“Freedom or death” is an often-used phrase that shows just how highly we humans value our right to self-determination. We find comfort in making our own choices and going as we please, even to the point where death is preferable to losing freedom. However, when put in captivity as a criminal in a prison, a POW in an internment camp, or a slave under the yoke of a master, those freedoms are shackled right along with us. Being in captivity seems to go against the very nature of human desire.
Still, there are some people who, even after they’ve experienced life in captivity, willingly choose to return to that existence, seemingly against all natural human drive. These are ten such cases of individuals who, after escaping captivity, willingly returned to it.
Robert Francis Krebs spent more than 30 years in prison for embezzling money as a bank teller in Chicago, for bank robberies in Florida, and for theft and armed robberies. When Krebs was arrested and sentenced to prison, Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States, and the Commodore 64 computer hadn’t yet hit the market. He finished serving his combined sentence in 2017 and was set free.
Only six months later, he was robbing a credit union in Tucson, Arizona. During his Florida robbery in the 1980s, Krebs was disguised with a wig and cotton in his cheeks to hide his identity and even varnished his fingers so that he wouldn’t leave behind prints. During his 2017 Tucson robbery, Krebs didn’t even wear so much as a mask, saying he “kind of wanted to get caught.” He said his $800-a-month Social Security check wasn’t enough to live on, so he purposefully got back on the wrong side of the law because there’s no need to make a living in prison.
Krebs has pleaded not guilty to the Tuscon robbery.
In 2018, an inmate in Beaumont, Texas, managed to escape his detention facility and made a break for a nearby ranch. Once on this private property, 25-year-old Joshua Hansen made a fortunate discovery—a duffel bag loaded with several bottles of alcohol, tobacco, and “a large amount of home-cooked food.” He grabbed this picnic for himself, but instead of going home or hiding, he turned right around and made a run back to his prison.
What his motivations were remain a mystery, but he was caught on his way back to the facility from which he had just escaped, having only succeeded in adding an escape charge to his rap sheet. Mr. Hansen is but one of many such hopeful escapees. A local rancher reported that he’d had to deal with more than one criminal runaway on his nearby property.
At the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, John II, king of France, faced off against Edward, the Black Prince of England, but lost in a humiliating defeat and was taken prisoner by the English army. While held in captivity, John was treated well. He was afforded royal levels of care and given allowances to purchase horses, pets, and clothes. He even hired and kept an astrologer and a court band on hand. All the while, his country was struggling to assemble enough funds to defend itself.
Eventually, France and England signed the Treaty of Bretigny, which set John’s ransom at 3,000,000 crowns. He was even allowed to go back to France in order to raise money for his own ransom, but he had to leave his son, Louis of Anjou, in England as a collateral replacement hostage. Louis was offered all the same royal courtesy his father was, but he chose to use that leeway to escape. Having no hostage in England to hold up their agreement and being unable to raise the needed 3,000,000 crowns, an angry King John returned to confinement in England willingly and died there shortly thereafter.
In 2013, a 51-year-old Swedish man escaped his low-security facility in Vanersborg in Southwest Sweden after complaining about a toothache. He said, “My whole face was swollen. I just couldn’t stand it any more.” After being unable to convince his guards to provide him dental care, he took matters into his own hands. The pain was so unbearable that he escaped captivity only two days before he was scheduled for release. He found a dentist and got the upset tooth removed.
Even though he was wearing an electronic tracking device as part of his stay in prison, authorities were unable to track him down after his escape, but as it turned out, doing so was unnecessary. After his dental work, he called the police and turned himself in for his escape. He was given a ride back to his detention facility, given a warning, and had a single day added to his sentence to make up for the day he spent on the lam.
Boko Haram (also known as the Islamic State in West Africa) is an Islamist militant group operating in Nigeria. In the native Hausa dialect, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden,” but the group has also called itself by yet another name: Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, which means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” Boko Haram is responsible for thousands of deaths in many different attacks as well as kidnapping several hundred teenage girls. In 2013, they were added to the US list of terrorist organizations.
A number of the teenage girls and women kidnapped have been freed, including 25-year-old Aisha Yerima. Aisha was held by Boko Haram for four years, during which time she married one of their commanders, who showered her with gifts and sang her love songs. Still, she had been kidnapped into this life. After being freed, she went through a de-radicalization program run by psychologist Fatima Akilu, executive director of the Neem Foundation.
After the program, Aisha said, “I now see that all the things Boko Haram told us were lies. Now, when I listen to them on the radio, I laugh.”
Still, less than five months after Aisha returned to her family, she left them to go back to a Boko Haram hideout to continue the life she had with them. While free, she had boasted about how many slaves she had while with Boko Haram, how much influence she had over the commander who was her husband, and the respect she had from the other commanders.
