'Even in prison, one can be free'

'Even in prison, one can be free'
Profile: Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker kidnapped by IS, was a "free spirit" who travelled the globe to help others. Her hometown is paying tribute, and her family has released a revealing letter she wrote while in captivity.
4 min read
11 February, 2015

Kayla Mueller

Kayla Jean Mueller, the American hostage held by the Islamic State group (IS), said in a letter released by her relatives that she took strength in her faith in God and the love of her family during her captivity.

"I have been shown in darkness, light and have learned that even in prison, one can be free", said her handwritten letter which was smuggled out by fellow captives following their release by IS.

     I have come to see that there is good in every situation.

- Kayla Mueller
"I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it", she wrote.

The 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker's letter was released as her death was confirmed by US President Barack Obama. It revealed a lot about the young woman's character in the worst of situations. 

Her family spoke of their heartbreak at losing "a free spirit".

"Our hearts are breaking for our only daughter, but we will continue on in peace, dignity and love for her," her parents Carl and Marsha Mueller said.

Mueller's aunt, Lori Lyon said her niece touched the hearts of people around the world.

In her hometown, Prescott, Arizona, residents began to honour her. Her family encouraged people to donate to organisations Mueller would have supported, saying that big displays of support would not suit her humble nature.

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), with whom Mueller volunteered from August to September 2010 paid tribute to her on its website: "Our hearts are with Kayla, her family, friends, and all those who have lost liberty, lives and loved ones in the global struggle for freedom and human rights."

Kayla Mueller in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem (photo courtesy of the ISM)
With the ISM, Mueller "worked with Palestinians to nonviolently resist the confiscation and destruction of their homes and lands," the ISM statement said. "In the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Occupied East Jerusalem, she stayed with the Kurd family to try and prevent the takeover of their home by Israeli settlers."

She accompanied Palestinian children to school in the Tel Ruimeda neighbourhood in Hebron to protect them from settler and military attacks, and stayed with villagers from Izbat al-Tabib to try to prevent the demolition of village, according to the ISM.

In her own blog in 2010 on her ISM work she wrote:

"Oppression greets us from all angles. Oppression wails from the soldiers' radio and floats through tear gas clouds in the air. Oppression explodes with every sound bomb and sinks deeper into the heart of the mother who has lost her son. But resistance is nestled in the cracks in the wall, resistance flows from the minaret five times a day and resistance sits quietly in jail knowing its time will come again.

"Resistance lives in the grieving mother’s wails and resistance lives in the anger at the lies broadcasted across the globe. Though it is sometimes hard to see and even harder sometimes to harbour, resistance lives. Do not be fooled, resistance lives."

Mueller had been working with Syrian refugees in 2013 in the months before she was kidnapped by IS in Aleppo after leaving a Spanish Doctors without Borders hospital.

“The suffering of the Syrian refugees drew Kayla to the Turkish-Syrian border ... to assist families who had been forced to flee their homes,” her parents said. “The common thread of Kayla’s life has been her quiet leadership and strong desire to serve others.”

Mueller and US ransom policy

Unlike some European countries, the US has a strict policy of refusing to pay ransom for hostages, to discourage financially-motivated kidnappings.

But the policy has been questioned not least since the rise of IS and its use of public beheadings and murders for propaganda.

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Obama refuted the suggestion that the US should have done more to save her.

“I don’t think it’s accurate … to say that the United States government hasn’t done everything we could,” Obama said.

He referred to the raid by Delta Force commandos on an oil refinery in northern Syria in the first official suggestion that the White House believed Mueller had been at the site of the raid.

Telling loved ones that the US would not pay ransoms is "as tough as anything I do" , he said in the interview.

"We will do everything we can short of providing an incentive for future Americans to be caught."