One night in January 1965, when Jenkins was 24 years old, those fears finally came to a head. Terrified that he would get shot while on duty or be reassigned to fight in Vietnam, he turned to the bottle. Then, drunk and full of despair, he decided to make a break for it.
As a U.S. soldier, Jenkins knew the dangers of his plan all too well. If caught by his own side, he could face spending the rest of his life behind bars. Nonetheless, he planned to travel through North Korea into Russia, where he would attempt to claim political asylum.
Ironically, it was a decision that would result in imprisonment of a different kind. “I did not understand that the country I was seeking temporary refuge in was literally a giant, demented prison,” he later wrote in Reluctant Communist, his 2009 biography. “Once someone goes there, they almost never get out.”