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Police State

June 29, 2020 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | No Comments

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

United States of America has been in denial for a very long time. Regardless of its feigned ASCRIPTION to the ‘Land of the Free’, it is in reality a very, very racist and segregated society that uses its ‘heavy stick’ on its minorities to keep them in line. A ‘line’ that signifies the difference between Whites and the Privileged against the rest of the ‘Other’ Americans.

However, the bloated, and infected, underbelly of this Nation finally burst open and the stinking puss of Racism, Bigotry, and Police Brutality oozed out before the entire world to see and smell. And with the country literally burning, I say the act is up.

If you want more proof, look into the Judicial System and resultant overwhelming incarceration of blacks and other minorities as well. I’m sure that aspect of systematic Institutional Racism and Police Brutality will be more than enlightening.

The MURDER of George Floyd by a White police officer, Derek Chauvin, with the aid of his three cohorts, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was committed in broad daylight in front of dozens of people. The indifference by the 3 fellow officers was a real and practical example of the ‘Blue Wall’ for everyone to witness. Yet, even now, politicians, law enforcement officials, and public figures are bending over backwards in NOT calling it for what it was, a Voluntary, Knowing, and Purposeful act of MURDER.

The problem lies within the ethos of this country’s infatuation with ‘Heroism’. United States thinks of itself as the savior and the sole force of good in this world. It believes that it can do no wrong. And whenever a wrong is committed then it must have been for the greater cause.

This National narcissism is reflected in the apparatus of our country’s military and law enforcement as well. But, of course, whenever that ‘hypocrisy’ is revealed, say in the brutalization of prisoners in Abu Gharaib Prison in Iraq,; Rape and torture of Afia Siddiqui in a black-site in Afghanistan; murders of innocent civilians in multiple war zones, or State side torture of Rodney King, Ahmadou Dialo, Abner Louima, and killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Dontre Hamilton, Tamir Rice, and now George Floyd to name a few; the ‘ rogue’ element or a ‘bad apple’ theory is forwarded.

The truth is, and has been, and shall remain, that everyone in the world sees this sanctimonious ‘bull-crap’ for what it is, a never ending Anthology of Racism.

The ‘cop-out’ or feeble excuse of a few ‘bad apples’ is a disingenuous face-saving farce that is shoved down the proverbial throats of everyday Americans due to their self-imposed conundrum and hypocrisy of worshipping anything that is law enforcement. For example, Robert O’Brien, the National Security Advisor to President Trump, declared on National Media that it was a few ‘bad apples’ in Minnesota, and outright denied any “Systematic Racism”, and went as far to declare that “99.9%” are good police officers and “my heroes”.

An obvious inquiry would be to ask the basis of the cited statistic of 99.9%. But that would remain an enigma, because even in the face of the obvious staggering evidence, the majority of American society is indifferent to Police Brutality and behavior.

The use of disproportionate and overwhelming force is in the Zeitgeist of our country’s stratagem at large. Being locked up in an American maximum security prison, I know about police brutality quite personally. Unlike outside, there is never ever a recording. No witnesses, no watchers recording on phones or telling an officer to “get off” someone’s neck. But, ask any prisoner in this country,and they will tell you horrible details of their own experiences of abuse.

The most hurtful thing is that this is done in the name of you – The Public. And the public’s indifference makes it worse. Because without ever doing any investigation or proper oversight, Police Brutality is neglected and the police Personnel are AUTOMATICALLY labeled as Heroes.

Police Brutality is systematic. It has bee enhanced in recent years due to a few reasons. The most important being the militarization of law enforcement. This was done in two ways. First, police and law enforcement agencies has become a landing zone for ex military personnel. From armed forces to local law enforcement, it is basically an extended retirement plan and fringe benefits formula for former soldiers. Second, with unending wars and profiteering mega companies churning out massive amounts of military gear & equipment, a problem of excessive equipment developed. The military industrial complex and their political contracts could not be stopped, so the residual equipment was passed down to local law enforcement. That thick headedness resulted in, police & corrections officers looking the part of Navy Seals and other Special Forces commandos and, armored vehicles and war zone equipment on the American Street.

Moreover, the ex soldiers also brought the battle field tactics to the American law enforcement arena and perhaps that is more evident behind the thick walls of our prisons. I, and multitude of the over 2.5 million behind bars can validate that fact. Remember the old photos of black men during Civil Rights Movements being held by White police officers and being mauled by German Sheppard dogs. – Those photos are alive behind these prison walls. The use if dogs is a symbol of the old Nazi Era, something that needs to be paid attention to.

Additionally, the militarization has ushered in the so called “wanna be” ‘ Warriors’ mentality to the police officers. Specialized “Warrior Trainings” are being paid for by the police unions and are having a devastating effect. The heavy handedness that is now very visible on streets of this country are direct result of those specialized trainings and ‘brainwashing’ of law enforcement personnel who seem to view the adversaries, American Civilians, as enemy combatants.
Where the words and philosophy of our Police Departments were “to Protect, and Serve”, it is now morphed into Police becoming the “Weapons of the State”.

