By Tony Casson
“…deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13 KJV
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Attributed to Edmund Burke
Here’s something you have yet to see in The Oakdale Chronicles – a book review. This isn’t just any book. It’s a life changer. As you might guess, this is going to be a rave review.
In my time at Oakdale FCI, I have read many books. I average around one a week – sometimes a little more. The books I have read run the gamut from the utterly frivolous and simply time-consuming to those that were insightful, inspiring and thought-provoking. The Bible, of course, has had a profoundly positive impact on how I view myself and how I am structuring my view of the world around me.
I have explored social conditions, humanity, politics, religion and civilization and I have read about many different beautiful places, people and creatures to be found throughout God’s creation. Many things I have read have altered my perspective a little or lent clarity to it. I have experienced a wide range of emotions covering a broad spectrum of topics. But I have tried to narrow my focus to works that will help me understand the human condition; to help me solidify my moral core; and to help me explore the depths of my own willingness to commit to something bigger than myself.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” I read those words and wondered if I could become a person who has discovered something worth dying for. Of course, there are my children – I would die for them and many people would say that. But I am talking about something else, something bigger, and something more important. Do I have the character to make a significant contribution to humanity? Sure, I write about social issues such as incarceration, the criminal justice system, morality and child sexual abuse in these Chronicles. But I do so from a protected place. I am not in any danger. My life is not on the line. I am safe.
Not so in the case of Somaly Mam, a remarkable woman I “met” recently through her book, “The Road of Lost Innocence.” She is a Cambodian woman of extraordinary courage and commitment and I strongly urge every living adult to become familiar with her by reading her story of human misery in the form of sex slavery and human trafficking in and around Cambodia.
As I read the book, her words tore through me, ripping at my heart, leaving it in shreds, making me hurt with a tangible reality. The mission she has undertaken as a result of the unimaginable depravity, violence and sexual abuse she has both experienced and witnessed makes this tiny woman a giant in the world of humanitarian action. Martin Luther King, Jr. would say that she is definitely fit to live.
Her writing style is not fancy, nor is it poetic. It is coarse, blunt, brutal, factual and real. The scenes of horror she describes are recounted simply and reluctantly, for each story brings back to her the intense pain and suffering that accompanied the original actions of depravity and total disregard for human life as she experienced and/or witnessed them. As exhibited in the following passage from the book, you can’t use pretty words to paint an ugly picture. Found on pages 59 and 60 of “The Road of Lost Innocence”, published in 2008 by Spiegel & Gram, is this incredibly painful description of the horror called life for many Cambodian girls:
“Nowadays, the girls are much younger, too. This is because men in Cambodia will pay a thousand dollars to rape a virgin for a week… To make it clear they offer true bona fide virgins, the brothels today sell children. Often they are young girls, just five or six years old. After the week is over, they sew the girl inside – without an anesthetic – and quickly sell her again. A virgin is supposed to scream and bleed and this way, the girl will scream and bleed, again and again. They do it maybe three or four times.”
No flowing words; no need to pull out the dictionary; no metaphors; no abundance of adjectives to make a point. Just simple words of violence and abuse. And those words hurt as I read them. They cut deeply and as surely as with the sharpest knife. As you read the book, you will almost think you can hear Somaly’s voice. Even as she builds her foundation and begins to rescue other young girls from lives of captivity, abuse and forced prostitution, there is no victory in her “voice”. The sadness never leaves it, so profound and complete is the damage to her soul.
Later in the book, she writes, “I wondered if it is ever really possible to clear the past completely or whether you will always be haunted by what has been done to you and what you have done.”
As for Somaly’s work, you can look up – and hopefully support – her two organizations. The original group was founded in France: AFESIP (in English, it stands for “Assisting Women in Distressing Situations”), and in the United States, she founded www.somaly.org The latter raises money to combat human trafficking and sex slavery throughout the world. AFESIP is its largest recipient (or it was in 2008 when the book was published). The work of AFESIP is outlined in great detail in the book. It is a challenge and it is dangerous. As to why this amazing woman does it, Somaly herself says it best:
“I don’t feel like I can change the world. I don’t even try. I only want to change the small life that I see in front of me which is suffering. I want to change this small, real thing that is the destiny of one little girl, and then another, and another. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself or sleep at night.”
If that’s not worth dying for, I don’t know what is. Read the book. If it doesn’t affect you – if it doesn’t alter you – if it doesn’t change you – look in the mirror and ask yourself why.