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Hostage Support Group Planned : Families of Ex-Beirut Captives Aim to Help Others Adjust

June 11, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

As a chocolate souffle, the finale to a four-course dinner, was set before him, former hostage David Jacobsen took in the scene at Jimmy's, a fashionable restaurant on the fringe of Beverly Hills--the soft lights, fine wine, tinkling piano. And his thoughts turned to Beirut and his "brothers," Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, still held captive there.

"Right now," he said, "it's about six o'clock in the morning," though in their small, windowless basement cell "they don't know it's daylight outside. Tom and Terry have been out twice to see the sun and once to see the moon."

Breakfast for the hostages would be about four hours off--tea and pita bread and a few ounces of cheddar cheese. Or maybe, Jacobsen mused, this was "burrito" day, when the pita is stuffed with yogurt and five olives--"always five olives, unpitted. Terry and I always pre-pitted our olives" he recalled, because the last thing they wanted was a broken tooth.

Formal Papers Drafted

Jacobsen, together with Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, another former hostage, had joined this dinner gathering after a meeting at the Century City law office of Marilyn Barrett to draw up incorporation papers for the International United Hostage Assn., which will be dedicated to providing emotional, psychological and economic support to hostages of political terrorism and their families.

David Collett, 29, an audio-video salesman in the San Fernando Valley and the group's charter president, is someone who understands that need only too well. "I'm the only person at this table who has actually suffered a loss," he observed. His father, Alec, a 64-year-old British journalist on assignment in Beirut for the U.N. Works Relief Agency, was kidnaped in March, 1985 and, it is almost certain, was hanged by his captors, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims, in April, 1986 in retaliation for U.S. air raids on Libya.

When David Collett needed emotional support, he said, none was offered because no effective hostage family network existed. Although his father was a British citizen, he had lived in the United States for 20 years, he said, and the British did not seem vitally interested while, at the same time, Americans viewed Alec Collett as "a British problem."

One result, Collett said, was "I felt left out," not a part of the hostage families' dilemma.

For family members, psychological trauma is a major problem and one of the stated objectives of the new group is to make available both professional crisis intervention and long-term counseling for families. "They're victims too," Jacobsen said, coping with misinformation or lack of information. "The hostages know how they are, where they're being kept and who's keeping them"--and they know they are of more value to their captors alive than dead. "Their families don't."

Dr. Calvin J. Frederick, a UCLA psychiatry professor who will serve on the association's board, notes that psychiatric trauma is commonplace for hostages and their families, that both go through comparable cycles of denial, bargaining, anger and depression.

Upon a hostage's release, he has found both hostage and family are subject to severe psychological stress as they adjust to changes in one another and try to bridge the emotional gaps created by lengthy and anguished separations.

'Power of Unity'

From conversations with relatives of former hostages, Frederick has identified a need for "power of unity among hostage families" as well as support, skill and direction in dealing with the media and in establishing non-adversarial contact with government officials.

Focusing initially on assistance for victims of the Lebanon hostage crisis, the association hopes eventually to make its services available to victims of political terrorism throughout the world.

"I know what my family went through," said Father Lawrence Jenco, 52, a Roman Catholic priest who was released by his captors, the Islamic Jihad on July 26 of last year after 19 months as a hostage.

While Jenco was held, his family, operating on a shoestring, took their cause--his release--from his home in Joliet, Ill., from state to state, mounting an "awareness campaign" complete with balloons, T-shirts, posters and meetings with the media. Meanwhile, they dealt with conflicting reports from Lebanon about his health and whether all the American hostages had been executed by a firing squad.

"Most of the families are not well-to-do," Jenco said, and though they desperately need to communicate their "emotional, spiritual and physical isolation" to others in the same predicament, the cost of long-distance phone calls can be prohibitive. The new organization, through private donations, hopes to help out.

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