This is an isolated Unit from the rest of the prison at USP Marion. Other parts of the prison have a section that has a prison camp and another that is medium security. Unlike other inmates in the Bureau of Prisons, all CMU inmates are not allowed any form of physical contact with their family members, children, wives or loved ones. Inmates are not allowed a brief hug upon greeting or saying goodbye. Inmates are only allowed to talk to their loved ones, children and wives through a thick glass window with a phone hook up that is monitored and recorded by a live person sitting in the next room while another person is watching you as well.
Even though no physical contact is allowed in the visit, yet inmates of the CMU MUST go through a comprehensive body search before the visit AND after the visit they MUST go through strip search (meaning you get totally naked, take off everything and you are searched thoroughly) after the visit.
The ban on physical contact during the visit violates the BOP’s own policy that stresses the importance of family visits as a way to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them to enter normal civilian life after serving their sentences. The CMU’s visitation regulations are even more strict than the rules applied to the Super Max prison ADX in Florence Colorado. These CMU units were created in secrecy since their establishments. They were created without public knowledge and without public comments as required by law.
Inmates who are designated to the CMU are not given a reason and without any way of due process which is a violation and abuse of power and racial and religious profiling. The CMU were created to isolate and separate certain inmates from the general populations in the BOP system. Based on statistics at Marion CMU, over 72% of inmates are Muslims which is 1200% higher than the national average of Muslims inmates in the BOP system. The majority of inmates here are Muslims. They are a collection from several Muslims countries as well as Naturalized U.S. Citizens originally from Muslim countries who has lived in the USA for many years.
Some were brought here!!!!! [Removed] from their own countries or other countries arrested them and handed them to the U.S. Government some of the inmates were transferred from the Maximum Security Super Max prison ADX in Florence Colorado. Some have been in prison for 10, 18, 20 years. Some were sentenced to life, several lives, life plus 27 years, life plus 35 years (this is the first time for me to learn that inmates must serve additional years (beyond their life) in BOP prisons after their death).
Some have been moved around from one prison to another through out their incarceration. Some CMU inmates are whites, African Americans, one or two Hispanic. These non-Muslim inmates are called the “balancers” to make it look like that the CMU is not just for Muslims and has a variety of inmates of different ethnicity, religion and colour.
Life in the CMU:
Every inmate has his own cell. Every cell is small square box. Inside the cell, a raised concrete flat pad that acts as flat bed (about one foot high off the floor). Each cell has a wall locker where inmates keep their personal properties. Each cell has two very small concrete shelves (1 ft x1 ft). Everything here is made up of concrete, even the chairs, and the shelves. The only two things that are not made up of concrete are doors and windows.
Cells do not face each other, they are next to each other lined up in a row. The unit has what is called a recreation area made up of four connected cages that are fenced from all directions. They are exactly like bird cages only they fit human size. Each cage is approx. 20 feet by 20 feet. One of the cages has a roof cover for protection from rain and sun with 2 steel tables anchored and bolted to the ground. The entire recreation area is in a depressed area (one floor lower than the rest of the surrounding buildings).
The inmates here come from different Muslim countries (majority are Palestinian, yes Palestinians!!!!! (that was not a surprise, was it? Palestinians make up 34% of all Muslim inmates here at the CMU?!!!!, Pakistan, India, Jordan, Uzbikstan, Turkey, Somalia, African American, Kurdistan, Eygpt, and Bangladesh).
We do hold Friday and Eid, Taraweeh prayers in congregation. Other prayers are not allowed in congregation (you can only pray by yourself). If two Muslims get caught praying together, they will receive a violation and get punished. They do give us a meal for suhoor in Ramadan and our breakfast meal in Ramadan is the same meals served to other inmates with the only difference is that they bring them in the evening at the time of maghreb prayer for us to break the fast.
