Now we were in Oklahoma City Detention Center and the bus just arrived and one of the guards pointed his finger at the four of us and said: ‘You, you, you, and you get up now,’ and asked the rest of the inmates to remain seated.
We were taken first into the building and they put us in a room (15 ft x15 ft) by ourselves. The room had big windows with bars so you can see what is happening outside the room. We saw as the rest of the inmates were taken to other rooms. Some of the inmates were placed in individual cages just like monkeys. I could see about six or seven cages adjacent to each other across the hall from our room. We thought that they will come to take us soon but it took them over three hours to come back.
The room had benches all around it and also had a toilet and a sink that is attached to it. The benches were one foot wide which is not enough to sleep [on]. The walls were completely covered with aluminium sheets panels so no one can write or scratch them. We talked for a while and then we prayed Thuhor and Asr prayer combined. I started singing all the songs I remembered and everyone including El-Mezain joined in dancing the Palestinian Dabkha.
After a while we rested and Ghassan started doing his Yoga routine. Shukri and El-Mezain started talking to each other. Every once and awhile we would look outside the windows to see what is going on outside and see streams of new inmates coming. FBI Agents, Sheriff Deputies, Police officers and inmates in street clothes or jail outfits were coming in. Every once and awhile someone will shout and say ‘Assalamu Alaikhum’ when they recognize that we were Muslims. Those shouting were Muslims and or want to be Muslims.
Muslims are well known and well respected in the entire prison system. They are one group united together. No one messes with or harasses the Muslims. Everyone knows that Muslim inmates are clean, don’t do drugs, don’t gamble, are honourable and take care of their brothers. And so when one Muslims does any of these things, the Muslims will tell him to STOP and he will. Muslims hold themselves to a very high standard and degree of moral values. Jail Administrators, guards and other staff like the Muslims because they are rarely involved in producing Alcohol, drugs, gambling or homosexuality or other illegal activities happening in jail.
In other words they do not get involved in things that causes trouble such as fighting, stabbing, or killing. The prison system is a very wild jungle. Each inmate belongs to some group or gang. [There are] very few individuals that do not belong to a group. Each group bands together to protect itself and members and to be able to keep the peace with the other groups.
There are all kind of Muslims from a variety of countries, cultures, ethnicities. You will find Muslims who are Arabs, Pakistani, Indians, Tajikstani, Somali, Turkish, European, and African Americans etc. You will find a variety of Mexican groups and gangs. White, blacks, and others groups and gangs. There are unwritten rules that everyone understands:
Rule # 1: YOU MUST RESPECT EVERYONE. YOU CANNOT SHOW ANY DISRESPECT TO ANY RELIGION OR ETHNICITY OR COLOUR OR CULTURE. WHERE THERE IS A LINE, YOU STAND IN LINE, YOU NEVER JUMP THE LINE. THAT IS DISRESPECT AND THAT IS A CAUSE FOR A FIGHT, MAY BE A BIG FIGHT that may result in a lock down of the entire unit (lock down when inmates are locked in their cells and may be for days with no movement).
You have to be aware of who you deal with and who you associate with. There are some inmates that you will never say good morning or hello to them and they will do the same to you and it is ok. There are some that you will never acknowledge or know their names because it does not matter. Inmates here care about what matters to them. You did not choose to live with them and they did not choose that either. You have no choice but to limit your engagement unless you have to. What is a joke to you is an insult to someone. Stay with the ones you know.
Another thing is THAT YOU DO NOT TRUST ANYONE EXECPT THE ONES YOU KNOW FROM OUTSIDE. OTHER THAN THAT, YOU TRUST NO ONE. If you have nothing to say, just do not say it. Things can and will be misinterpreted. Watch, observe, learn and see how things are going before you say or act. You must remember that you are not going anywhere and they are not going anywhere either. Therefore, Jail is much worse than marriage. You will see these faces every morning and deal with some of them at sometime. So make sure you establish the proper relationship. In marriage, if things do not work out, you can always divorce and get it over with.
Here, you have no control over who is here, why are they here, and how long will they be here. Some are serving two life sentences or very long sentences and so they know that they will never leave jail alive. So they do not care if they stab, harm, or kill anyone. What will happen to them? Put them in jail!! WOW!! they are already in jail. Give them more time, how many more years can they be given, 10, 20, 30 or 40 or 100. Big deal!!! How many more years can you add to a life sentence?
And that is why you have to be watchful and careful. Some of the young inmates, who come off the street with no manners, have no respect for authority whatsoever and act stupid. They learn quickly the rules of prison after the first harsh lesson.
I started reviewing my memorization of Quran and making thkir. I tried to sleep but the room was very cold and I had only a shirt on. They brought us lunch: a bag of chips, bologna sandwich and an apple. We sang and danced for a while and after approximately three to four hours they came and took us. By that time the entire section of R & D (Receive and Discharge) was empty. They took our photos and made us new Identification Cards. While taking the photos I noticed one of the guards has his Oklahoma State University Degree framed.
I asked him if he was an OSU (Oklahoma State University) graduate and he said yes and we started talking about the University and his demeanor and the way he was talking to us changed. He asked me about the years I went to OSU and we carried on along conversation about Stillwater, OK (where OSU is located). He was extremely nice to me and all my three brothers. I asked him for extra bags of food and he gave us 4 extra bags (he was not supposed to).
