Now we are in Oklahoma City Detention Center recreation cage in the SHU on the seventh floor when the brother in the next cage greeted me and the first words that came out of his mouth were ‘Assalamu Alaikhum’. I have heard this beautiful Islamic Salutation/greeting in prison may be more than I have heard it in my entire lifetime. Every time you see a brother you say it or he says it. It is the message of peace and a sign of love: ‘Assalamu Alaikhum’. If you were sitting with a non Muslim and a Muslim brother stops by, he will say Asslamu Alaikhum to the brother and he will say hello/hi to the non-Muslim.
Even if you have just finished talking to one brother or have seen him just five minutes ago, you will say it again. It is so beautiful when you hear it so often. The brothers here make a point of saying it over and over because they are PROUD to say it. It is an identity symbol that says hey ‘I am a Muslim’ and that is a source of pride. They are not shy about saying it to their brothers. Even non-Muslims use it a lot when greeting Muslims. It is just an awesome feeling of brotherhood because it says: ‘from me to you, you will have nothing coming but peace and love’.
Today, I was sitting with a Muslim brother and another person who was non-Muslim sitting at a table discussing a Marketing class, a Muslim brother stopped by and said to me and the other Mulsim: ‘Assalamu Alaikhum my dear beloved two brothers’ and then turned to the other person and said: Hello and mentioned his name. In the free world, even some Muslims are embarrassed to use it at work or even in the presence of non-Muslims. Not here, the wearing of the cofi (the cofi is a netted cap that fits the head and is recognized as a Muslim symbol) is very normal and you see Muslims wearing it here all the time. No one comes to Friday prayer (Jumaa) without his cofi. In the free world Muslims put it on only after they enter the Masjed.
The brother who was in next cage told me which prison he was in and why he was in the SHU and how he stood up and defended another Muslim and how Muslims from DC have so much pride in this deen (religion of Islam). He talked about the unbreakable bond he feels with Muslims anywhere and everywhere. Every word that came out of him said one thing and one thing only: I am proud to be Muslim, Allahu Akbar (Allah is great). He talked with pride about his prayer, fasting Ramadan, his love for the Prophet Mohammad Peace be Upon Him, his love for Islam. He almost choked and cried when he talked about his dream of perform Hajj and that it will be a long time before he will ever perform Hajj if ever based on his long long sentence. He talked about his life before Islam and how Islam has changed him. He has absolutely no fear whatsoever. This brother was 5’6”, slim with the heart if a lion.
El-Mezain and Shukri were in an adjacent cages and El-Mezain was shivering because it was very cold. El-Mezain explained to the guard his medical ailments/condition and the pain caused by cold weather and asked the guard to take him back to the cell. The guard refused. Even though El-Mezain pleaded with him and described his many medical issues but to no avail. For an hour, I saw El-Mezain shivering and trying to stay warm by staying in the corner of the cage. After an hour, the guards came and took us back to our cells.
The rest of the time we spent in OKC was ok with the exception of occasional arguments when the guards chose to ignore our request for necessities like shampoo, towel or medicine or show their racism. Thru the air condition vent, Me and Shukri had a contest of arabic poetry where you begin a line of poetry and the other person begins where you end. We also had a lot of singing of nasheed and Palestinian songs. I would have to improvise and use the sink as Tabla (drum).
It was ironic that the day we arrived in OKC was April 23, 2010. It was fifteen years earlier on the same day April 23, 1995, when the Holy Land Foundation flew in 50 volunteers from the Muslim community in Dallas to help with the relief effort after the OKC Federal building bombing. I was there at the airport back then and received the brothers and all the relief supplies they brought with them. I drove them immediately to the site where they helped several relief organizations such as Feed The Children and others. The Mayor of OKC sent a letter thanking the HLF and its volunteers for their exceptional effort and services. It was the HLF that organized a blood drive in Dallas for the benefit of OKC bombing victims. It was also the HLF that sent 10 volunteers to help in the aftermath of tornadoes ripped thru OKC in 1999 or 2000. All of this effort was never mentioned in the trial.
Finally on Tuesday April 27 morning around 4:00 AM, two guards came and told me and Ghassan to get ready because we were leaving in 30 minutes. We prepared ourselves and around 5:30 AM, they came and asked us to stick our hands out of the hole in the door so they could handcuff us. As we were leaving we shouted our salams to El-Mezain and Shukri telling them that we were leaving and reminding them to be steadfast and keep us in their duaa (prayers). They shouted back with the same. They took us to another room where there were several other inmates waiting. Each inmate from the SHU has two guards assigned to him. One of the guards who was responsible for me was the guard who graduated from Okla. State University. He talked to me and he was extremely nice and wished me well with the appeal.
We were finally taken to the first floor. Me and Ghassan were placed in a room by ourselves while others were placed in other rooms. We waited for a long time. They brought us some food in a bag. I did not eat because I try to avoid eating any food prior to any trip to avoid the need for using the bathroom. We were there for close to three hours and Ghassan did his Yoga routine. We prayed Alduha prayer and I completed my daily thikr (remembrance of Allah) which takes approx. forty-five minutes. I also did my work out routine of push ups and aerobic exercises for an hour. They finally came back and took us to a long hall that leads directly to the plane. Over twenty guards on both sides of the wooden stage placed in the middle of the hall. We were asked to step on the stage and two guards handcuffed (one on each side) chained and handcuffed us and yes, they gave us the special treatment of the black box.
