Friday, 20 June 2014

The prison

by Farah Samuel

Penitentiary, dungeon, cell, dark room are all names of that one place I had the most horrific perception of in my head second to hell. A place where no sane desires to be at. It is a place least spoken about and least accessible. A place nobody even wants to pass by. Yes, I am referring to a jail. As a child I had always dreaded even the thought of being captivated in a jail. I had always pictured it as a gloomy small dark and smelly room with some crazy people behind the bars. Of course those who commit a crime, attempt a murder or are accused of heist are crazy people. For me those were the people who are usually bashed to death if not given a life sentence or hanged. I used to watch crime scene shows on the television and shrills of cold ran through my spine each time I would watch a gruff horrifying face ogling the jailer, behind the bars. I would always think what kind of a life is it that one does not own anymore? The life of a prisoner is only dedicated to disappointment and longing for court hearings which is a matter of fate. Ah! What a pity. I imagined prison inmates as scary creatures, people who can’t be humans for they have perpetrated several crimes and violated the laws. The perception was no less than that of a monster but as much as I was afraid of it, deep inside I actually wanted to visit a jail at least once in my lifetime. I wanted to see and feel the dust of sin, agony and guilt that resides in there and has accumulated innumerous layers of a permanent abode.

The Visit
I would not have ever gotten a chance to visit a jail just by knocking at the door and saying hello to the constable and asking him to let me in nor would have I ever asked my parents to take me to the jail on a leisure trip. It only became possible when I started working as a social activist. I recently got a chance to visit the Central Jail Peshawar- Women Wing. Now let me expound on the what should I say a dreadful experience or an eye opener, whatsoever, my visit. As I entered, I could feel the terror wandering within; the officers and their suspicious eyes. For a moment I felt as though I was their new victim. I shook my head and continued walking. After the security checks what I see is an old building, a big hall just like a dormitory or no, it was more like a dungeon infact that is what it was. I entered inside the hall and there are women, some excited others surprised. I wondered what they were thinking. As they greeted me, the tension in my body started fading away and after a while I discerned no terror at all. There were not more than 10 prisoners. There was a woman crying, on inquiring I found out that her court hearing had been delayed and all the others were consoling her. That was to my surprise something too different from what I had always thought of the inmates, as a child. I never knew they could sympathize with one another and act empathically but they did. I witnessed a few making jewelry. They told me they get paid for it. I did get a necklace for myself just as a memorabilia from the jail and to encourage them for such healthy activities.
While I was interacting, I saw a beautiful young girl with a cheerful smile. My first reaction was very obvious; what must this young lady would have done to be here and on probing, she smiled with embarrassment and said:

“I’m here under section 302-a murder case.”
The constable told me with irony that she was possessed with spirits and had murdered her two kids. I just couldn’t believe what I had heard and after that couldn’t say a word. I thought to myself which mother would ever want to kill her children, the ones she bore in her womb for 9 months but nevertheless there are reasons behind everything.

Amidst all those thoughts, I managed to speak to another woman who was in her late 20’s and asked her for how long she has been in Peshawar Jail and under what accusation. She said:
I’m basically from Mianwalli and have been accused of theft. I used to live in a shanty house with my family. I was a domestic maid and have been accused of theft from the house where I worked. I did not steal anything but even after asserting many times that I didn’t steal, I was put behind the bars. I have been here for the last 9 months.”

Another woman who was sitting quietly in a corner was someone whom I did not expect to come across with. She was quiet and didn’t speak at all. When I inquired from the rest of the inmates as to what had she done they all unanimously uttered:

“She murdered her husband by ripping his chest apart and ate his heart.”
I tried speaking to her but she would not reply and refused to speak to me about anything. That made me curious as well and I wish if I could delve some answers out of her but the stern look on her face warded me off. I felt as she still has a lot of anger and rage within her and had no compunctions in doing what she did.

There was another woman who was carrying an infant in her lap and told me that she came to the jail while she was expecting and her child’s birth place is this horrific place. Her domestic issues had forced her to take the law in her hands and she too had murdered her husband.

Each one of them was living her own misery. Honestly, I did not have anything to say to them, I could not comprehend what those women were going through. Two senior citizens seemed so impervious to their situation as though they had long ago accepted there is no way out and this place is home. There are many such blood curdling stories to share of women who have committed theft, murdered their children and have eaten the heart of their husbands

. I just cannot contemplate what made them do so but I can also not say that there has been no reason to do what they did.
I do wish and pray that next time I’m there, I get to hear that many of them have lived their punishment and are now set free to be good and responsible citizens.
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