They took us to a holding room where we waited for a while. They took us and they strip searched us completely. It is called a cavity search where they search every inch of your body. Finally they took us to an office where we signed some papers and told about our final destination USP Marion, ILLINOIS. After that they took us to a holding room where we were handcuffed and escorted by eight guards (each one of us has two guards assigned to him). Then they took us to the seventh floor where the SHU (Special Housing Unit) is and where they keep very dangerous inmates.
When we were in the elevator they asked us to face the elevator. Once we got off the elevator, we saw the Warden (the Warden is the BOSS of the entire Prison) and he was walking around the SHU with the Chaplain. We asked the chaplain for a copy of the Quran which he has on a rack that has other books on it. He refused to give it to us and said he will be back shortly with a copy of the Quran. We never saw him again. They placed me and Ghassan in one cell and El-Mezain and Shukri in another that was next to ours. These SHU cells were fairly new and had toilet with sink and also had a shower.
The cell has two bunk beds on top of each other. On each bed there were a blanket, a pillow and some toilet items (toothpaste, shaving cream, one inch long toothbrush, shampoo) and a towel. If we want new clothes, we must exchange the ones we had one with clean ones. So we wrapped ourselves with the bed sheet and took off our clothes and handed them to the guards before they give us the cleaned ones. We were not allowed to keep any change clothes. We were served three meals a day. There was no extra food in the cell. We ate everything they gave us. We had no choice because we were still hungry after eating the little food they gave us [while we were in transit]
We were able to talk to each Shukri and El-Mezain thru the shared air condition vent that is eight feet high. Talking was very tricky because we had to wait until the other person finished talking completely. We talked about everything. We sang nasheed and songs. We asked the guard to give us paper and pencil and they did bring them four hours later. If you ask for anything, do not expect any service like you are used to. When they say I will be right back, means I will come back in one, two or three hours or never. They make the choice. The majority of the guards here displayed a very racist hateful attitude.
They have read in our files lies, half truths, exaggerations, fabrications and they believe them. They do not care and are not willing to listen to you. They are like robots. Stanford University has done a study about government employees behavior and it’s conclusion is fascinating. The study says that government employees are like robots that follow rules and regulations even if it defies logic. And when they encounter a situation not in the rule book, they do not know what to do or how to react.
They are trained like the military; they say ‘Yes sir’ to everything, meaning: My mind is not here, only my body. I am not paid to think, I am paid to follow rules. I see it every day here in the Prison. The majority of the guards walk around like robots. Forget logic, reasoning or rational thinking. You will not find these vocabularies in their dictionary. Any question must have an answer in the rules and regulations book. If it does not, then they have a problem. Well, not really — they will make a new rule.
Being here in prison and dealing with the Prison System is like playing a chess game. When they are about to lose, they move the pieces as they wish, make new rules, start a new game or just cancel the game and take the chess board and go home. In other words you can never win. We arrived Friday morning approximately 10:00 AM and it was around 3:00 pm when we finally got to our cells. We were really tired. We ate the extra bag of food we had. Ghassan and I relaxed and then slept for a while.
We woke up a hour or so later. We could not tell the time of sunset so we can pray Maghreb. The cell has a thick glass panel window five inches wide that looks to the outside and you can hardly see thru it. I kept looking until I thought it was dark. We prayed Maghreb and Isha combined and went to sleep. Next day was Saturday and we both woke up early to pray. They brought Breakfast around 6:00 am. We started reviewing what we have memorized of Quran and planned to continue memorization of Surat Al-Isra.
In Seagoville, we started together memorizing Surat Al-Isra. Now we had no Quran and we needed someone to tell us the rest of the surat so we can memorize it. We talked to El-Mezain thru the air conditioning vent and asked him to read us loud the first five pages of the Surat so we can write them down to memorize them. It was very hard because of the variety of noises from everywhere; echo and we had to ask him several times to repeat the words so we can write them. It took over one hour to write the first five pages of Surat Al-Isra.
Then Ghassan and I started memorizing the Surat. We were memorizing or reviewing these five pages most of the time and by Sunday we have memorized two pages. Quran was the only thing on our minds. By Monday we had memorized three pages. We were constantly helping each other. This was an amazing experience of memorizing the Quran. I always wondered why is it that when I had a beautiful Quran in my hand, it was hard to memorize and did not take full advantage of that. It took being confined in the SHU without Quran to memorize three pages that would normally take me at least a week to memorize. I did it in two days.
Then it dawned on me that being here in the SHU is not a punishment but one great blessing from Allah to facilitate my memorization of three pages of Surat Al-Isra. Even after I arrived in USP Marion, it took me two more weeks to memorize the other eight pages of Surat Al-Isra. That is one reason why I never question why things happen the way they happen. I just trust Allah and keep moving.
I know that there is always wisdom that I may not know or find out. But it is always there. Throughout our time in OKC we had several loud arguments/encounters with some of the guards who were racist to the bone. We had to stand up for our rights. Their faces and words tells you about the hatred and poison they have in their heart for you. Anything you ask for takes forever to come. They took us out to recreation on Monday morning and I met another Muslim who was in the next cage. He was from Washington DC and the first thing that came out of his mouth is the universal Islamic Salutation: ‘Assalamu Alaikhum’. This brother has something special to share. Read it in the next e-mail.