Edited by: Maggie Rosenau
There is always one home, a home that once warmed your bones. A home that hurt you so badly, a home you dreamed about but you never lived in, and a home you lived in but you will never come back to again.
This is how I felt when I entered and when I left the Ward nr. 12. I’ve been told that this place will be my home—perhaps even forever—so get used to it. Or maybe don’t, because no one knows if you will survive if your body has the strength and endurance for great pain.
The moment I entered the room I was shocked by the unbearable temperature. It was too hot. Everyone was half-naked. I put my things under me to sit on, stared at everyone and everyone stared back.
We were eight new members added to this cell, bringing the number of residents in this dormitory to 104. I was afraid and stressed by all those eyes on me. I knew that I and the other 7 prisoners took up space they were enjoying. Now they had to keep themselves much closer to each other. This was, of course, no fault of mine. But later, when new prisoners were brought into the cell, I would join this bitter staring.
After the greeting, many came to sit with me, always asking the same first question: how much money do you have in the prisoner’s safe? At first, I didn’t understand why they are asking. How could people like us use money here? I learned later that there was a market twice a month. Prisoners could write down what they wanted, depending on how much money they had.
The more money you had, the greater your chances were to spend a nice month eating and taking care of your health and personal cleanliness. But there was one condition for this market: no matter what or how much you bought, half of it went to the guards. You had access to only half, sometimes less, depending on how lucky you were.
The Ward nr.12, like all other wards in this prison, had a group system. The moment you entered the cell, you were sorted into a group with which you shared everything: food, stories, and punishment.
Even as you spent the worst days of your life here, you would need to be in a system, to belong. I was part of 10-person group—one I chose for myself. When I first entered the cell, I saw many familiar faces, people who I had talked with before, and others I saw almost every day in the neighborhood or in the streets. But I joined one particular group because I recognized my friend’s Brother as one of the members. I had seen him several times before, but we never talked. His name was Mahmoud. He also recognized me and called me to sit beside him so I did.
Recognizing Mahmoud was one of the best moments. I was no longer alone. He leaned his back against the wall the first day he entered the Cell and he had been there 4 months when I met him. I asked him about everything, about how I will live here, how I will get used to this cruel place. How will I adapt to the temperature? What do we eat and how do we sleep? Who are those old people who are sitting there and what have they done?
There were around 13 old men between 60 and 80 years old. These men had their own space to sit and their own wall to lean on. They were always either talking to each other or praying to God. It was so pitiful looking at these old faces—seeing each hold on to his power, willing to survive perhaps to meet his children and grandchildren one more time. They were all strong when other young people were depressed and crying. However, you still can see that this place made their faces older and their hair whiter, and wrinkles increased on their foreheads.
I asked Mahmoud what these men had done to be here. He said: nothing. Every one of them had a story but most of them were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some have sons in the Free Army, so they were captured to put pressure on their boys, the soldiers. Some have crossed paths with the wrong people. Like that man there… his name is Ibrahim.
Ibrahim was a 58 Years old man with beautiful blue eyes. He was married, had two kids and had owned 2 houses. One he lived in with his family, and the other one he rented. Living in the rented house was a woman who paid him a monthly rent, but paid no bills for an entire year—neither electricity or water. Ibrahim kept receiving the bills and asking her to pay them, but she refused. He eventually had to kick her out.
This was in September of 2012. Ibrahim called the police to evict the woman. She was at first surprised. But then she looked at Ibrahim, laughed and said: you still have a time to retract your complaint and leave me alone. Or, I swear to you, you will spend the rest of your life behind bars.
Ibrahim did not listen to her. As he evicted the woman, she continued to threaten him as she left. Two weeks later There was a large wave of arrests in the neighborhood where he lived, He was arrested without reason. Well, of course, he knew why, but it was his right to evict the tenant. Ibrahim told me his story one afternoon after having spent almost two months here, two months waiting in the Ward nr.12 with no questions asked. He sat there waiting for the start of an investigation so he could prove his innocence. He believed his old age could be a testament to his innocence.
Finally, after two months, he was called to follow a guard outside and was gone for 3 hours. Later that day, the door opened and Ibrahim returned, happy and laughing and almost crying from joy. He sat beside me, laughing and thanking God.
“They listened to me! They let me talk and I told them my story and they believed me! I told them about the woman, I gave them her name. They told me I might be right because they had done some research and they found that she has a brother working as a sergeant in this prison! It would have been easy to drag me to this cell!”
