Written By : Nermeen Elbahtyty
This is my voice and I hope one day that I shall tell the story ..
Not merely a story .. but stories
Letters of the alphabet .. Tones .. Voices ..
The rattle of fear issued from the depths of a soul bereaved by injustice
And groans of grief ..
A voice turning into mostly incomprehensible grunts
My voice .. I hope one day that I shall tell the story ..
Not merely a story .. but stories
My heart, you’re heavily burdened with the pain and the shock of your sudden bitter misfortune
This is a diary of the darkest moments in my life
I am in The Women’s Prison
Nermin El Bahtyty
Why don’t I write my story
When I first started writing the very first words of this book, I thought that I should tell my story, with every bit of the wrenching pain, the sudden shock and the severe injustice .. With all the years lost in a futile war, because marriage is a two-sided coin that must be authentic and legitimate on both sides of the coin .. bearing neither force nor fraud .
It’s the story that I carry between my ribs .. My special choices .. my dreams .. the moments of my strength as well as the moments of my weakness !
I tried writing it but I failed, not because of a desire to hide it, but rather because I found, in the women’s prison, stories that are worth telling more than mine. I found bleeding stories , dipped in feelings of injustice, or feelings of remorse over an error in a moment of weakness, which destroyed a human life for many years to come , intentionally or unintentionally
Some of the imprisoned women had grown up in an environment that was entirely far from crime. And some grew up in an environment permeated by crime and got deeply entrenched in it as the deep roots of trees, adhering to their ground, and finding it difficult to uproot themselves from their environment.
Tears and blood, and numerous days of lives spent to no avail, and without any achievement.
Everything surrounding me was raising the question .. Where is justice ?!
Compared to the stories of the other women in the prison, the tragedy was not in my story but in theirs.
Regarding me, I had some ideal successes. So, I reasoned with myself in a consoling manner, there is nothing wrong in a fall once, even if my fall is a resonant experience of unjust prosecution in the women’s prison.
As far as I’m concerned, this is my story .. in one line, more or less. But their stories will need pages and pages of words striving to describe human suffering, negligence, flaws and deliberate cruelty.
I wonder if it is humanly possible to ever explain these women’s emotions while they were forced to undergo their experiences ?
Virginia Wolf, the famous writer, put stones inside her pockets, walked to the river near her home, and plunged into it, trying to commit suicide.
Then came Fatima Naoot, translating Virginia Wolf’s last novella ”An Un-written Novel” giving it the title “Pockets Weighed with Stones’”.
What is the relationship between this and the prisoners’ stories ?
It is not the imprisoned women’s pockets that are burdened with stones. It is their hearts that are burdened with stones. Stones which are difficult to pull away from their poor hearts, because even after they are finally released, there will still be bleeding scars in their tormented souls, which are difficult to cure — hearts burdened with stones of injustice, humiliation, remorse, fear, hesitation, greed and crime.
Sin and innocence are laid bare down here on the prison floor.. Some women are honest and admit their guilt .. some are innocent and wronged .. some are stunned into silence.. And too many are indescribably frightened .. We’re all alike now .. we’re all prisoners .. Human faces bearing numbers of their streets .. their addresses .. their ages.
I fade within myself .. My pen, like a migrant bird, glides freely over the papers, writing and recording freely; while my heart is repeating in condolence : “Someday the tragedy will end .. hold on to hope and patience .. this too shall pass .. everything does eventually.”
I write and make lists.. I learn a great deal, and benefit from my horrific experience, hoping that this may one day be beneficial to others too.
”A documentary Film”
The( Hangran ) are special groups of thieves. The word ‘hangran’ itself means theft without force & without blood. Actually, this is called ”unharmful robbery” in law ! Each group of the Hangran lives clustered in one area as a tribe. A Hangaria woman, like the previously mentioned Rasha, is the sole bread winner in the family and she works as a robber only, while the man’s sole responsibility is teaching the children how to pick pockets skillfully and to rob others of their belongings surreptitiously and confidently. The only time a man goes out is when his wife is arrested !
The Hangran’s robberies are never executed by force, no assault and no armed robberies ever. Instead they depend on their deft fingers and their covert slyness in hoodwinking their victims. They pick pockets and bags skillfully, and stealthily lift anything else that is possible to snatch silently and briskly !
When they’re caught, they’re usually sentenced to six months or a year, because they steal belongings but are not considered really dangerous to human life. Each group of Hangrans live in a province, with several centers, and have a lawyer who is responsible for them. This lawyer negotiates with those who report a Hangaria if she is caught red-handed, and he often succeeds as a negotiator, to reach a compromise between the victim and the robber who is released within days. The Hangran people have their own language, and they live in close proximity. They prevent their women completely from marrying outside their group. Furthermore, they have their own code of honour and self-pride. They do not steal from each other or in their places of residence, but move to other provinces and far away areas, out of respect for the detective officer in the area of their residence !
