STORIES OF AMERICANS held in foreign jails haunt us. Their guilt or innocence aside, we are gripped and horror-struck by the prospect of our fellow citizens subjected to barbarous legal systems, Kafkaesque trials, and unimaginably severe sentences. The National Geographic Channel even launched a series: Locked Up Abroad, which began with Billy Hayes, a young American caught trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey in 1970, who drew a life sentence in a Turkish prison. He managed to escape and write a book, which became the film Midnight Express.
Type the word “hikers” in an Internet search, and the first suggested result isn’t an REI trail guide, it’s “Hikers in Iran,” a reference to three Americans who were detained by Iranian authorities and accused of spying for the U.S. as they hiked near the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. The woman has been freed on bail, but the two men are still awaiting trial. Last year, two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were filming a documentary in China when they supposedly crossed into North Korea. They were arrested, tried, and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for “illegal intrusion.” Intervention by none other than Bill Clinton secured their release after 140 days.
No case hits closer to home than that of Amanda Knox. Three years ago, the college student from West Seattle, studying abroad in Italy, was charged with murdering her roommate and sentenced to 26 years in prison. The murder, with its lurid details of sex, drugs, pretty coeds, and grisly knifing is irresistibly juicy and tabloidy, a Rorschach test for armchair juries who either blame her or believe her wholeheartedly.
As recounted by James Ross Gardner, among the believers are a group of classmates, teachers, and loyalists from Seattle Prep, where Knox attended high school. Since her incarceration, they have raised money, written letters on her behalf, and reached out to her, acting from a deep commitment to caring for one of their own. In this issue devoted to high schools, Seattle Prep’s story reminds us that every student matters, and that educators, parents, and all of us make a difference in their lives. Their future is our future.
Editor in Chief