This weekend brought a rare bit of good news from the otherwise war- and insanity-torn Middle East: the release of American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was kidnapped in Antakya, Turkey in October 2012 as he was entering Syria. Curtis was held for two years by a group called Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's official Syrian wing.
A 45-year-old Woodstock, Vt. native and Middlebury College alum who often writes under the name Theo Padnos, Curtis clearly has a hankering for venturing to places most of us fear to tread. In the mid-2000s, he pretended to convert to Islam in order to join a radical Yemeni mosque, then later wrote about his experiences in the 2011 book Undercover Muslim: A Journey into Yemen.
Earlier in his career, Curtis spent time teaching literature to thugs, rapists and murderers in the Woodstock Regional Correctional Facility. It was there he met Laird Stanard, a 17-year-old convicted murderer who'd killed his own mother. Curtis' experience later became the subject of his 2003 memoir, My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun.