Locked Up Abroad: Where Are They Now? Jerry Amster

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.


  1. Michael
    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
    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
    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
    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,


  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
    December 10, 2012, 12:16 pm


  11. Gozuku
    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
    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
    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
    January 7, 2013, 1:50 pm

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

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

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

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

    And now what is marinka doing?

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

    Very Nice story, really appreciate Jerry. good Luck!

  19. Cheryl
    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
    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
    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.


  24. Andrei Van Doren
    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
    October 28, 2013, 4:56 am

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

  29. Bruce
    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
    January 2, 2014, 1:35 am

    What a sad love story 🙁 I got teary eyed T_T

  31. jonn henry
    guilford, ct
    January 2, 2014, 9:49 am

    This is a complete fairy tale!

  32. robin lynn mary vranicar
    coatesville, pa (marriott courtyard)
    January 3, 2014, 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, 2014, 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, 2014, 2:51 am

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

  35. Ted
    January 19, 2014, 9:29 am

    What ever happened to Darrell Lean ?

  36. Toni
    April 12, 2014, 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, 2014, 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

  38. Nicholas
    Blouberg,Limpopo,South Africa
    October 22, 2014, 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
    November 9, 2014, 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.


  40. Jim Burns
    November 9, 2014, 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.

  41. Hal
    January 10, 2015, 3:16 am

    It’s an exciting story, but it’s obviously false. The NY Times Review says as much, (NYT review by Craig R. Whitney, February 17, 1985).
    I think that conceivably someone could escape from a Siberian labor camp, but it would be extremely rare. We are looking at next to impossible. We are talking about something like Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid games who gets through fortresses undetected. But presuming that he got out, it would also be very hard to get through an “underground” system. The number of people involved in an actual anti-Soviet organized underground network would be very small and often infiltrated. If he was stupid enough to get caught with drugs he was not smart enough to evade capture and get to a Moscow safe house.

  42. Eugène Vriend
    Netherlands heiloo
    May 7, 2015, 3:20 am

    Saw the episode Locked up abroad.
    I couldn’t ‘stand the complainiing about his sentence and sircumstances he had to go through. Jerry was a heroïne dealer making mony on people who sometimes suffer more than he has .Mother’sand father’s loosing their children on that stuff wat he was dealing I heard no regrets on that . It made me really sick watching this

    June 18, 2015, 12:34 am


    June 18, 2015, 12:40 am


  45. VS-37
    July 31, 2015, 12:25 pm

    What a bullshit this is! First of all I was in GULAG MYSELF starting 1986 and know such camp security system. Let’s start from this “real man” “escape” – 1) how he found out that power is out? He must be at this time in bed and there are guards walking around housing. NO ONE IS ALLOWED OUT OF HOUSING UNDER VERY HEAVY PENALTY. All lights inside housing are out except light at the main door. 2) If power is suddenly out – there is a signal to all guards including resting party to enhance security on towers and to let dogs into the space between barb wire fence and the outer wooden fence. IMMEDIATELY! Also, in our camp there were battery operated search lamps on towers! 3) Then, how he could simply pull wires and go through? And what about dogs? 4) If power was out there is check for all prisoners to be present – IMMEDIATELY! If somebody is not present – this is VERY BIG DEAL FOR ALL SECURITY STUFF – DEMOTION AND NO PENSION DISCHARGE! So, there are ever ready pre-established search parties with dogs, which go first between fences, and then to find escapees immediately. And our bullshitter was waiting until the morning in this “girl” house??!! By the way, administration makes sure that no stuff inside the camp speaks English or even is trying to do so – this is UNBELIEVABLE! 5) All people in such “camp” villages are working for the camp administration. It is not possible to live there not working for the camp, especially if there are foreigners in the camp. NO WAY! 6) THERE WERE NO UNDERGROUND GROUPS IN USSR, who would a) be unknown to KGB and b) be willing to help a criminal even if he is a foreigner. 7) Bullshit with “secret” negotiations between US and USSR in regard to a criminal release is self-evident.
    So, what would happen in reality: the most probable scenario is – KGB operatives offered this jerk a deal – we would make this theater, but you will help us sometime later when you are in US. That could be an idea from a local KGB operative agreed with his bosses or a demand from above. NOTHING ELSE COULD FLY!
    PLUS, PLEASE CONSIDER OTHER INFO SHOWING SOME LIGHT ON THIS PERSON – 1) “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.” 2) “It was his name that came up in a letter from the FDA because someone was selling “home AIDS tests” online. Is he a scam or for real.”