We are only allowed to make two phone calls a week which must be scheduled two weeks in advance (each phone call is only fifteen minutes). The phone where you make the call is located in the middle of the hallway. Other inmates outside the CMU have 300 minutes to call anytime. In November the time is increased form 300 to 400 minutes and in December it is increased to 500 minutes while we here at the CMU have only the two phone calls every week.
Also our visitation is non-contact behind thick glass window. We cannot touch, hug or kiss our families while the rest of the inmates in the rest of the prison can have BBQ and enjoy, hug, kiss and touch their loved ones. My daughter tells me that she wants to sit in my lap and wants to see my smile and feel my assuring hug. She asks me why I cannot touch you or kiss you. She said that she hates the thick glass window that separates us. The environment here is ok. Being the majority here is a definite plus. We have our Eid celebrations here specially the month of Ramadan, Eid El-fitr, and Eid El-adha. We do have Friday prayer in congregation in one of the ranges here.
We play volleyball, basketball, handball, can work out outside as much as you can. There are no weights to lift. We have medicine balls and Swiss balls. Medicine balls are heavy balls that are used for exercise. There are three TV’s in every range. Roughly one TV for every six inmates and inmates usually divide their time so each one can gets certain time to watch what he likes. In prison, when there is a fight, it is usually because of the following: TV, drugs, homosexuality, cigarettes, gambling.
Also inmates hate snitching inmates (spies) who testified against their brothers, sisters or friends or co-workers or gang members. In prison, everyone’s reputation follows him no matter where he goes. You cannot screw up in one prison and then get moved to another and start fresh. Somehow, somewhere, one way or another, whatever you did in one prison will be known to the inmates where ever you are moved. The BOP is a small place. Smaller than people think.
Life here is normally static and things are normally very slow but they can go fast at times and the situation can become suddenly dynamic and takes on a life of it’s own. It all depends on how fast BOP wants to enforce selective rules or interpret them different than what they intended to be or may be just flex muscles in response to something that has taken place somewhere else within the compound of the Prison. Or just to show that they are in charge and have the power. No one here disputes their power or the fact they are in charge. There is no need to prove that. It is a well known fact to everyone. I respect and abide by the rules and regulation here at the BOP. These rules and regulations are in place and very critical to maintain the safety and order of the prison system.
I have been in jail for over two years and I have not committed one single violation. However, I believe selective enforcement of certain rules against certain groups is abuse of power, unfair and an unconstitutional practice. I must acknowledge that the Warden of this institution is what inmates call “Inmate’s Warden” and that is a huge compliment because she comes to this unit every week and listens to every inmate’s concern and she will tell you straight forward whether she will do something or not. She does respond to every issue you raise. She will not sugar coat issues. You may not like it or you may disagree with her. But at the end of the day, she is fair and she will be the one who will make the call.
I respect that. Last week, the Muslim inmates (which are the majority of inmates at this unit) ate a meal cooked from food bought from what is called commissary (I will explain that later). Inmates pay for the food they buy from commissary and pay for it with money deposited in their BOP accounts. The meal was eaten in the open range under the view of the video cameras surrounding the entire Unit in addition to the listening devices implanted throughout the unit.
Muslim inmates prepared oatmeal crust pizzas and beans and ate the meal as everyone here including the correctional officers (guards) were walking by and observing. There was no meeting, no speeches, no speakers, nothing organized just a meal. Muslim Inmates came to the range, ate some food and left as they pleased. It was just a meal just like when other inmates share a meal, watch TV or play cards or just sit around and talk. The food was prepared and eaten in the open. There was no secrecy about it. People [just] sat on the floor and enjoyed the meal.
Four days later, the BOP decided to criminalize this leisure activity and gave every Muslim inmate who ate an incident report which is a violation of the BOP rules and regulations. Some Muslim inmates who received the incident report were given punishment ranging from number of days of not being allowed to use the phone or a number of days of no commissary.
It is bad enough that inmates here are only allowed two fifteen minute calls per week to stay in touch with their families and now even that will be cut off for a number of days. Now why has this act of inmates enjoying each other’s company and eating food suddenly become a violation of the BOP rules and a punishable act? We do not know. Like I said, when it comes to dealing with the BOP it’s like playing chess with them. When they are about to loose, they give themselves the right to move the pieces on the board as we wish or they can make up new rules or just simply cancel the game and take the board and go home if they wish.