The territories and farms where the Hangran live in clusters, are known all over Egypt, both by ordinary people and by the police. Many times a girl or woman tried to repent and to refrain from stealing, but neither her family nor the police allowed her this luxury. There is always a records of her thefts, and none of them was ever able to leave her group in order to lead a normal life .. In these cases, the family reported whoever ventured to do so, to the police. Hence, she was jailed !
Inside the police station jail, time went by slowly, heavy with utter sadness, fear and boredom. Yet, miraculously, I sometimes managed to find some comic relief in watching their gestures and listening to their conversations and whispers in their funny peculiar language which was totally unfathomable to me and to the others. I tried to be friendly and offered to share my food and sweets with them, asking them to teach me some of their methods in pickpocketing just for the fun of it and for passing the long, long hours. However, I never succeeded in learning any of their tricks ! No wonder they start training their children at a very early age. It’s really too complicated. Then I tried to convince them to teach me some words of their language, but many of them are very conservative and wary of others. I didn’t give up and continued trying to persuade them till eventually one of them taught me some words and warnings in their language. She also explained to me that they do not walk individually but in groups. The women in a Hangran family enjoy luxuries such as going together from place to place in a private car. They go to any neighboring city and they spread steadily in areas of gatherings such as banks and markets, and watch everyone very closely, without showing it, especially the women. Special attention is paid to a tired-looking woman or a woman who is carring a baby or a child and carries her handbag negligently. Some Hangari women carry razors in order to slit openings in bags and purses and rob unsuspecting people silently and gently while other people are chatting. Few of them snatch something and flee quickly and those are the ones who aren’t well-trained.
The reason for their spreading in one area at a time, is to quickly gather themselves together when one of them gets caught, so that they can help her. Each province that has a group of Hangran inhabitants, has a lawyer who specializes in freeing a Hangaria in a case of misdemeanor, not a felony. Fabrication is relatively easy in cases involving misdemeanors. Changing the witnesses and manipulating everything is no big deal in such cases. The lawyer’s main task here is dealing with the witnesses. In the end a mutual consent between the victim and the witnesses is reached, orchestrated by the lawyer. The case costs approximately 8000 pounds .. During the period of my imprisonment, not one single Hangaria stayed in jail more than a few days, maximum a week. A Hangaria gets arrested on charges of the so-called ”unharmful theft”, is judged and is given a sentence from six months to a year maximum, and then a week or less later, she submits an appeal, goes on trial again and is finally granted an acquittal !?!
Eating from her / their food is inevitable, or else I’d be considered as an informant and I’d be subjected to her harrassment.
I always asked them if that food was bought with the money they had stolen. ”Yes,” they answered, ”How else can we eat and live?”
I laughed with them and ate a little, despite feeling inhibited and discouraged.
Sometimes I used to reason with myself inwardly, thinking that maybe a few forced bites of ‘ethically forbidden’ food ( because it was bought with stolen money) inside the prison is harmless. After all, refusing their food meant being exposed to their harrassment, which is unbearable.
I ask myself : Is it a sin to be compelled to eat food that was bought with illegal money?
I ask my homeland : I wonder how many are compelled to live on illegal sources now?
Some vocabulary in the Hangran’s language :
A man means menz
The woman means elgudi
Ellahsah means the theft
Tigan means Hangran
The girl means elbotor
The little child means elwiti
Ellamu elberi means a senior officer
Lamu shenkoti means a junior officer
Arwi goba means coins
Elbalag means a necklace
Krahana means a bracelet.
Some phrases in the Hangran’s language :
Elmenz khasto arwi sohni .. meaning : this man has a lot of money.
Elfirna Mqafesh .. meaning : The detective is standing.
Adgo hanetrab ya patria .. meaning : Run away quickly or we’ll get caught.
Ellamu ptaaha biqahes ellamu sohni .. meaning : This police-officer takes bribes and will arrange matters.
Why is the problem of the Hangran’s existence in the midst of villages, hamlets and in most provinces, left unsolved ?! Why are they left to practice their robberies in broad daylight, undeterred ?! Why not allow them to repent and help them to have proper jobs, education and stable livelihoods instead of continuing to be petty thieves? Why not offer them rehabilitation so as to restructure their values and beliefs, thus eliminating this kind of theft for good ? These questions need explicit and urgent answers from the Ministry of Interior .. will they answer ?
After his futile quarrel with Om Seddiq, the officer went out of our prison cell, and I kept thinking about what he did .. There was absolutely no reason for what he did. Unless it was only his feeling that he must impose his control over the prisoners, and to refute Om Seddiq’s bold statement about the police’s momentary inability to oppress and terrorize people like some of them did before.
