amin
    bangladesh
    January 11, 2013, 5:56 am

    Very Nice story, really appreciate Jerry. good Luck!

  19. Cheryl
    Denver
    February 3, 2013, 11:11 pm

    This man was smuggling drugs for self profit. If his story is true which I doubt, he knew the consequences of his greedy actions. Heroin kills, 62 pounds of heroin is a lot of deaths. I have no compassion for this guy. He never went looking for the woman that saved him? Or the son he says he has. The guy is a loser in every way. Poor poor fellow, really? He is probably writing a book to make even more money off his lies.

  20. Gary_Oak
    Sydney
    February 11, 2013, 12:30 am

    I think its was justified that he didn’t went back to Russia to see the women that saved him…. If he ever went back to Russia, he would be arrested on the spot

  21. Not Impressed
    Seattle USA
    February 12, 2013, 5:57 am

    I was in Moscow in 1976. In fact, I spent most of the US bi-centennial (July 4) under heavy surveillance and close watch thanks to this prick.
    This [guy] is one of the stupidist people on the planet, and to this day still doesn’t understand. He put EVERY AMERICAN’s life in jeopardy, increased the distrust and risk levels for all of us who were trying to decrease tensions between Red and Blue. Escaped without Soviet State knowledge? False. Secondly, there is NO WAY he got connected with “anti government insurgents” through a “Marinka”. It is far more plausible that the State “ALLOWED” him to expose the pipeline in porder to shut it down. Deny that he escaped as teh negotiation price? Soviets allowing a convicted smuggler to go free to save face? Yeah right. Lots of wishful story tellinggoing on here. A convicted criminal (especially an american) at that time would not have been a priority for US black Ops organizations, especially when there were numerous trades to be made of persons with VALUE, not this scum.
    This guy is no hero, he’s a druggie who broke the law and was too cowardly to be accountable for his illegal actions. There were plenty of opportunities to walk away, including refusing the get rich quick scheme to begin with. From the outset he proves he does not have the intelligence awareness or street tradecraft to “stumble” on an exit, and trying to portray this loser with “spy -like” skills is a JOKE. The cold war has been over for decades – and this piece of shit still hasn’t contacted his “saviour?” BULL.
    Nice try Nat Geo…what a piece of ficticious crap.

  22. Puleeease!!!
    MS Gulf Coast
    February 24, 2013, 9:42 pm

    I think NatGeo was WAY too kind to this guy. They skipped over the fact that he had stolen jewels from a former employer and he was getting by as a con man. Plus, there seems to be a lot of people who just don’t believe him INCLUDING the ghost writer of his book.

    The reenactments in the medical clinic made me wonder : Why would a beautiful nurse want to make out with a guy who is probably only bathing once a week or so and living in filthy conditions and probably not brushing his teeth……These aren’t the circumstances that make for romance, unless you’re really freaky.

    I agree with “Not Impressed” the Cold War has been over with for a long time I just don’t buy that he couldn’t somehow contact the woman, IF she even exists.

    This episode has caused Locked Up Abroad to lose a lot of credibility with me.

  23. Andrei Van Doren
    US
    April 11, 2013, 11:31 pm

    I agree with the skeptics. Here is the possible real story behind Jerry’s “escape.” As a former Soviet citizen, I want to assure you that there was no way for a US guy to physically escape from the Soviet Union. After 2 years in prison, the poor guy was either forced to sign a paper that he volunteered to cooperate with KBG. Marinka, who was speaking English (what an “unexpected” surprise!!), smoothed his cooperation. Surely, a dozen KGB officers were promoted over this “operation.” You have to remember that in the S Union with 300,000 active secret police officers with people routinely informing on each other, there were only two scenarios for Jerry’s “escape.” (1) he was forced to cooperate with KGB in some of their devious and stupid operation games. After all, the presence of an alive American gave them a real chance to do some “real” work and get promoted. Another option: they simply orchestrated the whole thing with Marinka, electric shut down, and Moscow without him knowing (or only partially knowing unless he is a complete fool) what was going on. He could be used as a possible ploy to set up some Moscow dissidents to punish them for contacts with the Western drug dealer who escaped from prison. KGB imagination produced various scenarios. In the country where secret police resorted to the invention of dissident groups from scratch simply to justify their existence there was no way for an American to move around. Even in the late Soviet Union, when communism was falling apart (1989-1990) in our dissident group (a provincial city) half of the people were voluntary or paid secret police informers. I personally tailed a few of them to houses of KGB police officers. It is hard for people in the West to comprehend this. Except 400-500 real dissidents who were known to Western press and who were used by the secret police to negotiate with the West, in the 1970s and the 1980s 99% of the Soviet people were so cautious that they were afraid to share ant-government anecdotes with each other.

    t

  24. Andrei Van Doren
    US
    April 11, 2013, 11:39 pm

    I wish National Geographic gave me an outlet and resources they provided to this Jerry guy. I would have been able to provide them a real life story from the Soviet land of shadows and Soviet informers. By the way, some of them live and prosper here in the US as always sticking to a dominant ideology (before it was communism, now it is PS, diversity, Multikulti and so forth)

  25. Andrei Van Doren
    April 11, 2013, 11:44 pm

    still, this BS has been professionally made and caught our attention, and even skipped going to gym to exercise. So NG did a good job. After all, it is about entertainment. Nobody will be interested to read dull Marinka reports to her KGB controllers about what sausages they ate, what Jerry said and when, and how and what kind of sex they had

  26. iPhone Scratch Protection
    April 13, 2013, 11:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing such a good thinking, piece of writing is very good.