The brutal tactics don’t end on the streets. The same mentality is responsible for our Mass Incarceration issues, where police officers habitually lie on the stand, plant evidence, and do everything in their power to get innocent minorities convicted. Think about it, if the police officers have no qualms in choking & shooting someone in broad daylight, what reservations would they have in lying before a jury. Those convictions, like mine, result in life sentences, and a very, very, slow death.

To make changes to this official brutality, systematic root causes must be addressed. For example, George Floyd’s Murderer had 10 EXCESSIVE FORCE related charges. Why was he still on the job? That is the same case in prison, where guards routinely abuse their powers and are ‘written-up’ on numerous occasions by the prisoners yet no one pays attention. The oversight mechanism should look deeply in the documented abuse by the police officers and they should be removed and where appropriate, charged with crimes.

Also, the Judicial System needs a look as well. Why is there a preference for Prosecutors to get promoted to the bench? The working partnership between the judges, prosecutors, and police is a fundamental hindrance to equality of justice. It is a monumental task for an average person to fight such powerful adversaries. It is just not fair!

To alleviate that, more Defense Attorneys from the Public Defender’s Offices and organizations like the ACLU, SPDF, and EJI, should be appointed to the bench and Appellate Courts.

If you really want to understand the outrage behind police brutality, you might want to start by reading Jane Coaston, senior reporter at VOX.COM, and to Van Jones at CNN. That might be a good start towards understanding the actual pain of the protesters.

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Author: Kory “Hussain” McClary | Edited by 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

I didn’t know you can cry in ya’ sleep
Till I woke up with tears in my eyes
What the fuck is going on?
Real niggas don’t cry
Take this shit like a man…
Head up … Chest out…!
I’m a man!
But still, I woke with tears in my eyes
I thought that after all the bullshit
I’ve been through
I could no longer cry…
‘Muh’ died, ‘Ta’ died, I blew my trial
‘Pop Pop’ died, ‘Dez’ died, my appeal got denied
Then ‘K’ died, Mike died, ‘Stephen’ died
Damn Cuz!
I thought that I was tough
Especially after all that stuff
I held my head up, chest out
I ain’t pout
But, Somehow,
I woke up with tears in my eyes
What could I have been crying about…?
It don’t make sense…
All the bullshit, I dealt with
Held it in, showed no emotion
Now, my time getting longer…
This cell getting smaller…
Damn! This bit getting harder…
I guess that’s why when
I woke up with tears in my eyes
What was I dreaming about…?
Probably freedom
I just got denied again
And every time I close my eyes
I see the sky
Or me having kids and a wife
Some shit that may never happen in this life
No wonder why
When I woke up I had tears in my eyes
Maybe it was a nightmare…?
I keep having this recurring image
Of me spending life in this prison
One hundred thirty years was the sentence
Is that why?
When I woke up I had tears in my eyes
I don’t know…
I’m going through so much shit …
I don’t know
I’m trying to sleep through the pain
Because in here, there is nothing
That could mask the pain
I’m innocent!!!
But, the verdict, returned guilty!
Most likely, that’s the reason why
When I sleep I cry …

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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

“Personal Protective Equipment” (PPE), it’s a term I have come to know well while watching Governor Murphy, and Cuomo, on the TV screen almost everyday. In this time of chaos in our country, both of them seem to present a calming and mature handle at the helm. And with the travesty at the federal level, our local leadership is something to be proud of.

Yet, I was taken aback when Gov. Murphy stated that he had reached out to the Chinese Ambassador, Mr. Ping, in order to procure PPE from China. The thing that bothers me to no end is that leaving the ventilators issue aside, why is it so hard to produce simple PPE for the doctors, nurses and first responders? It seems a simple enough task.

Moreover, my family and friends also informed me that there are lots of folks online who are showing people to make their own masks, and other protective gear. So, why do our leaders have to go to China?

At the end, PPE consists of plastic, elastic, and a bit of sewing. So, I have to ask this much, what is the purpose of having the most sophisticated and advanced country in the world when we can’t even manage to manufacture something as basic.

Speaking about purpose, it got me thinking….

Way back in 2005, after a two and a half year arduous stint in the county jail, when I arrived in New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), life was very different. Besides its notorious reputation and other associated stories of horror, I found NJSP to be quite unpretentious. There were obvious lines that were drawn among this captive society and the prison life had its predictable ebbs and flow. This in turn, kept the cogs turning so to speak. What I am trying to convey, in non-prisoner layman’s terms, is that the wheel of life turned smoothly because it had a mundane but an extremely important purpose: Work!

I don’t know what it is about work and men? Perhaps it’s in our genes that provides an urge to be productive. In those days everyone’s life revolved around their “work detail”. There were food service guys, brothers who worked in the school and law library areas. Others worked the sanitation details. There were chaplaincy, and vocational school clerks. There was also a large “ice-room detail” in addition to laundry department workers etc.