That was what made him quickly and rashly gather his soldiers and informants ( instead of curbing his hot temper ) and enter with them our cell in a show of bravado in order to frighten three imprisoned women and to prove to Om Seddiq, or rather to himself, that he is still controlling everything around him.
As a matter of fact, there was a period after the revolution on 25 January 2013, when there were many police officers and detectives who confined themselves in their offices and limited their work to office-work only, avoiding on purpose any contact with people or prisoners. Little did I know then what is known now, that after some time, some of them will return to their same old methods of oppression, which is what’s happening now unfortunately.
Looking back I remember that six months before this incident, Mayada ( 29 years old, and with a record of 36 robberies under duress) was singing in her beautiful sonorous voice :
It’s my fault .. it’s because of my gentleness
But if you had seen my harshness once .. your heart wouldn’t have forsaken me
You took me for granted .. you underestimated me because of my devotion
Though you’ve been mistreating me for a year.
The police officer on duty shouts at Mayada to shut up and stop singing, but she continues singing with a naughty smile :
But I swear by our times together
That I’ll make you experience all the pain which you had caused me
All what we had before is entirely different from what you’ll see from now on
You’ll see how hard your life will be, you won’t be able to rest or sleep.
The cell door opens, ‘a number of soldiers’ enter, they drag Mayada to stand in front of the door .. We hear her screams .. a number of blows to her face by the officer, ” This will teach you to be polite, you daughter of … ”.
In pain, Mayada screams a warning,” I’m pregnant. If you hurt me anymore you’ll be in trouble.”
The officer responds,” I’ll kill you and bury you if you utter another word.”
The soldiers and detectives push Mayada back inside the cell, and she continues to scream in anguish, scratching her face with her fingernails in frustration, banging her head against the wall and hurling insults at the officer who goes out and locks the cell door.
8/4/2011 at 8 pm :
Zakaria Azmi, Chef de Cabinet, is now stepping inside Tora Prison , to be with his colleagues in Mubarak’s government : Al Maghraby, Garana, Habib al-Adli ( Minister of Interior) , Aahdy Fadel and Ibrahim Suleiman ( chairmen of two big state-newspapers.
Sunday 10/4/2011 :
Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, had their case presented at the graft, then were transfered toTora Prison a few days after this date.
As for Hosni Mubarak, he suffers from the inability to move, and sends a request to the Attorney General to be questioned at his home in Sharm el-Sheikh. He is apprehended and kept inside Sharm el-Sheikh Hospital. He will be held in custody for 15 days on charges of corruption and killing protesters on 28 January, and it is said that he will be judged to life imprisonment.
Again, little did I know then, that by December 2013 there will be a festival of acquittals for most of the old regime’s men and ironically, many of the revolutionary youth are right now in prison.
I tried many times to understand the ability of some people to transform their normal human souls, that our creator granted us with all our natural instincts and innate qualities, into distorted souls .. I see the oppressor’s face as a reflection of the evil, sick soul lurking within, with two patches of soulless eyes moving in bright yellow hotbeds, that seem to the afflicted victim like venomous arrows darting at the vulnerable, inflicting upon them humiliation, pain, blood and a sense of weakness that increases by the day.
And the oppressor’s hands resemble a barren land with obtrusive veins like caves full of heinous secrets that are hidden meticulously in a depraved soul .. cursing their attachement to the ribs of this soul that has become rotten and repulsive .. a mutant soul .. How can they these people live with themselves, knowing their true worth, the wicked side in their petty characters, despite all the pretence of an outwardly elegant appearance ! I marvel at their ability to go through their lives, carrying the heavy burden of their conscience, knowing the magnitude of injustice and agony they had basely inflicted upon the vulnerable, simply because they can ?
Aren’t we all created with pure hearts ? And each heart goes through life struggling to enhance the goodness in it and curb the badness in it, with a clear conscience .. so as not to fall in the abyss of wronging those weaker than us .. so as not to demean our personalities in this degrading manner of abusing others ! And no amount of pretence in demeanour and appearance can hide from us the truth of our choices and actions. All that the conscience bears through a lifetime is printed on the personality, whether it is common sense and good will or baseness and brutality.
A cascade of frightening events takes place .. Faces appear then disappear
The moment the verdict is out
The moment I enter the prison
The days go on with no link between them
Severed days ..
Separate .. Connected .. Together ..!
The Beginning of the Trip, the Agony :
Nothing works .. Any hopes of fun and happiness are crushed when we are exposed to a tragedy ..any eager aspirations we may have to lessen the cruelty of the blow .. Any wishes for freedom when we are captives behind walls of deadly notions .. all turn into a carrion’s fetid scent, and whenever we run away from the stink, with the purity of our hearts and our innocence, the stink catches up with us again, making us dread what awaits us, and we can not escape.
