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?
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.