More importantly, NJSP had a sewing shop, a knit shop, also electric, plumbing, welding, upholstery and other services available for prisoners to hone their crafts. There was a paint shop with artists of such caliber that would have made a Renaissance painter proud. They painted such elaborate life-like murals that NJSP became famous for it.

The work details provided a purpose, a focal point for the lifers and long term prisoners to find some sort of meaning in their complicated, yet humble lives. It provided, more than anything, a compromise for a human being to, well, being human. Being useful and of substance, providing a trace of pride.

I remember this older brother. He would often come to the mess-hall, located in the older part of NJSP, the West Compound, and look for me. I am not going to use his name. I don’t know if I have the right to do so. You see, he has been gone for a while now, finally resting in his final abode. All I will share is that he was an older Muslim brother from the South. He had a southern charm and this smile that would put all your worries away, a sincerity that is missing in this world, the genuine type. He worked in the shops area and would bring me boot laces, knit hats, new socks etc. It don’t know how many pairs of socks or laces he brought, but I couldn’t say no to him. And it wasn’t just me; he did that for every person in the prison. Not just us Muslims, he was equally gracious to all.

He would say, “Tariq, man have you seen them lil kids on TV? They be shivering in that cold, and walking bare feet in that desert there! I wish I could send some boots, socks, and hats to them babies, man”.

“There are a lot of kids who need that stuff brother, you are going to be a busy cat if you go on that route,” I would answer playfully, knowing well that he would do that and more if he only had a chance.

“Can’t give up on them babies Tariq, they need help. We gots to help’um when it’s needed. Otherwise, we ain’t no better. We gonna go see the All Mighty one day, I don’t know about everyone else, I need ALL the help I can get for the Day of Judgment. Gots to stack them good deeds brother.” He would then flash that smile, leaving me speechless. It seemed his whole goal was to help and be of service to others. It was who he was, not what he was here for.

Then like all good things, the work details were eliminated. The New Jersey Department of Corrections, NJDOC, finally realized that there was no more need to pretend. The public didn’t care and with the type of sentencing scheme the State of New Jersey was following, well, it didn’t require adherence to the “Corrections” farce. With mandatory minimum sentences, no one was given any work or ‘good time’ credits towards their sentences. Basically, no one was going anywhere, at least not in this lifetime. So, all shops and technical job details were removed and the prison authorities, in quite an unabashed fashion, embraced and promulgated the notion that they were actually in the business of “warehousing” human beings rather than the nonsensical and unprofitable idea of rehabilitation. And just like that, over a thousand men in NJSP became idle.

When a man’s’light’ goes off there is an actual physical affect that becomes apparent. In case of that older Muslim brother, he immediately seemed to sour. More often, I would be holding him back from arguing with someone in the mess-hall where he once brightened the entire area with his smile.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me Tariq,” he once said after I forced him to sit down and glared the other person he was arguing with. “I ain’t got no job, what am I supposed to do now? Can’t just sit in my cell stare at them walls brother,” he mumbled as if he was daydreaming, looking somewhere beyond. In response, I gave him my readymade reply about being patient. And he just showed me a sad hint of his famous smile.

You guys know that saying, “Get busy living, and get busy dying””, from that movie “Shawshank Redemption”… right? Now, I don’t know if you all know what a man looks like when he starts to dissolve.

I do.

I saw my kind old friend crumble in short episodes….

Today, sitting here in my cell watching Gov. Murphy talk about obtaining PPE from China, I thought of my friend. And I thought of all of my other friends sitting idle in small cramped spaces, staring at the walls worrying about their families outside, wishing they could do something to help.

I wanted to scream and tell our Governor that we can do that work and we are willing to grind. Be part of that fight, a fight which we all supposedly are in together.

I would like to tell our Governor, Murphy, that there are men here who can work the sewing and knitting shops to produce protective gear. PPE, it’s just plastic, elastic, and maybe rubber. Not something that can be labeled as a security issue.

There are men here that would volunteer and work hard, and would do everything in their power to earn some chance at redemption, a chance to be part of the whole, a society, a state, a people.

If only given an opportunity, they would work to find solace, meaning, and yes, even purpose.

Give us a chance Governor Murphy, I promise you that we will not let you down!

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Remember The Time

June 17, 2020 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | No Comments

Author: Robinson “San-man” Santise
Incarcerated writer SBI: #TMP/1000271 PO Box 861 Trenton NJ 08625

Remember when we first met?
Remember when I first laid eyes
upon you and I smiled?
Remember when my thoughts of you
inspired creativity?
Remember when there was nothing
capable of separating us?
Remember when We meant Us, not
just United as States but
recognizing and understanding our
united fate?
Learning and getting to
know one another
So beautiful, so strong…
However
I don’t remember the Time
The lack of oxygen to my brain
is suffocating my condition
a Black man;
Sick…
Unemployed – Economically ill
Heart disease, diabetes – Physically I’ll
Under educated, imprisonment – Spiritually ill
There are
all types of viruses constantly
attacking this Hued Man’s condition
Tired…
of being afraid of being
of carrying the burden of
someone else’s inadequacies
of struggling for each and every
breath of my existence
This is the Time of remembering, so that
we may never forget that we have the
capacity to amplify the strength and
beauty of human condition by
being the shared experience of life

And I would like to thank the agents of
oppression for taking your boot off of our
necks and replacing it with your knee
for a more violent death
Because within
the violent throes of death, the United
movement of life is born
So please
Remember the Time…
when humanity inhaled its collective breath
We ain’t asking no more!