Dr. Akilu said of the situation, “These were women who for the most part had never worked, had no power, no voice in the communities, and all of a sudden they were in charge of between 30 to 100 women who were now completely under their control and at their beck and call. It is difficult to know what to replace it with when you return to society because most of the women are returning to societies where they are not going to be able to wield that kind of power.”
Jaye L. Thomas, 37 years old, was housed in a minimum-security camp in Southeast Atlanta in 2016. He and other inmates managed to sneak in contraband like cell phones—which then helped them succeed in even further illegal contraband deliveries. Mr. Thomas used his cell phone to arrange for meetups with two different women who he had been flirting with from behind bars. The woman couldn’t come to him, but as it turned out, Mr. Thomas could go to them. The camp was poorly guarded and maintained, and he was able to slip out through a hole in the facility’s chain-link fence.
Once outside, he met up with the women to receive more contraband and have sex. This became so routine that he escaped on three separate occasions and weaseled back into prison after each one, albeit with more and more luxury items. Finally, his getaways were discovered when he was caught with the illegal contraband. Whether it was the lobster, steak, Mexican takeout, alcohol, cell phones, barbecue sauce, frozen shrimp, garlic-flavored mashed potatoes, scotch whiskey, cigarettes, rib eye steaks, clams, or sushi that gave him away is unknown.
Randall Lee Church of Texas was arrested for a fatal stabbing when he was 18 years old and spent 26 years in prison. It was a drunken argument over $97, and Mr. Church claimed self-defense. Toward the end of his prison term, Church was looking forward to freedom. Inmates warned him that he would be in for a shock upon his release in 2011, but he dismissed them as envious.
“It was so overwhelming.” Church later said, admitting that the other inmates were right. “I was constantly embarrassed by simple things I just didn’t know.” He added, “I didn’t know how to use computers or cell phones or the Internet. The weirdest thing was walking into a store, like Walmart, and have parents hide their children from me, like I was supposed to jump at them.”
Eventually, it became too much for Church, and he set fire to an old abandoned home on the property he was staying at, owned by relatives of a friend he had made in prison. At first, he kept his new crime a secret: “I didn’t tell anyone it was me. It was my ticket to go back [to prison] if I wanted.” He said, “I know it was wrong, and I am sorry for it now.”
Three days later, he went to a restaurant and ordered a hamburger, fries, and two chocolate shakes. He couldn’t pay, nor did he intend to. He asked his server to call the police and said that he had committed a crime, and he waited there for them to take him back to the only home he knew.
Marcus Atilius Regulus served as a general in the war against Carthage known as the First Punic War. During the course of the war, he defeated the opposing army and demanded unconditional surrender from the Carthaginians. This demand angered them so much that they redoubled their war efforts and eventually succeeded in capturing Regulus.
Eventually, the lust for war cooled among the Carthaginians, and they proposed that Regulus return to Rome on parole and negotiate a peace between the two countries. The general agreed to these terms and returned home. Once there, in stark defiance of the Carthaginians’ wishes, he adamantly urged his fellow Romans to refuse any offers of peace from Carthage. Afterward, against the recommendations of his own people, he returned to Carthage to honorably uphold the terms of his parole. Understandably, his captors were not happy. He is said to have died after being tortured to death. (There is some dispute over this.)
Slavery in the United States was a disturbing institution, to say the least. There was an option for a slave to buy their own freedom, but it took decades to accumulate enough funds. Once free, they could easily be returned to slavery at a whim if they were reported for an infraction as minor and vague as “immorality” or “idleness.” There were also expulsion laws in place that forced free slaves to leave the state within a year, but since buying even their own freedom would take decades, that meant that in many cases, a free slave who bought his freedom would be forced away from his family.
For some of these family men, that was too much to bear, and they chose to return to slavery to be with their families rather than to live free but alone. For example, in the 1830s, one man bought his freedom and was forced out of Virginia. He lived instead in Ohio, where “he remained some time, but not being reconciled to live without his wife.” He had “lately returned to Virginia and [was] anxious to remain,” and the reason given was simple. He “would prefer returning to slavery to losing the society of his wife.”
During World War I, a British officer, Captain Robert Campbell, was captured by the German army and held at a prisoner-of-war camp in Magdeburg, Germany. While in the camp, Campbell received word that his mother was dying. Motivated by love for his mother, he wrote an unorthodox letter addressed to the German emperor himself. In his letter, he requested that he, an officer of the opposing army, be freed and allowed to visit his dying mother. As ridiculous as the request seemed, the answer was even more surprising—the Kaiser agreed. Captain Campbell was allowed to leave on the stipulation that he was duty-bound to return to captivity after seeing his mother.
Captain Campbell was released and made it home via the Netherlands. Because he was an honorable man, he kept his word to the Kaiser and returned to his prisoner-of-war camp after spending a week with his mother. Once he’d fulfilled his word to the Kaiser, he resumed his duty as a captured British officer and immediately set about trying to escape.