The shock is this thunderbolt which strikes us without our being aware of its’ coming or that it’s even possible .. The shock is what shakes our certainty of standing on solid ground, with our life-long roots trenched and stretched deeply in the diverge directions of our integrity. Aghast, we realize that the trauma has quickly absorbed the water of life in us, turning us into a vast wasteland, with towering dry trees bearing the pallor of death on their dry branches. The harsh coldness of reality.
Is this really happening to me ? !
She felt the floor crumbling under her feet.
Her elegant clothes hinted at a high social level. Her composure and indifferent glances made her stand out. She had an aura of kindness and transcendentalism as if she’s from somewhere else, almost another planet. Inner peace, self-confidence and a serene beauty envelops her face. From the first minute she stepped into the courtroom, her calm behavior indicated poise and confidence of her innocence.
This is me.
I look at myself from afar, and tell my story as if it is someone else’s, perhaps then I can explain ..
10/10/2010 The Secretary of the Criminal Elementary Court in Zagazig shouts in a loud voice, announcing the commencement of the court.
Everyone stood up, directing their eyes towards the majestic-looking judge, who entered quietly .. The jugdge was in his late fifties, with piercing eyes. She noticed how deeply he looked at her when he asked her about the circumstances of her involvement in the incident of fraud. She didn’t understand .. The purpose of her presence in the court was to testify with one of the lawyers that he didn’t commit fraud .. She didn’t know she was accused of anything !How on earth was she implicated in this case ?!
The calamity lies in the issue itself and it may be useful to start at the beginning.
The fact of the matter is that the issues and loopholes in The Personal Status Law are grave and may cause social chaos and expose women who demand khulaa* to be held accountable for things they didn’t do !
The peril lies in the laws related to fraud and the extent of the enforcement of the law .. And
related to the lack of conscientiousness, the reluctance of some witnesses to testify to the truth, the spreading of perjury and how ease it is to the accuse innocent people and destroy their lives ..
And related to the community, which must provide a safe haven for every woman who is being brutally wronged ..
And related to organizations that work to defend the rights of women yet make suggestions and change laws without the slightest thought or logic ..
And finally related to the only man who always stood by me and insisted on my innocence, the man who had written my first marriage certificate in which I had the right to divorce myself. This same man admitted that it was his mistake, not mine, in writing a word that was afterwards exploited by my ex-husband to take me back against my will. Hence, I resorted to solving my problem by filing a khulaa* law suit. ( *Khulaa is a recent procedure in law, by which wives can obtain their divorce without having to prove anything to the court, but only if they forego their right to alimony and other financial rights. These court proceedings can still take up to a year and obviously they’re only for financially independent women.) And this same man argued in court in my defence explaining that a woman who had insisted on stating legally in her marriage certificate that she holds the right to divorce herself freely, and who later suffered at the hands of an abusive husband who destroyed her life, would never resort to fraud but was herself the victim of her husband’s fraud.
How can fraud be committed in a Procedural Court where there is absolutely no reason for fraud in the first place ? !
Why is all this fuss going on about nothing ? !
Regards and respect to Dr. Abdullah Nasr, authorized marriage official in Zagazig Center and Sharia Specialist at the College of Sharia and Law, Azhar University.
At this moment the precariousness of my situation dawned on me. I began to understand why everyone around me had warned me not to attend the hearing of the sentence in this case .. because they suspected that I would be accused, and that the judge is very harsh and gave harsh sentences. My answer was simple, as simple as my understanding of matters in general, ”I didn’t participate in the fraud, I don’t know anything about it, and I do not have the slightest idea about the entire case.”
The judge continues with the rest of the cases and felonies recorded in the stack of papers infront of him .. One by one the accused come in and go out .. The lawyers compete in their defense .. The judge enters the deliberation room with his heap of recorded cases to revise them for the last time, then comes out, and declares the sentence : “Three years of rigorous imprisonment” !
For me ?????
Humans are different from each other, and divided, with varying degrees, into souls that lost their way in life, and souls that committed themselves through life to God’s endowment of good human nature and common sense, and souls who compiled a bit of this and that; goodness, weakness, badness, thus accumulating both good and bad deeds.
During my ‘journey‘ inside prison, I saw all this .. Various faces and eyes .. steady eyes, hesitant eyes and frightened eyes.
I ask myself in disbelief,” I’m charged with fraud ?? No, I’m not just charged, I’m now convicted of fraud !!