I was very happy for Ibrahim. We congratulated him and promised him he would be out so soon. So it seemed. For the next few days, a smile never left his face. Dreams of meeting his family and going back to his regular life grew more and more. One week later the guards called on him again. We understood he was being called for another investigation, or to perhaps sign papers in order to leave. But this was not the case. Ibrahim came back after a few hours. All hope was gone from his face. The effects of torture were visible on his body. He came inside, barely able to walk, his feet swollen. His back was covered with wide blue lines left by severe beatings with a metal rod. His face was the saddest I have ever seen. I saw a man my father’s age, crying like a child. I also cried. I cried with him. I could not handle the defeat in his face.
Ibrahim sat beside me and hid his face with his hands. We asked what happened. He said but one sentence: I have been sold—she bought them with some money and now they are on her side.
The next days Ibrahim was silent, falling into a deep depression. His sad face showed slight reactions here and there from deep thinking. I was massaged his feet and legs, talked to him. He gave no response. He was listening but not answering. Sometimes he smiled. I smiled back to him. I loved this old man. He was a pure soul, abandoned behind these walls and bars.
A few weeks later the guards called on Ibrahim again. He pretended not to hear his name. Or perhaps he was deep in his own thoughts and did not hear. I said nothing. I did not want to be the one to bring him to these monsters. Instead, others began shouting at him to alert him to his number being called. They helped him stand but he was afraid. Ibrahim went out so fast—almost running. Perhaps he thought it was his call to freedom.
One hour later he entered the ward with the same sad, crying face. I saw something new in his eyes, and I swear, that look is something that will live with me forever. This was not depression or merely pain I saw. Ibrahim stood in the middle, spoke no words, and showed us his bleeding broken blue hands. Such injustice that broke this man. He stood, crying and scanning around himself trying to find a place to rest what was left of him. There is not much left in this story of Ibrahim.
Days later, Ibrahim did not rise for breakfast. We were certain was alive, but when there was no response, a prisoner, who was also a doctor, came to check. This doctor tried to poke him awake with a piece of plastic against Ibrahim’s foot. Nothing. This doctor said Ibrahim had cerebral palsy and that his brain was damaged. If we could get him moved to a Hospital he might survive. I knocked hard and loud on the cell door, shouting sir! … Sir! please help! A guard came and asked cruelly what was the matter. Our doctor explained Ibrahim‘s situation and the guard ordered us to carry Ibrahim outside and leave him there and the guards would take care of it as he said… We did this.
We left Ibrahim on the floor outside. It was impossibly cold outside of the ward. The ground was frozen. We went back inside and prayed for God to save him. We were relieved by the thought that Ibrahim was outside would be cared for so he might survive and return to his family. But I also knew Ibrahim would not be forgiven for what he was falsely accused.
Later in the evening, the door opened and the same guard was standing with another guard who called the three of us to come outside. We stood up and went outside to find Ibrahim still lying on the frozen ground in the same position we left him in that morning. I ran to him but the guard shouted to take him back inside that moment. When I got close to Ibrahim I saw his skin had turned dark and blue. I placed my hand on him, then looked the guard in the eye and said: he is frozen. The guard kicked me twice and ordered us to carry Ibrahim back in. We did this. I was speechless as we returned him to the cell. We put him on the ground and others wrapped him in extra sheets. I took a place near him and sat. I looked at Ibrahim and cried. This was too brutal to see—to think about how cold he must have been, staring and waiting out there for someone to save him. As we tried to warm Ibrahim up, I got close to his face to examine him. Some of us thought he was dead. Others said no he is still alive. Then, Ibrahim opened his eyes and looked at me. The moment our eyes met he smiled and I cried even more. Ibrahim’s eyes then drifted slowly, stopped, and turned to empty space.
I don’t know if he smiled at me or he was just happy to die in our company rather than outside, alone and freezing. He had been left alone out there to die—the guards must have to enjoy watching him freeze. Only when they became bored did they send him inside to avoid the responsibility for his death.
We believed that Ibrahim was happy to see us before he died.
He had two children. Now, his children do not have him anymore. May God rest his soul in peace.
What happens in cinema does not happen in real life. Life has no written scenarios, no actors who make mistakes or stutter. Those who live on this earth have no answers that are deep and intelligent, ever ready on their tongues. They do not speak all the time about the meaning and eternal wisdom. They do not speak in ways that leave the spectator thinking deeply for days after the movie has ended. In real life, there are no re-takes of weak scenes—not because the scene was vulgar or bad, and not because the lightning failed. The dead, when they fall, they do not get up after a short time, smiling while they remove the dust off their shoulders.
In real life, we dust ourselves off while there is usually no one nearby to see this.