  27. Phila
    South Africa,Durban
    July 12, 2013, 8:55 am

    lol…thats all i can say.

  28. Josh Lynch
    Australia
    October 28, 2013, 4:56 am

    What is the name of the actress who plays Marinka? Does anyone know?

  29. Bruce
    Canada
    December 13, 2013, 12:51 pm

    This guy is a self absorbed jerk. By his own story he doesn’t really give a damn about others, from the potential users of the heroin, to his accomplices to his girlfriend and son ( if they exist). I’m sick and tired of whiners who travel the world doing immeasurable damage and who then expect their countries to bail them out. As far as I’m concerned he should still be in jail with no key forever. That might dissuade a few others from following suit.

  30. Lani
    California
    January 2, 1:35 am

    What a sad love story :( I got teary eyed T_T

  31. jonn henry
    guilford, ct
    January 2, 9:49 am

    This is a complete fairy tale!

  32. robin lynn mary vranicar
    coatesville, pa (marriott courtyard)
    January 3, 6:19 am

    I watched show about Rosemarie Vandecar (sp.) My name is Robin Vranicar (Vranichar in Slovene – means crow charmer.) I had psych. issues in the Army. I was discharged and from time to time I still had issues. I was having a spell when I left Florida to come back home. I hadn’t slept for days… I wandered in to a woman’s home – B & E. My brother-in-law talked the cops into releasing me. He said, ‘Her mother is coming – this is proving nothing…’ Every thing pretty much went back to normal and I didn’t think about it again until after I became a Quaker and wanted to work in the Dover House of Corrections (NH) and was refused… They told me that I needed to speak to the judge. All I could think was; ‘That was 25 years ago and the asshole police are still bearing a grudge!’ I told them that I was no longer interested and I told my fellow Quakers that I declined for personal reasons. Whether Rosemarie is guilty or not is quite frankly irrelevant – the police (for what ever reason) use our criminal justice system for grandstanding their own pathetic example of morality and have very little interest in getting tragic cases rehabilitated and functioning as non-violent and contributing members of society; despite being tried or not… or found guilty…

  33. Ted
    Piscataway, NJ
    January 6, 2:07 pm

    He went back to Russia ? Could they not arrest him ? He would have been a fugitive, no ?

  34. DL
    San Diego, CA
    January 12, 2:51 am

    Half of this story is made up.. Too obvious he is lying about May things..

  35. Ted
    January 19, 9:29 am

    What ever happened to Darrell Lean ?

  36. Toni
    California
    April 12, 11:20 pm

    After watching the show there was more questions than answers. Spending 10 minutes searching Gerald Amster there are even more questions. I wonder how much investigation was put into this person. His release may have been due to a medical reason but that’s not what caught my attention. It was his name that came up in a letter from the FDA because someone vwas selling “home AIDS tests” online. Is he a scam or for real. It would be a great story but now I have my doubts. It’s bad enough that a drug smuggler could write a book and profit from his crime but now his book is promoted again because of this show.

  37. SAscha Costa
    Rotterdam The Netherlands
    August 16, 3:24 am

    For Mr. Jerry Amster,

    did you read the book: ZONE 22 from Mr. Tig Hague ?

    Yes it is a disaster. -30 to – 48 in Winter and MUSQUITOS in summer.
    They bite and eat you till your bones …..

    best regards,

    Sascha Costa
    Rotterdam

  38. Nicholas
    Blouberg,Limpopo,South Africa
    October 22, 1:22 pm

    I have watched your story and i gotta tell u,i realised that all of the trauma that you have been through have made u a Real MAN…. Wherever you Are Jerry,i wish dat u and Marinka could get back together again….

  39. Ilkka vartiainen
    Finland
    November 9, 4:37 am

    I was in the same place in Mordov during 1983.I know that
    camp and many of prisoners there,also “Darrel” I know well.
    I,ll tell you this is the true story! That remains to me many kind of feelings.

    Ilkka
    Finland

  40. Jim Burns
    Denmark
    November 9, 5:14 pm

    The escape story is the biggest load of codswallop I have heard in years. With the guards and the dogs, no way could this guy get outside the camp perimeter, let alone Russia. As a Hollywood film it could be entertaining, as a true story it’s a non-starter.