A question was storming in my mind,”When can I appeal the sentence and how? I was lead, among others, to another room, which was underneath the court room, and it had an iron door and a thick window in the door. On the other side of the door I spotted the lawyer who had initially hurled me in this case and who now looked shattered. I sped to him and asked him across the thick window in the iron door that separated us, ” When can I appeal the sentence?” Crushed, he answered, ” Six months !” I was incredulous ! This cannot be happening to me. My daughter is in her final year in high school ! My son is at school right now. My clothes are still scattered on my bed because, contrary to what I’m used to do, I didn’t tidy up before I went out today. And my bag ! Where is my bag ? All my belongings, along with a large sum of money for my children’s expenses this month, are in my bag !
I remembered that the same lawyer had taken it from me when I was entering the prison cell, lost and unaware of what is happening around me.
My family ..my mother .. nobody knows anything !
I’ve become a prisoner !
Six months !
Six months !
I kept repeating this to myself in fear and anxiety and .. Oh Oh Oh .. the memory just kills me and uproots my soul ..
I stayed imprisoned for more than six months.
My confinement became two years.
Yet there were other women who stayed for five years and others for fifteen years.
And the one and only reason for this is the slowness in the litigation stage.
Slow justice is injustice incarnate.
In the deportations room :
The walls are solid and covered in a dull, pale colour on each side. Pale-coloured walls have always bothered me. Only vibrant colors give me delight and joy. What a crazy notion .. How can I expect to find joy in such a calamity ?
Once I entered the room, I felt a constriction in my chest .. the tiled floor is almost covered in dirty bloody spots,resembling a life-long career in human agony, imploring death to come and relieve them of their pain, yet death is oblivious to them and their suffering. My heart sank.
”Madame .. madame,” a faint voice was calling me.
After hours of a fatal blow, lost thoughts, disbelief and my mind repeating unconsciously the words uttered by the judge, ” The court ruled three years of rigorous imprisonment, ” even the low sound of the faint voice calling me was like a hammer bashing my head.
The police secretary called in a dim voice,” How are you madame ?”
Astounded, I said,” Hi .. who are you?”
He responded,” The pasha* told me to see if you need anything. What can I get you ?”
I asked in surprise,” Who is the pasha?”
He replied,”Never mind the name. Do you need anything?”
* Pasha is not an official title in Egypt anymore but it is still informally used with reverence when addressing a police officer.
I answered, ” Yes, I need a telephone.”
He said,” It is forbidden, madame.”
I urge him saying,” No please, how can it be forbidden? Please I need to call my children. No one from my family knows that I’m here, nor do they even know that I was attending the court session.”
I slip 40 pounds in his palm quickly, and ask him to get me a phone urgently, for only a quarter of an hour.
I contact my family ..Everyone is in shock .. I sense the utter sadness in their voices .. .. Minutes pass and I find them around me .. with their pale faces, their eyes tearful, hugging me and unable to imagine that I shall be seperated from them by prison .. for three years .. without any guilt.
I was yanked from the arms of my mother, my father, sisters, my children .. Torn away from their arms and thrown into the desolate deportations room, with its pale walls and distorted flaking paint, crumbling on the heads of the miserable souls beneath it.
The incarcerated women .. each of them has a story .. history .. groans .. a complaint repressed in front of humans, only to be sent in prayers and prostrations at dawn to the most merciful against those souls who are devoid of mercy.
I knew I was going to be bombarded with questions, so I told the other imprisoned women quickly, ”Do not ask me who I am, and why I’m here. Leave me now to cry .. to scream from the depth of my soul.”
I desperately needed some time in silence, hoping to wake up from the numbness of my shock .. the shock of being imprisoned !
The prison-cell was tiny .. 2 meters x 2 meters.. and we were always nine women .. daily .. and sometimes up to twenty in that tiny cell .. and sometimes more !!
After that I decided that I’m on a journey to explore the meaning of injustice .. God gave me a gift, an insight to examine and study the souls of women who are described by God in the following interpretation of a few holy verses : Each soul has a degree of strength in goodness as well as a degree of weakness towards evil .. those who exert some will power and strive to let their strength in goodness prevail, will succeed .. and those who give in to their weakness and let go of their evil instincts / notions will fail.
Morning came after a rough gloomy day, the first day of my detention in the prison cell inside the police station. I spent two months there ! Sixty days of nerves and flesh and blood of women coming in and women going out .. The women who had accompanied me in these two months, were themselves, like all the others whom I saw during the two years of my detention. I lived during those dark days as if I was living outside of my body ..
The meaning of a homeland ..
Do the prisoners know the meaning of a homeland ?
Are they aware of its worth ?
If I asked these women who were released after the revolution, and who had been imprisoned for several years, some without even being guilty or having commited any offense .. if I asked them about the meaning of their homeland, their own country, could they answer my question ?
I don’t think so !