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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

Merry making is a common human trait. Regardless of culture, creed, religion or ethnicity, we all have our own celebrations.

Eid in prison is like building a sandcastle with the tide approaching. Even when you are having fun building it, you know the impending doom. The reality of disappointment washes over as fast as the waves level the sandcastle on the beach.

Usually on Eid days, as soon as the doors are open at 6:30 am morning count, Muslim prisoners rush to take their ritual showers and get ready for Eid Prayers in the big visiting hall. After that we get to enjoy a few refreshments, courtesy of the NJDOC. The affair is a simple one, some cake, donuts, coffee, milk, and juice. For an hour or so, we get to play and make believe that this is normal somehow. It is not. After that, we are unceremoniously kicked out of the hall to return to our housing units.

Once on the unit, we do try our level best for some sort of normalcy. For example, brothers on the unit get together to make a meal for everyone, this comradeship is something that kindles the semblance of family, and for that much I am truly grateful.

However, for me the actual festivities start when I get the phone on my allotted time. That is when I get to call home and talk to my family and loved ones, and for the duration of that invisible telecom link I am in heaven. Usually, I will call home and speak to different members of my family who gather at my aunt’s house. Hearing their voices and knowing that they all got together helps me, for a briefest of moments, to enjoy the Eid vicariously. For that too, I am truly grateful.

After the customary call, I usually sit next to my slit of a window and look outside feeling rather blue. I reminisce about the good old days of freedom when I was home. It was a time that now is a very, very distant memory. Actually, now it’s more of a yearning then memory, a longing, a hope in this dark place. Disregarding the futility of my situation, I would then remind myself and find comfort in an old Urdu proverb: “The world rests on hope!”

Alas, COVID-19 restrictions placed all of the usual out of the window so to speak. This year there are no gatherings in the big halls for Congregational prayers and we had to pray alone in our cells. But, we did try to stay with the normal routine of showers in the morning and meal preparation among ourselves on our units.

Anyways, coming back to my main subject of Eid Holiday Blues, over the years, there has been a gradual shift in my accustomed ‘tradition’ of calling and talking to everyone on Eid. I started to notice some changes in the people. I noticed it today as well.

When time passes and something changes in relationships there is an awkwardness that hangs heavy. I guess time is like gravity in a sense that it places an invisible pressure on all things and the result is different for everyone and everything. Time heals; it makes you forget, it makes you indifferent, and makes you a multitude of things. Some good, some bad, some ugly, and that too perhaps depend upon the person, place, or thing. So, overtime, as with all things, people and their attitudes change as well.

In the beginning of this journey I had family and friends present for some support. Over the years some would fall off the ‘contact-list’ and would then come back. Yet, it was the Eid Day calls where we would get in touch and rekindle our ties of kinship.

Later on, it was work or this engagement or that meeting that kept some missing on those Eid calls. I chalked it up to the busy highway of life with all its exits and off ramps, firmly holding on to the hope that sooner or later we will find our way back home. But, in reality, there was more than I had unfortunately inferred. You see ‘wishful-thinking’ cannot marinate in the pot of reality.

The CoronaVirus pandemic has been teaching a lot of lessons all around. It taught me one on this day as well. COVID-19 restrictions sort of made almost everyone available. So, the regular excuse about you just missing him or they left already or she is at work didn’t really materialize. And speaking to my extended family, I realized that some spoke to me not with ‘want’ but with more of ‘charity’ in my mind. Others did so to appease someone who actually did care, and some avoided speaking at all. I almost felt as if I was a stranger among my own. But, then again, as I said about ‘wishful-thinking’, I have known this reality for a long time.

A friend once asked me how it felt to be locked up for such a long time. I told her that it is like being frozen in time. I was locked up at the age of 25, and for me the time stopped. All of my points of reference for the life outside ceased at that very moment. Every perspective I had was defined by the perception of that 25 years old Tariq. I only knew life, family, and people, from that angle. To me, nothing ever changed.

But, of course, everything has changed; time doesn’t stop for anything. I feel like a twig that was floating on a river, and I got too close to the riverbank when the winter came in perpetuity. A 150 year sentence winter, a never-ending, everlasting, amaranthine of a slow death. Yet, the reel of my life didn’t stop, and my family and loved ones are flowing by in the center of the river-run. I can see everything but being frozen I can’t say anything. I am not part of that free flowing life. Over time I have seen many changes in my family. At times I am screaming but no one pays mind to a frozen-in-time twig. It feels cold, and blue.

