The Great Escape
A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America
"An eye-opening look at the world of global itinerant workers . . . The Great Escape is a must-read." —The New York Times Book Review
The astonishing story of immigrants lured to the United States from India and trapped in forced labor—told by the visionary labor leader who engineered their escape and set them on a path to citizenship.
In late 2006, Saket Soni, a twenty-eight-year-old Indian-born community organizer, received an anonymous phone call from an Indian migrant worker in Mississippi. He was one of five hundred men trapped in squalid Gulf Coast “man camps,” surrounded by barbed wire, watched by guards, crammed into cold trailers with putrid toilets, forced to eat moldy bread and frozen rice. Recruiters had promised them good jobs and green cards. The men had scraped up $20,000 each for this “opportunity” to rebuild hurricane-wrecked oil rigs, leaving their families in impossible debt. During a series of clandestine meetings, Soni and the workers devised a bold plan. In The Great Escape, Soni traces the workers’ extraordinary escape, their march on foot to Washington, DC, and their twenty-three-day hunger strike to bring attention to their cause. Along the way, ICE agents try to deport the men, company officials work to discredit them, and politicians avert their eyes. But none of this shakes the workers’ determination to win their dignity and keep their promises to their families.
Weaving a deeply personal journey with a riveting tale of twenty-first-century forced labor, Soni takes us into the lives of the immigrant workers the United States increasingly relies on to rebuild after climate disasters. The Great Escape is the gripping story of one of the largest human trafficking cases in modern American history—and the workers’ heroic journey for justice.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Forced labor, secret escapes, government spies, and political intrigue. No, this isn’t a thriller—it’s all true. Activist and organizer Saket Soni draws us into the ordeal of the hundreds of Indian workers who spent their life savings to come to the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina, lured by the promise of good-paying jobs rebuilding damaged oil rigs—and green cards too. But those promises turned out to be blatant lies, with workers kept in literal captivity in squalid conditions. Soni, an Indian immigrant himself, helped the workers escape and march to Washington, DC, in search of justice. He helps us understand the cultural and family dynamics that pushed these desperate men into this horrendous trap, as well as the powerful forces that shape immigration policies and politics. The Great Escape is a story of resilience, solidarity, and the power of workers uniting.
In this revelatory debut, Soni, founder of the labor rights nonprofit Resilience Force, recounts the civil rights crusade of 500 workers from India who were recruited to work for Signal International, an American oil rig builder, under the false promise of a green card. In 2006, the workers arrived at the Mississippi "man camp facility," which consisted of "sardine-can" housing trailers, inedible food, and broken-down bathrooms. The next year, Soni helped hundreds of the workers organize an escape from the camp, only for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to try to deport them. Taking a page from the civil rights movement, Soni and 60 workers marched in protest from Mississippi to Washington, D.C., where they staged a 31-day hunger strike. The workers also filed a class action lawsuit against Signal that concluded in 2015 when a federal jury found Signal guilty of committing labor fraud and trafficking, among other charges. Soni writes with empathy ("Jacob was carrying the burdens of his coworkers, and now I was carrying his") and conviction ("Our march would be a traveling act of civil disobedience"). This is a searing account of the harrowing road to justice. Agent: David Larabell, CAA.
This is just another example of why our schools need to be teaching the truth about all of our history, not just the rosy pictures that don’t fit the truth!
Our shared history, both past and present is full of stories that are painful to hear, but need to be told anyway! The more we understand the past, the least likely we will be to repeat it.
America’s true greatness comes from correcting wrongs. And the sooner we acknowledge the wrongs, the quicker we can become the nation we SHOULD be!