I need to mention that the Detention Center was attached to the airport. They brought more inmates and also handcuffed their hands and chained their legs as well. Only two more inmates received the black box treatment. One of the inmates was a Native American Indian from the Cherokee Tribe of Oklahoma. We were the first to be handcuffed and chained and once that was done, we were escorted to the beginning of the line at the end of the hall and seated to board the plane first. We were about thirty feet away from the airplane. More and more inmates were brought in and it was like an assembly line of handcuffing and chaining.
An African American Inmate was escorted to the beginning of the line ahead of us. As everyone was waiting to board the plane, this inmate started shouting at the head of Air Marshals (AM) who was in charge of the plane. What happened is that prior to him getting handcuffed, he asked the head of the AM for a bandage to cover a cut he has, but he refused to give it to him, and then the inmate asked another guard for the bandage and the head of AM interfered and told the guard not to give it to him. The inmate got very upset on why would this person interfere in his business.
However, the head of AM left before the inmate was able to talk to him. Now both of them (head of Air Marshals and the inmate) were at the beginning of the line waiting to board plane. The inmate took advantage of that and unleashed a flurry of insults, foul language toward the head of AM challenging him to fight and asking him the reason for him interfering and disrespecting him. The head of AM was also angry too and told the inmate that he was in charge of this plane and told him that he will deal with him once everyone boarded the plane. The inmate responded by saying that he does not give a damn about that.
He told him that he fears no one but Allah and only Allah and that he will not allow any creation on earth to disrespect him. The inmate was willing to fight the head of AM one on one if they were to take his handcuffs and chains off. The inmate kept on talking trash to the head of AM for a while without any response from the AM.
As we were sitting the Native American Indian inmate was sitting next to me and started talking about his tribe. He said that he receives approximately $6,000 a month for just being a member of his tribe. This money comes from Casinos throughout Oklahoma. He said that he was half Indian and he talked about his life and the three children he left behind. He was transported to face additional charges for fighting while serving time for conviction of other federal crimes. He was also in the SHU. He talked about the conditions and life on the Indian Reservations. The wide spread consumption of Alcohol, spread of diseases and lack of basic necessities. He talked about Ahmad (his Palestinian friend) who was an incarcerated with him.
He talked about arabian food that his Palestinian friend used to cook (hummus, baba ghannog, fool, Baklava). He was very familiar with the plight of the Palestinian and compared it with the plight of Native American Indians here in America. It was very interesting to hear him talk and his loyalty to Ahmad (his Palestinian friend).
Finally the entire hall was full of handcuffed and chained inmates and they were ready to board the plane. They walked us one by one to board the plane. The hall was designed to gradually elevate where the end of the hall leads directly to door of the plane. As we boarded the plane, several other AM were waiting for us inside the plane directing inmates to their specific seat. Inside the plane, each row was 6 seats wide with three seats on each side of the isle. A very young lady Air Marshal was in charge of seating the inmates and she was the only one who can change seats. After the plane was completely full. The plane took off and we asked one of the guards where we were going and he refused to answer.
After the plane reached it’s flying altitude of 35,000 feet, the Air Marshal announced that if anyone needs to use the restroom, this is the time to do it and it would done row by row. When your row is called, you get up and go to the back of the plane. When it was time for me, I went and the AM was waiting with the door of the restroom open all the time and the AM will search you before and after you use the restroom. We were among a handful inmates who received the black box treatment and it made the entire trip extremely difficult.
First of all we were cramped in between two people on the plane. We couldn’t scratch our head, our wrists were in pain, we were stuck in our seats for a long time. We couldn’t move our hands. It’s like we were frozen in place. The inmate next to me was being transferred from one prison to another to finish serving his sentence. He talked about how he almost became a Muslim.
The Native American was sitting behind us and he talked more about his palestinian friend Ahmad and some of the Arabic language words he learned from him. He recalled words like habeebi (my love), Baklava, Marhaba (hello), and he was also taught several bad cuss words. I told him to refrain from using any of the cuss words. The Muslim inmate who had the fight with the head of the AM was also seated behind us and he talked about his love for Islam. He also talked about how he was over 45 years old and the fact that he has been in jail since he was 17 years old. He said that he does not know any life outside prison.
They brought us a bag of food for lunch. Me and Ghassan had to help each other out eat our lunch and drink the water. Finally after three hours the plane landed in Philadelphia Airport. After the landing, several FBI, Sheriffs, Police cars and personnel were waiting and they led the plane to an isolated runway where it parked. Several Air Marshals came out of the plane with their machine guns and surrounded the plane from all directions. Soon after that several buses full of inmates from different prisons arrived and several inmates from the plane were taken out and several inmates were brought in from these buses. It was cold and a lot of these inmates had to stay outside the buses shivering in the cold for as much as forty-five minutes waiting to board the plane. An unmarked van also came in with two females in street clothes and boarded the plane. After approx. an hour and half, the plane was full again and took off from Philadelphia.
Back on the plane, the Air Marshals came to our row and said: you and you! get up as he pointed at me and Ghassan. In the next email I will tell you the rest.