It is hurtful as it highlights my loneliness and a sense of being abandoned. Being invisible and irrelevant is not easy to swallow. It is beyond humbling to realize that I am not who I used to be. I am a shadow, an abstract thought, a concept of a bygone era, a very, very distant memory.

A close family member once told me, in a not so subtle manner, “We have to prioritize in life!” – I got the message then. But, with COVID-19 pandemic, as a prisoner, I find myself dropping steeply on the ‘priority list’ of both family and society.

Yet, even in the midst of the cold winter it seems, hope in God’s Mercy prevails like sunshine for me. Like all storms, hurt, sadness, and heartbreak, this feeling shall pass too. I am blessed; my parents gave me the best gift in life, a brother, a friend, a mate for life. I top his ‘priority list’. For me, his closeness above all shall suffice. His love and loyalty are also never-ending, everlasting, and amaranthine. And on this holy day, thinking of him, his wife and two beautiful children, with a smile on my face, I am feeling a lighter shade of Eid Holiday Blues.

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Dream

May 25, 2020 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | No Comments

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

I live in the fields of your dream…
Fields green as far as one can see
Filing the horizon, encompassing
Harnessing my soul it seems

I move in that dream…
Curling, swinging, curving, gurgling
Flowing like a wild stream
Pouring out as if, a river from a seam

On a journey to the ocean
A distant heaven in yet another dream
There is sunshine and twinkling twilight
A silver moon with dancing fairies

I can smell the wild grass…
The sweet musk of moist earth
Scent of roses and fragrant Jasmine
Petals glistening with fire flies

I flow as if mesmerized…
Enchanted, charmed, and spellbound
I don’t want it to end
I want to, forever dream!

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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

Every day before dawn around 4 a.m. I wake up suddenly as if awoken from within. A silent call beckons me to open my eyes. It’s an angel’s whisper.

You see, I don’t have an alarm clock and I have to wake up at that time to eat my early breakfast, because around 4:20 a.m. it will be time for morning prayer, and I have to start my daily fast. Oh, I forgot to mention, it’s the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. My nineteenth behind bars but one that is very different this time around.

COVID-19 has ushered in a ‘new’ everything, and a ‘first’ of everything as well. We human beings are adaptable creatures so we conform to the changes around us. But some alterations are more irksome than the others.

I remember my very first Ramadan behind bars. It was 2002 and I was imprisoned inside the Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey. It was a very tough one. It had been one year since the Towers fell on 9/11 and no one really wanted to give a crap about anything related to Muslims. Yet, even inside, I was able to find some pleasure in Ramadan because of three young Muslim brothers who made it every bit a brotherly affair. It’s a memory I shall cherish for the rest of my days.

For me, one constant theme about Ramadan is family. Although it is a religious exercise, it also has a lot of social aspects as well. The camaraderie it engenders is in itself a unique experience for Muslims. I think there is something about people breaking bread together, in general, but the idea of syncing our entire daily routine from before dawn until the sunset as a community is something every Muslim feels special about. The entire ritual, by design, is geared towards unity, communal harmony, and empathy for people around the world who are struggling.

It’s no different in prison.

Some of that sense of brotherhood helped sustain me during Ramadan inthe subsequent years I’ve served behind bars. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramadan was an easy affair in New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) in Trenton. There is a huge population of Muslims in here and the congregation is well established and run by a NJDOC Imam with the help of older prisoners. A special work crew is assigned for the kitchen detail for the Muslim prisoners who prepare the meals for the entire Muslim population in NJSP.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslim prisoners would normally gather in the South Compound Visit Hall around 5:30 p.m. and remain there until the opening of the fast. The prison food service would provide dates, chips, and some fruit and juices for us to open our fast at sunset.

The arrival of Ramadan in NJSP would always be a major occurrence, something to look forward to for the Muslims inside. A sense of calm would take over the whole prison. Even the guards and other prisoners notice it. Everyone agreed that it is the most quiet and peaceful time in NJSP.

This year, however, it’s completely different.

Around March 12, 2020, NJSP was placed under lockdown due to the COVID 19 crisis. Gradually all movements and services were cancelled. For the first time in two decades I fasted alone. Muslim prisoner volunteers, even under these conditions are preparing meals for their fellow brothers in faith and we are getting our readymade trays on our housing units.

Yet, there is a pall on the whole festivity. Without the whole congregation opening their fasts together, the entire event seems almost diminished. Religiously too, there are more blessings to be had when we perform religious rites together. So, sitting in the cold cell it seems almost surreal to have to experience this blessed month alone.

So I try to get my sense of community in those moments when I help distribute the food to the other Muslim brothers in the white clam-shell trays. It’s a small way for me to find my blessings from within. But it’s not the same.

And speaking to my family members outside, it seems they too are feeling the isolation. I don’t know but it feels like the entire Muslim world is in collective shock.