For me a homeland is that happy shiver I felt when I returned home after years of living abroad .. and it’s that longing to see my country and the fear of staying away for too long .. It’s my quiet house .. and my father’s green sunny land .. and the voice of Om Elsayed the widow, as she passes by every morning directly after dawn prayers, calling on her fresh goods, and waking me up early to pray.
Its the voice of the blind muezzin calling for prayers in the mosque next to my house .. his voice stops at ”There is no god but Allah,” and prolongs its pronounciation, breathes strongly and his voice rattles a little. Then he continues in a high-pitched voice, ”Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
The River Nile is my homeland .. and the pyramids .. and the charming Cairo at night.. and the voice of Om Kulthum and our songs about Nasser’s revolution and the conquests of 6 October.
My homeland is the martyrs of the 25 January 2011 revolution and its aftermath .. and the Graffiti of Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
My homeland is the voice of Mohamed Mounir in his poignant songs, and the magnificent words of Al Abnoudy’s epic poem ‘The laughter of Prisoners’ sung by Ali El Haggar .. .. ..
Egypt is my homeland.
So why don’t these women know the meaning of a homeland ! .. Why didn’t they learn and perceive its meaning and its worth ? Our homeland .. they see it as I see it every morning .. Only they know other meanings .. such as the meaning of injustice only, of being wronged and robbed of their rights and their human dignity, the meaning of poverty and destitution only, of having no chance to survive except only by begging, lying, stealing, prostitution, or killing !
They think of a homeland as a place which provides a livelihood for them and their children, whether in a legal way or otherwise. For suffering prisoners, a homeland is a place they live in, and it can let them go hungry .. it doesn’t support them or protect them. In the narrow prison cell, some women approach me, many different women come in and go out and I hardly see them.
Names recur around me .. some of their stories are similar, and other stories are different.
I feel the world around me is a big void.
Days pass by in a meaningless pattern. Sleeping .. waking up .. trivial, worthless conversations .. insults .. obscenities .. attempts to practice ways of hiding a mobile phone and using a charger in secret !
My memory begins to fade. My attempts to remember the past are to no avail. I ask everyone about this, and they tell me the bitter truth,” You’ll forget everything outside prison. Prison causes Alzheimer.”
When does one get used to injustice ? Can one really become accustomed to injustice?
I realised that prison is not for the poor. That was my declaration to the inmates in my cell. There is no food .. no medication .. no feelings of humanity or mercy .. not even answering a simple request, without having money!
Without money, one can’t survive inside prison. No way !
Prison is not for the poor, nor for the free for that matter .. Prison in my country is a bottomless, endless pit !
I received a strange message on my mobile, ”I love you and will always love you.”
I’m flabbergasted ! Who is he?
I dialed the number. The voice surprised me, ”Is this really you?!”
I blurt out, ”I’m in jail, do you know this?”
He replied, ”Yes, I read your case.”
I asked him, ”And how did you get hold of my case?”
His small mirthless laugh pierced ears.
I said, ”I understand, sorry. You’re a prosecutor and can have access to any case to read it. Why did you come today of all days, while I’m in jail?”
He replied quietly, ” I know.”
I insisted, ” So why now?”
He said quietly, ”I think you need my presence now.”
I replied, ” Yes, I need you, but I don’t agree to your presence in my life again. Everything between us has ended a long time ago. Thank you for calling me this time but don’t call me again. We went our seperate ways, and my presence in your life now would harm your future and your presence in my life now would break my will to endure what I’m currently going through. You are part of an oppressive system, which I intend to fight against and I shall dedicate the rest of my life to this till the system is restructured and set on the right track. Do not try to approach me again. Thank you.”
I hang up, and delete the number and the message. I go back to listening to the noisy women in the cell, and to my writing.
My aphorisms in prison :
“My imagination is in controll now, for without it I shall suffocate behind bars.”
“Beware of the fearful for their fear paralyzes them, and beware of the greedy for they are not to be trusted.”
“Prison is not only for the clever ones ( as stated illogically in our old popular proverbs), but also for the guileless, the trusting and the indifferent ones like me.”
“You are guilty until proven innocent, and your innocence exists only in your dreams.”
”The Ministry of Interior has mastered the training of detainees to become sick souls.”
”In prison one eats, sleeps and wakes up but don’t allow the degradation to touch your soul or else it will break your spirit.”
”Imprisonment of the soul is harsher than the imprisonment of the body.”
So liberate your souls, for then you will never ever feel imprisoned, however high and tightly closed the walls of life surrounding you can be. I remember the old story of the bedouin who said, when they came to set him free after twenty years of imprisonment, ”Freedom came early, for there is still time in my life and endurance in my soul to be tested!”