  46. Joe
    August 9, 2015, 2:22 pm

    Here is the New York Times book review written in 1985, 25+ years before NG made this show. Nice background fact checking, NG.

    By Craig R. Whitney
    Published: February 17, 1985
    TRANSIT POINT MOSCOW. By Gerald Amster and Bernard Asbell. (Holt, $15.95)

    Only a person who would bet his life against the thinnest of odds would agree to try to smuggle 62 pounds of heroin through Moscow, but that is what Gerald Amster did in 1976. Instead of getting rich, he got an eight-year sentence in a Soviet labor camp. ”Transit Point Moscow” is his account of how he signed up as a drug courier, got caught at the Moscow airport and then survived in the Gulags by reaching various live-and-let-live arrangements with amiably corrupt guards. Midway through, though, you wonder how much of this to believe. Mr. Amster claims that after more than three years, he escaped from prison camp when the lights (and the electrified fence) went out one night in August 1979, and he just walked down the railroad tracks until he came to the home of his prison doctor, a woman who hid him. If you believe that, you’ll believe his story about how he got to Moscow via the underground and stayed in a dissident safe house until February 1980. At that point, he says, he called the American Embassy, and got a consular officer there to make the K.G.B. promise to let him off if he would spare the Russians embarrassment by turning himself in, which he says he did by driving up to Lefortovo Prison in a taxi and being welcomed back like a prodigal son by the guards.

    The authorities committed him to a psychiatric prison hospital before flying him out to the West at the end of 1980. State Department records don’t show him anywhere but in Soviet psychiatric hospitals and labor camps, but the author says that’s a diplomatic cover-up to keep the deal secret. The odds, which Mr. Amster and his ghostwriter, Bernard Asbell, appear to be betting against, are that the escape is a figment of Mr. Amster’s fertile imagination. That’s too bad – his accounts of the trial and the labor-camp experience are spellbinding enough, as well as believable. Perhaps he figures that if he gets caught, nobody will send him to Siberia this time, but why the publisher markets the book as nonfiction is another question.

  47. Joe Walker
    So Cal
    May 3, 2016, 10:38 am

    I read this book many years ago and called BS immediately. Press accounts of his release say it was due to psychological difficulties and he threw the rest of his guys under the bus immediately. If he really had fathered a son, the mom could have got him for child support which is enforceable between the USA and Russia. The guy got caught smuggling, went to jail, had a breakdown, and got kicked out of the country. Everything else is BS.

  48. Andy Burgess
    United Kingdom
    January 6, 6:37 pm

    I was in that labour camp with Jerry for almost 3 years and good luck with him for trying to make some money out of it but believe me most of what he is saying is bulls hit. Yes it was horrendous but the only thing he escaped from was reality. Shame he didn’t just say it how it really was as it would of been far more readable and believable. Sorry Jerry hope your well. Andy.

  49. Andy Burgess
    United Kingdom
    January 10, 4:13 pm

    Why has my previous comment been deleted? Arev you somehow afraid of the truth?I was in that camp at the same time as Jerry.

  50. Jerry
    Pennsylvania. USA
    January 28, 12:43 am

    Andy, Why would you say such things?
    We met at the Holiday Inn in Munich and I bought you dinner. David passed away. I stayed with him in Melbourne. Josef is the big moneymaker. How is Larry? In drag? I visited Lee kim Tek in Singapure.
    Love, Jerry.

  51. Adam
    United Kingdom
    February 7, 8:18 pm

    I love the way he checks the Electric fence with a piece of wood?

  52. Gomi
    South Africa
    February 8, 3:10 am

    This story still touches me even today after I watched it back in 2012. Jerry, you’re such a lucky man, but brave and mentally strong too. God bless Marinka and the son. She’s one hell of a great soul to care for you.

  53. Suresh Sampath
    New Mexico, USA
    March 9, 1:16 pm

    Google Gerald Amster and you can find US state department cables from Wikileaks that give some insight into the ordeal of these 3.

  54. jan
    April 12, 11:17 pm

    I believe that every circumstance is unique to that person, that time, that day, that minute. A person’s character and value comes forth in different ways. I would not be surprised if “things have been changed to protect the innocent, the government, etc..” Your great Jerry, good story.