But, I do believe in the Mercy of The Almighty. Remembering God in solitude has its own serenity. Seclusion from gossip and banter of the everyday life provides a unique avenue for spiritual growth. Self-reflection is an immensely humbling and gratifying feeling but requires tranquility. The COVID-19 restrictions, with God’s Grace, provided call of that and more.

I really believe that we Muslims are a resilient bunch. Insha’ Allah (God Willing), we shall endure this with God’s Benevolence as well. Things will get better. There is a bright day after a dark night.

In fact, there is a verse in the Qur’an which I read often. In my dreary days, and the bleakest of nights, repeating this verse fills me with hope and a promise of a better day: “Verily, along with every hardship is relief!” (The Noble Qur’an 94:5)

That’s a promise from God that I hold on to tightly every day.

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“This piece was originally published on the Prison Journalism Project Medium site, highlighting the voices of incarcerated writers”

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

Coronaviirus is everywhere and on everyone’s mind. TV, cable, internet, radio, bulletin and advertising boards, it doesn’t matter, the subject is unavoidable. And rightfully so, because within a matter of a couple of months, it seems, the very life on the planet earth has changed.

I was gripped by the recent news of Covid-19 infections on a Navy carrier and people being stuck on cruise ships. My fascination grew even further when I heard live interviews of people stuck in their “windowless cabins” due to ‘mandatory’ quarantine orders. Some were literally in tears due to being “locked up” in small little cabins for over two weeks. The common theme being: Complaints of inhumane treatment and lack of human contact.

I also saw a detailed analysis by some psychiatrists regarding depression, psychological angst, and real physical anguish relating to medical effects of long term isolation. The prognosis was blatantly clear, the doctors called it “real torture”. According to experts, human beings are a social species and thus are not built for such “long term” isolation and cramped spaces.

I, a prisoner who is well acquainted with the devastating effects of long term isolation, couldn’t believe my ears. Having personal experience with long term isolation in small cramped cells due to ‘mandatory’ minimum sentences, and/or quarantines, I could only vociferously nod in agreement and yell a sarcastic:… Yeah!

It’s been a month since New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) was placed under semi lockdown on March 12th due to Covid-19 concerns. Since then the prison authorities have gradually expanded the restrictions. Now, all yard and gymnasium movements are completely shutdown and the prisoners are basically limited to their cells under a 24/7 lockdown.

In the West, North, and South Compounds the prisoners are only allowed to get their daily three square meals and then they are to promptly return back to their cells.

The lockdown has exasperated an already vexed prison population. Where outside, a quarantine is rather more of a familial affair, in here the commendable idea of ‘social distancing’ has taken a form of mental abuse.

The biggest oxymoron is the practice of double locking prisoners where ‘social distancing’ is supposedly the key mantra. This practice has caused real anxiety among the population and the atmosphere has become even more volatile due to, now reportedly, multiple infection cases within the NJDOC staff and prison population. In NJSP, reportedly, four prisoners were taken to the hospital with Covid-19 related symptoms, and one prisoner has already died. Moreover, one entire unit in the West Compound is now turned into a quarantine area. And a separate unit, in the South Compound is now supposedly a triage unit.

There are about 16 working housing units in NJSP. However, currently only 13 units are being utilized to house the general population (GP) prisoners. Out of those GP units, two are completely double locked, and four are partially double locked.

However, with available and vacant units and cells in the West, North, and South Compounds, it is completely unreasonable to double lock any prisoner during Covid-19 emergency.

Housing availability can be further increased as multiple housing units have been under the infamous “NJDOC contracted repairs” for years. The result is that prisoners are made to double lock in a prison where empty cells are collecting dust.

There are of course other problems as well. With limited movements and the cancellation of any visitation, prisoners are allotted with extra phone and email privileges. Yet, many officers are not complying with this ‘extra stuff” since it actually requires them to let prisoners out of their cells to use the kiosk for the emails. Which is too much of a chore for them. So, with certain officers on duty the kiosks go off mysteriously. Someone goes and turns off the master switch located in the control room closets. Other officers are not even letting the inmates use the extra phone time.

These actions are in complete breach of the NJDOC’S special orders during the emergency lockdown. The orders were enacted so the prisoners could at least try to keep some sort of contact with loved ones. Yet, there is absolutely no oversight as to the compliance of the very orders.

Another nugget is the problem of hot-water in NJSP. A few years ago the NJDOC banned all heating-coils, called “stingers”, from prisoner purchase and retention. The stingers were used to boil water for sanitary reasons and to make coffee and food items such as rice and instant soups. Due to the usual, multiple, “boil water” warnings inTrenton, the stingers were the only way for prisoners to ensure their water safety. The ban was apparently placed due to a claimed security issue of fire safety. However, this fictitious security excuse was a novel one since the stingers were sold and utilized for the previous 30 years without any security concerns.

The real reason for the ban is money. You see, with numerous “boil water” warnings in Trenton per year, the NJDOC is making money by selling water on the commissary. So, when the tap water is unusable, what choice does it leave a prisoner?

