Author: Tariq MaQbool
Incarcerated writer, fighting to prove my innocence. You can reach me at Tariq MaQbool #532722/830758C PO Box 861 Trenton NJ 08625 or via JPay.com
Traveling through the corridors of New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), I hear a lot of conversations. It is the usual mixture of all the current events and topics like politics, sports, and entertainment etc. But, today, the entire hallway that takes me to my daily work detail at the prison chapel was full of talk about the, yet another, approaching snowstorm.
Fellow prisoners and some guards were having an interesting conversation about the global warming and its causes from, obviously, very divergent points of view. The news on cable and TV channels was of a whiteout from the Midwest and as far south as Texas and the all the way up to the Northeast. With reports of a polar-vortex plunging Chicago and the surrounding areas dipping 30 degrees below, well that provided a lot of airtime by almost every news anchor worth his/her salt.
Entering the chapel, my fellow coworker, a 35 year veteran of NJSP, and one of my best friends, Shaykh Rafique, stated that it might be a short day of work since it was supposed to snow later and the state of emergency might be declared by the Governor. He was speaking with the institutional Imam, the supervisor of NJSP Chaplaincy Department, and the Protestant staff chaplain, about the severity of the weather and anticipated snow accumulation.
“Well, I hope it’s not that bad, and it doesn’t snow too much,” said the Imam.
I just smirked causing Shaykh Rafique to chuckle, “He wants a big one,” he said as he shook his head laughing. He knew me well enough to know my preference of a massive snowstorm.
They all looked at me with feigned disapproving eyes in a playful manner.
“Yes, I want it snow a whole lot. Actually, I want a complete whiteout. A proper winter wonderland!” I declared my wish openly and proudly.
“Yeah, that is because you don’t have to drive in it,” said the Imam.
“Or, to clean up all of that mess,” added the Reverend.
In response, I just stood there with an exaggerated shoulder shrug and a wide grin.
I love snow. My enchantment began since the very first time I saw a snowfall in the Northern Pakistani Hill Station of Muree when I was just a young boy. It fell thick from the sky in a slow rhythm. It seemed as if white cotton candy slowly floated towards me from the heavens, as if a gift from the angels. I remember running around with my mouth open trying to catch the large white flakes that landed all over my face. There was almost no wind that day and it seemed that time itself had miraculously stopped.
My infatuation with the snow grew as we travelled further into the Northern Pakistani Himalayan labyrinth of snow peaks, glaciers, and valleys in the summer vacations. And it took a whole new meaning when we would come to New York for winter holidays. As a child, watching NYC all decorated during Christmas, and the tree at the Rockefeller Center, changed my entire view of a winter wonderland.
Later, during H.S. years in Long Island, New York, I could smell the snow before it arrived as it refreshed the core of my soul. In those days, since our house was at a short distance, I happily walked to the school thrashing and carving my own path in knee high snow mounds. On the days that school was off due to snowstorms, watching the snowfall sitting in our sunroom was beyond delightful. I would sit and eat a bowl of chocolate ice ream with chocolate sprinkles and watch snow stack up against the sliding doors of the spacious sunroom. The surrounding trees and garden with thick rows of plants would turn powdery white and sitting in that snow covered cocoon felt as if I was in fairy tale of a land beyond imagination. Till this day, those days in Long Island, watching the snowfall, is one of the most serene and cherished memories of my life.
For me, snow has a whimsical effect as it provides a reprieve from the mundane nature of life. Just the mere act of a leisurely swirling earthbound snowflake is enough to calm a restless soul. If you doubt my observation then follow one on a snowy day and you will never need any other meditation technique. It is pure Nirvana!
Nowadays, being incarcerated in a maximum security prison, where I am further isolated – if such feat is even conceptually possible – due to COVID-19 pandemic, snowfall brings back the good memories of my childhood, the best periods of school years, and my first real kiss as a teenager behind the high school gymnasium in Long Island. Even in here, thinking of those days makes me feel nostalgic, yet I also find myself smiling.
But, there is another ‘practical’ reality of why I still love to watch the snowfall in prison. You see, snow provides me with a momentary relief from the sadness of being imprisoned. It somehow magically provides me with a sense of freedom and relaxation. During days when the snowfall is the deepest and hardest, and when the visibility from my cell window is down to almost nothing, the thick coat of snow covers the prison walls, the barbed wires, the never ending chain linked fences, and the entire ambiance of an American prison is changed to something mystical. And, perhaps, for a little while, it almost feels as if I’m sitting in our sunroom in Long Island watching the snowfall.
When it stops snowing and the entire prison compound is covered with white powder, it feels as if the whole world has frozen and the hands of time are held in place by the Grace of GOD. There, frozen, I find a place, a moment, an instant to breathe freely. I inhale and exhale, thinking of the fragrance of fresh snow, as if for the very first time, and perhaps, the very last. My lungs feeling full, and my veins warmed with life, I find my heart and soul tranquil. In the midst of that misty white veil, I also find myself feeling easy, relaxed, and momentarily, alive!
So, I pray, wish, and hope for more days of a snowstorm, a whiteout, and a proper winter wonderland.