For now I will erase the present from my memory, and start writing about ‘yesterday’. After all, it was ‘yesterday’ which led us all to ‘today’. I will write about stories of people and families .. some of them destroyed others, some destroyed each other, and some had already been destroyed. I will write about some characters for whom prison is their first and last home, and the streets are their domain, their one and only field of work, which in the end led them to prison over and over again.
The prison walls were choking them, draining their lives and the lives of their families.
I shall delve deeply into the ego, and throw myself into the depths of the prison memories, to recall the moment the doors closed, and the sorrow that lasted a long time .. till my soul was finally liberated !
Mayada Bishlah :
The ugliness of the self justifies the ugliness of the surroundings. A green tatoo is carved on her hand bearing her mother’s name, Om Rawheya who adopted her in the first years of her imprisonment. She ‘s twenty seven years old, with a record of thirty-six thefts and permanent disfigurements! She feels that she’s being wronged, and insists indignantly that her precedents are thefts under duress, not dealing in drugs !
Mayada was a tall brunette, with dyed blonde hair and inconsistent features, made worse by marks of knife injuries, which disfigured her, some of which she had done to herself! Like some poor creatures who were living this kind of life and had been repeatedly abused, she was desperate enough to imagine that by injuring herself she can accuse the police officers who were trying to catch her, so that she can bargain and get a lesser sentence. I saw many disfigurements and distinctive marks of injuries in the hands and faces of convicted women and men. Some were inflicted on them and some were of their own doing.
Mayada always had a razor hidden in her mouth, between her tongue and gums ! I tried to learn that trick from her but failed and ended up wounding myself.
She was strong, violent, and repulsive. Any human being abhors her from afar. After a few days with her in the close proximity of the prison-cell, I learned that she was pregnant. Nonetheless, she took various kinds of drugs at night and slept deeply. When she woke up, she sang and danced, despite everything.
Her troubled life was a series of problems and traumas. She grew up in different juvenile prisons, got married more than once, and was raped many times.
I ignored her most of the time, but sometimes I approached her in an attempt to understand her. Mayada was no longer human like us. She reminded me of the vampires in American films, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and her two sides have become indistinguishable. Her attitude was just too much that at times I wanted to scream, to shout at her to stop, but I didn’t. Occasionally I felt impelled to scold her when she, as usual, imposed her will on all of us and controlled the whole cell. But then I would remember her life, and what she had gone through, and that she never had a chance, and that baby in her womb with the tragic fate that awaits him / her, and so I refrain from reprimanding her, or causing yet another one of her too frequent fits of rage.
”My darling, you’re my kidneys, my intestines, my breath of air .. I miss your foot’s heel .. you’re the rooster of my nest …”. I try to sleep, smiling at one of Mayada’s
creative combinations of gushing obscene flirtations and vulgar coquetry, spun by her into musical lyrics on a dancing rythm ! This was how Mayada was trying to influence her husband by telephoning him throughout the day.
I try to sleep then I hear the distant voice of one of Hanan’s sons, talking to his mother and pointing at me, ”Auntie hasn’t brought me the toy, mum.” I remember his wish to play with a toy in our cell and my promise to get him one. I say before I dose off, ”I’ll get it for you tomorrow darling .. Mayada please calm down a little.” And I fall asleep.
After that, I was deported to Qanater Prison , and when I came back to the current prison after some months, I found out that Mayada has been given a verdict of innocence.
Mayada .. Innocent !
The judge had asked her, ”Do you deal in drugs?” She answered him, ”No, I’m registered as a theif only, and I live on the streets and the officer fabricated this case against me and I’m pregnant.”
The judge asked her, ” Is there a lawyer representing you?”
She answered,” No, my lawyer is God.”
The judge announced the verdict, ” Innocence.”
The truth was that Mayada was wasn’t dealing in drugs, but was carrying drugs to her brother at the time of her arrest. She sometimes got him drugs while he was kept in custody, so that he can trade with the prisoners !
A verdict of innocence .. !
He was the same judge who had sentenced me to three years in prison for a case, where I hadn’t written one single word or letter .. and where there was no interest or benefit for me.
After a few hours of her acquittal, Mayada gave birth to her daughter Lobna.
I met her again in the deportations-car. She was carrying her daughter, and she swore to me that she will never ever go back to stealing, and that she will work honestly and honourably.
After I my release, I searched for Mayada .. And I found her ..
She was living with her baby daughter, in a rented room, in a an alley in the city of Zagazig. Every day she left her daughter with her neighbour, and went out to do what she has been doing all her life !
What else ?
And still the streets are bombarded every day by the likes of Mayada .. abused victims who in turn abuse others and sometimes themselves too .. and they multiply .. And still some faces, arms and hands have some signs of injuries, whether because of having been abused by others or as they say, ”I injured myself to blame it on an officer.”