The hot water issue is further aggravated by the procedure that was put in place as an alternative. The prison Administration only allows ‘unit runners’ to get water by getting a bowl or a cup from a prisoner and then going to the pantry or a water dispenser to fill it up. However, the unit runners are NOT food service workers, who are cleared through medical staff to work as a food handler, and they do not wear gloves nor any facial coverings. Moreover, the runners are also tasked with cleaning the units and changing garbage. Anyone can clearly understand the obvious hesitance of prisoners letting someone touch their water with dirty hands.

With the nature of highly contagious Corona Virus, the entire ‘water procedure’ is akin to an invitation for a mass spread where the same runners are made to collect everyone’s utensils for hot water. This issue has further deepened in light of prisoners being hauled off with Covid-19 symptoms from the very same housing units. Thereby, increasing the tension and anxiety among prisoners.

Covid-19 precautionary procedures include washing hands, use of gloves, and now masks. The surgeon general of the United States, Adm. Adams, urged on national TV for everyone to wear a mask and also showed how to make a make-shift mask. In that spirit, the NJDOC has issued surgical masks to their employees. Reportedly, there are also masks issued for the prisoners but those are not to be distributed unless someone has symptoms. For the life of me, I do not understand the logic behind that action.

Moreover, some prison guards are actually getting angry if any prisoner wore gloves or tried to make a cloth mask. Even with the pandemic, the officers don’t fail to abuse their control and powers. My own unit officer argued with me to stop wearing disposable gloves that are issued to food service. According to his “medical” knowledge, I am spreading germs by touching door knobs with gloves. He would rather have me touch all doors and surfaces with my bare hands while the officers and civilians walk around with rubber gloves.

The psychological torture is something which prisoners constantly have to deal with. Perhaps I will share more about it on another day. But, with the Corona Virus spread, the anxiety and stress level has surpassed our normal day to day persecution. Since the enhanced restrictions were put in place, there has been suicide attempts, and, unusual, multiple fights and stabbings in the prison. There is also a noticeable increase in prisoners’ frustrations due to the actions of the prison guards and lack of apathy by the Administration and supervisors.

Unbeknownst to most, NJSP is a very easygoing and nonviolent place in comparison to other comparable maximum security prisons. The older prisoners who had witnessed the violent times here, refer to NJSP as a “kiddy camp”. However, in my experience, there is a limit to how far one can endure pressure. After a while, well, they say it’s the pressure that bursts pipes.

I just hope that those in power will realize that, condemned or not, we are human. And every human being deserves some semblance of dignity, without which the very notion of humanity would be at odds.

Food for thought I suppose! Please stay safe.

Update* … As of April 16th, 2020, the administration has finally provided face masks to the inmate population.

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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

It is well past 2 am and I find myself pacing back and forth in my cell on a double tier housing unit. Looking down from my skinny slit of a plexiglass window on the second level cell, I can see the empty dark encapsulated ‘bubble’ from where the officers control the entire unit.

During night, or rather the third shift, there is only one officer on duty and he, or she, comes out on the unit itself and sits on a desk. At night the control panel inside of the bubble is disabled and the unit is literally locked-down electronically.

The view from my cell door window has been the same for over a decade now. My cell is almost in the middle of the second tier, and looking to the left I can clearly see the two showers at the left end of the long corridor. On the other end of the hallway there is a large square-paneled window that overlooks the vast sprawl of the prison yard below and the behemoth, and notorious, castle wall of the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) around it.

Anyhow, the ceiling of the corridor outside my cell is painted off-white and over time it has taken a peculiar tint and looks more yellowish now. On the ceiling itself, about every six feet or so, there is a rectangular light fixture. Staring down the hallway at night, when all other lights are turned off, the brightly lit rectangular light fixtures look strangely like an inverted piano keyboard. I often find myself contemplating this juxtaposition of my life being turned upside down in here.

Yet, now, it seems like life has turned upside down for everyone, even in the so called “free world”.

Only a month ago the Corona Virus/Covid-19 pandemic seemed like a faraway hysteria. A ‘foreign’ plague. Something that the people of this country couldn’t bother to dispense with. It was called politics, a hoax, a figment of someone’s imagination, a plot, a conspiracy, a screenplay, etc.

But, it was, is, and will remain a reality. And perhaps due to the ambiguity of our national “leadership”, it will remain a bitter one at that.

In prison, life is ambiguous as well. Elon Musk has argued that our life and world is a projection. I do not know the intricacies of astrophysics or the complexities of multi-dimensional calculus but, I would attest that life in prison can be defined as a projection of the actual thing. Because, a prisoner is often reminded by his guards that, “This here ain’t the real world.”

Covid-19 was also spoken in those terms by the prison guards. A vast majority of whom live and swear by the edicts of the national propaganda machines such as Fox News, and the Drudge Report, amongst other stalwarts of the ‘Right’ media outlets. To them the Chinese “invasion” was actually geared to slow the economy and required nothing more than a regular flu shot. There were tones of bravado spreading conspiracy theories that Corona Virus was concocted by the liberals to”mess” with thei historic gains of the stock markets. All for the real purpose of safeguarding the Biden’s and their corrupt Ukrainian ways.