They follow the rules that are in their favour, even rules that are not in their favour they simply interpret them in their favour or simply make up new rules that fits exactly their needs. In other words, YOU WILL NEVER WIN!!!!!!!!!!!! Only if you take them to court and win. Other than that, you will loose every time. Now BOP’s own rules and regulations manual DOES ENCOURAGE ALL INMATES to participate in leisure activities including social and cultural organization.
The BOP also encourages all sports activities, encourages inmates to visit with each other. It is all in the manual that has their rules and regulations. In addition, there are no written statements, rules or regulations posted anywhere in the CMU Unit or in the inmate’s handbook stating that inmates of the CMU unit cannot gather to eat meals together. No prior warning was given or any indication that these meals are prohibited.
So what did the Muslim inmates do that is out of line and deserving of punishment? Well, really nothing, it is the BOP that decided to just make it that way. And that is no different than the outside world where Muslims are being singled out for racism and discriminatory treatment.
The second issue is criminalizing congregational prayer. This means that if two Muslims pray together, the two will be given an incident report and get punished for praying together. The US Supreme Court back in 1965 defined “Substantial burden” as one that forces a person to choose between following the precept of (his) religion and forfeiting (governmental) benefits, on one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of (his) religion on the other hand”. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal in 2002 ruled that: ‘forcing a prisoner to choose between his religion and conferring to prison rule so as to have basic privileges and to remain disciplinary-free constitute a substantial burden.’ In 1993 in Conner v. Saki a federal court ruled that ‘A Muslim prisoner was improperly subjected to disciplinary action for making prayer’. So many courts have ruled against the BOP and yet it is another struggle.
And even for the sake of argument, singling out Muslim religious activities for unlawful punishment and restriction while at the same time similar non-Islamic and secular activities are allowed violates clearly establish law of the land. So inmates can gather together and play Bingo, play basketball, play handball, play cards or do anything together. No problem!!! But Muslims CANNOT pray together. Now I need someone smart to explain that!!! What is the harm of two people praying together? It does not negatively affect or impact the BOP operation or security in any form or shape.
BOP caters to some American Indians who belong to a certain religion and provide them with Cigars to smoke as they pray. Yes!! Provide them with cigars to smoke as they pray to accommodate their religion requirements. BOP also accommodates other religions and their requirements. But for Muslims, no, Muslims cannot pray together. BOP has banned it from the CMU. That is not racism. Is it?!!!!
What is the difference between this racism and back in the 1960′s when blacks were forced to sit in the back of the bus or drink only from ‘coloured water fountains only’ and they were punished if they drink from ‘White’s only’. It is 21st century blatant racism style. I hope that the BOP will take a second look at these issues and make it right.
My reflection on this issue is that it is a great blessing for everyone who is in the free world who is able to pray in congregation in the Masjid and yet so many Muslims who are within walking distance or ten or fifteen or even thirty minutes driving distance from the Masjid and yet choose to stay and pray at home while we are here in jail are being punished for praying together and our punishment is cutting us off from talking to our families and loved ones. So just a reminder, when you hear the Athan calling you to pray while watching TV or visiting a friend or doing whatever you are doing, think of us and get up and go and pray in the Masjid because you never know when that blessing will be taken away from you.
So many blessings we take for granted and we will appreciate them only after we loose them. If you cannot go to the Masjid, then gather your family and pray together in CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER and when you finish praying please make duaa and pray for us here at the CMU so we can pray in congregation just like you did with your family.
The guilty decision of the congregational prayer will be appealed to the Warden and then to the Regional Office and then to Washington DC and if necessary to the courts. In the mean time, I can and will make duaa and pray to Allah to shower us with his mercy or blessings for me, my family and my beloved supporting brothers and sisters around the world.