Hanan : ”Children are precious”
She used to sit still, and rarely talked. Her soft sighs, muffled sobbing and subservient attitude expressed her tragedy, her destitution and her bitter life. Her clothes were dirty and her smell stopped anyone from getting close to her. She had a small, weak body, and a small, oval face characterized by its grim whiteness. Next to her was a small baby, less than ten months old, sleeping quietly on the floor most of the time. She had another child, Shady, five years old, who moved incessantly among the women, causing immeasurable chaos. Shady was always responsive to requests from everyone without exception, in return for the little food or candy they gave him, or occasionally some change.
The small prison cell ( 2 meters × 1.5 meters ) could hardly accomodate nine women, with Hanan and her children who took up very little space, directly next to the door of the cell !
Hanan was responsible for putting out the garbage in the morning, and receiving our food rations (the prison food) from the soldiers.
A house of two floors, built of red brick, and facing it is another house built of clay .. and infront of the latter Hanan sits crying because her two children, Mohammed and Omnia, had escaped again from the house and from the cruelty of their father who forced them to beg in the streets. Suddenly the husband pulls Hanan by the hair, dragging her roughly into the house, where he started beating her with a thick hose. She twists and wiggles in pain in front of Shady, one of her children, while baby Ahmad lies screaming on a bed in another room. In her attempts to evade the lashing, Hanan’s clothes recede from her body, revealing burns and deformities in all parts of her small, weak body.
Inside our cell, Hanan’s head-scarf slips back to reveal what’s left of her thin, bristle hair and to show the burnt areas in her scalp.
Horrified, I asked her about her scars and burns.
” My husband hit me with a water-hose,” she answered. ”He used to heat some iron pieces and burn my body, causing these burns and deformities and then forced me to beg.”
He had boiled some water in a pot, then poured it on his children, Omnia and Mohammed, causing first-degree burns. The two children were carried to the hospital where they had two operations. And the hospital informed the police, as part of their routine, of the ‘accident’.
Both Hanan and her husband were arrested. Hanan was detained in the women’s prison with her other two younger children .. while Omnia and Mohammed, after their operations, were kept in the hospital.
The charge was causing permanent disability.
The intention was begging.
Hanan spent seven months in custody, wiping the cell-floor in return for a few bites for her little son Shady, milk for her baby and any leftovers for herself. Hanan’s husband insisted that it was she who had poured the boiling water on their children, but Hanan swore that he was the culprit.
Shady, her little son, told me that the father is the culprit, and that his mother was suffering, like his siblings, from the boiling water and burns inflicted on them by the father.
The prosecution decided to send Hanan and her husband to the felonies department. She was crying next to me whilst I read to her the referral decision of her case.
Then, over a month later, the cell door opened suddenly and in came her two elder children Mohammed and Omnia ! Hanan eagerly embraced her children. Then the two poor souls showed her their burns. Their skin had been patched and grafted, and the marks of primitive sewing appeared on their stomachs and thighs. Parts of Mohammed’s leg still had open wounds, where some blood spots oozed out of the patching.
I insisted on bringing an antibiotic for the two children. I discovered that the hospital had sent them out because Mohammed, who was the eldest, had tried to escape more than once, and the hospital was afraid to be held accountable, and so the children were taken out of the hospital before completing the treatment in full.
The prosecution received the two children, and tried to hand them over to the orphanage, which rejected them, due to the fact that their father is alive (so technically they’re not orphans), and also because they were clearly in need of medical care .. Everyone evaded taking any responsibility for them.
By law, the children cannot stay overnight with us in the prison cell.
The time: A cold night in November.
The location: The police station mosque.
The incident: Mohammed, Omnia and Shady slept inside the mosque, on the floor, a thin table-cloth covering them.
After three full days, the orphanage accepted to host the children. Mohammed and Omnia went to the orphanage, little Shady went to his uncle, and the baby went to his aunt.
As for Hanan, she went back to sitting in her tiny corner next to the cell-door, crying herself to sleep, and crying when she’s awake, and occasionally screaming and swearing that she’s innocent.
And her husband continues to accuse her adamantly !
Hanan was sentenced to three years, on the charge of deliberately disfiguring their children for the purpose of begging. And her husband was sentenced to six years !
Hanan will spend her sentence in Mansoura Public Prison .. Her baby died a few days after the verdict, while the rest of her children were distributed among the orphanage and relatives .. waiting for their mother’s release.
Maha, Hend and Marwa .. Colorful desires :
Maha .. Her name means a deer and she really resembled a deer. A tall, good-looking woman in her thirties, slightly plump yet graceful and attractive, and her fair complexion and beautifully coloured hair were rare in her rural environment. She was married to her cousin and has three children. She was rather hesitant, laughing, smiling all the time.