Then the reality struck and the gravity of the events outside became blatantly obvious. The guards got quiet, and an eerie feeling took over the prison.

Besides my customary misgivings about everything New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) the Administration acted swiftly within the first two weeks of March and, in consultation with the Chaplaincy and other departments, shut down the major prison religious and nonreligious services, classes and programs. All large gatherings of the prisoners were also stopped, including contact and window visits. The weights were removed from the prison yard and the weight rooms in the gymnasium were closed. Most of the prison job details were also suspended. And the NJDOC enacted a policy of functionality of only the “essential” staff and work details.

Additionally, a week prior to the main shutdown, as a precaution, by the order of the prison Administrator, all staff, employees, and visitors were checked for high temperature as they entered the prison. Anyone with a temperature around 99° was not allowed entry.

Moreover, the prison population was given extra soap with proper and timely guidelines, via emails and on-unit bulletins, to keep clean and to practice social distancing. A crucial practice that must be more closely monitored but that is a subject for another day.

In order to make up for the lack of contact with family and loved ones, the Administration also provided each prisoner with five (5) free stamps for mailing letters. And also started to allot each prisoner with five (5) e-stamps, free of charge, on weekly basis to be used for emails. The proactive efforts by the NJDOC must be commended.

So far the NJSP has no positive cases among the prisoners. However, there are some reports of multiple staff members being infected. I guess the inevitability of the spread within the prison is well understood. Albeit, perhaps, the gravity of the conditions and actual complications related to an infection are vastly misunderstood.

You see, prison by nature and practicality is quarantined. The layers of security work to further enhance the isolation. If there is a spread among the population – a large amount of which has a plethora of severe underlying, and preexisting, conditions – the problem will be of a catastrophic magnitude.

The same security layers that act as a shield will become a disastrous impediment. There are NO ventilators available to the NJDOC and the surrounding hospitals are not able, nor are they willing, to take in prisoners with Covid-19 infections.

I say this with some merit since as recently as last week, reportedly, there was a prisoner that was sent from South Woods Prison with Covid-19 symptoms and the local hospital refused to take him in. Instead he was brought to NJSP and was housed in an isolated cell. Suffice it to say that the prison staff was not happy with the entire ordeal.

With all the Corona related uncertainties, there is a lot of tension among the staff and prison population. I will share more of that with you in the next episode of this current saga.

For now, I will leave you with something my aunt once told me when I was young. It was after a calamitous flood that killed thousands in Pakistan. As a famous professor and educator, she was very active in social work. I visited countless relief centers which she established and ran. On one occasion, I remember she told me to get in the car and she drove around the busy thoroughfares of the city of Lahore and we stopped at a makeshift morgue. I can’t tell you how many rows of shrouded dead bodies I saw there. That site and the stench of death made me uneasy. She held my shoulder and lowered her head to whisper, “Don’t you worry Tariq, we are Pakistani, we are a resilient bunch, this shall pass too, Insha’ Allah (God Willing)!”

Through the toughest times of my life, her words always seem to echo in my ears. So, I want to share her advice with all of you. We, humans, are a resilient bunch,, so don’t you worry, this shall pass too, Insha’ Allah!

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My Eyes Are Closed

April 15, 2020 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | No Comments

Author: Kory “Hussain” McClary | Edited by 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

Heart turning, eyes filled with saline
Cheeks stained with years of pain
Surrounded by a world of grief, and mental
anguish
Can no longer sleep
I’ve been wronged!
By a premised virtuous arm, better yet, a hand
The stenographer’s husband,
was the prosecutor’s man
Facts!!!
Can’t shut my eyes,
every time my lids close
I can see dead folks
They are chasing me…
It seems like my friends want my soul
I don’t know if I should close my eyes
And just let go?
Cause here I’m hurting…
I’m floating above
Sanity!
Drifting below…
Insanity!
Tip toeing on the edge of…
Humanity!
My mind is lost, trapped somewhere beyond
this wall
I want to go, catch-up to my faculties
But I’ve been wronged by the court’s faculty
The stenographer stole from me
Dispatched by who?
I wonder?
I hunger for information
However, my searches always return vacant
I’m left as if asunder
I’m scared
Because I fear, that the day will come
When I become complacent
With this house of Satan
So, I cry
The tears that run down my face are alive
They speak words of discouragement as they
secrete
Give up… it’s over… the truth will never be
Known
I came here young, now I’m grown
Growing old
In a short time, I witnessed this place
take a dozen souls
I’m shaking cause this place is so cold
This place is turning my heart to coal
The stenographer played a role
Placing me in this morbid hole!
If I close my eyes, I will be sent to dwell
With my guys, who I miss dearly
My eyes are closed!
Farewell,… forever, truly yours!

For more content from this author visit korymcclary.com

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