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Forever A Foreigner

December 24, 2019 | 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

“So how do they do it in your country?” As a Pakistani-American this inquiry or this sort of skepticism is nothing new. What is different however is the one who is asking. Let me explain.

I was brought to the United States by my parents when I was young. I did not desire to come, and for that matter I was quite adamantly against my family’s immigration to the United States. Like all other kids, I did not want to leave my childhood friends, family home, and neighborhood, but, initially it wasn’t my choice to make.

Yet, here I was in the United States of America and for the best part of my school years things went relatively smooth. I actually never experienced any abuse relating to me being an immigrant. Of course, there were obvious reasons for it.

First, my mother’s Persian heritage and my father belonging to the northern Salt Range Mountains of Pakistan, I could pass for a lot of nationalities and ethnicities. And unlike many immigrant kids, coming from Pakistan where I was educated in the prestigious private military school systems, I spoke English fluently.

Moreover, my extended family had been living in New York City for years and, since early childhood, I visited almost every other summer during regular school vacations. So, in a way, New York, and Queens were a second home for me.

When visiting, I would literally switch accents at the airports. My father was with Pakistan International Airlines, PIA, and we traveled a lot. From an early age, experiencing different cultures and people gave me a unique ear for subtlety in pronunciation. So, suffice it to say, when I opened my mouth I didn’t sound alien.

As I started college my family was also naturalized and we became American citizens. During my time in college, life and work was largely in Manhattan. There too, in the cradle of the world’s spice mix, I didn’t experience any sort of real bias.

I am being very careful and specific about it since there is a fine line between the racial biases as opposed to prejudices due to someone being an immigrant. The difference being, the racial type is a straight forward superiority complex, the “I am better than you” stupidity. This is something we see all around the world. The immigrant bias, to me is more hurtful, as it pronounces that I don’t belong here.

You see, I loved Pakistan when I was young. It was my homeland, where I was born. And I still love Pakistan. But, over time, being brought here – as it is natural – I developed a love for this land as well. The reality is that I love United States too.

My adopted home and its culture has mixed and mingled with my Pakistani heritage. The resulting collage is a beautiful one. Like many other young immigrants – regardless of my parents’ original decision – as an adult I made my own choice and I chose America.

I can only surmise by saying that loving both, Pakistan and America is comparable to having a mother and a loving wife. To make the correlation even serious, let’s say you have had children with your loving wife. So the question is, push come to shove, who do you choose?

United States’ ethos is that of ‘freedom’, which is shared by Pakistanis and Muslims in general. You might be surprised, in light of the overly sensationalized evil actions of the few, reality is that freedom of religion, and tolerance, Capitalism, and free-trade are not unique concepts to the United States or the West. Those ideals are shared by the East and Islam as well. And by that I mean the true Islam. Not the so-called, and fake media version.

The American “acceptance” of different ideas, creeds, and people, makes this land special in modern times. Yet, even this “acceptance” is not unique to America, the annals of the Muslim rule of Spain, the “Golden Era of Islam”, and Muslim rule of the Mughal Empire in the subcontinent, will astonish even the smuggest of the detractors.

The promise of America is a shared experience. And the ones like me have drunk that elixir, and have bought in, and have believed in that “pursuit of happiness”. And I chose this land. As Fiona Hill recently stated so eloquently during the “impeachment hearings”, my patriotism too is by choice, and not by on account of accidental birth.

Thus, when a question is raised and I am told that I do not belong here, it hurts beyond explanation.

Due to unfortunate circumstances and my own mistakes, I ended up in prison, currently serving a greater than life sentence. Prison is not a delicate place by any stretch of imagination. As time elapsed, as with all things, prison too began to change. There was a marked shift in the culture of the institution as well.

The outside influences and politics have a way within a captive society. Like a cut off pond, separated from the outside world, the politics and social influences are filtered into a penitentiary. The resulting evolution is something very different than what happens in the free world.

Within the confines of prison, racism and biases too are of a different breed. Hearing racial epithets from the prison guards are too many for me to mention without getting into a long lament. Suffice it to say that I have heard and experienced every type of bigotry and racial slur. From the view point of my captors, I guess, finally seeing someone who seemed to represent the physical traits and ancestral links to the “enemy” was enough to provide a Carte Blanche for abuse.

But the thing that hurts most is when a fellow prisoner, an African American, a Muslim brother says, ” So how do they do it in your country?” It makes me feel beyond rejected.

Because, the Muslim African American population in the prison system was the one that had initially welcomed and embraced me upon my arrival, and even in this place of sadness and isolation, I actually felt accepted and had a sense of belonging to a community.

Therefore, now, it hurts beyond words when people of color, other minorities, and even Muslim brothers question me belonging to this country and my existence as an American.

All those years ago when I had pleaded with my parents for not bringing me to America, there was a reason for it. You see, I used to love reading and I remembered this particular story that instilled a fear of being an outcast. I guess, in a way, to this day it continues to haunt me.

It was a story about a raven that wanted to be a peacock. He left his other raven friends and preferred the company of peacocks due to their beautiful feathers and regal personalities. He started to test his limits and, slowly, started hangout where the peacocks huddled and looked for early worms. The peacocks hardly noticed the dark little raven and paid him no mind, and the raven felt brave and accepted. He went back the next day and grabbed a few fallen peacock feathers and decorated himself properly.

Then he flew to his old abode and swaggered around other ravens with all the arrogance he could muster. The ravens just shook their heads at him and casted disdainful looks. Full of pride, the little raven flew with a running start to mimic the peacocks and flew away with all his pride.

Landing back at the peacocks’ area, filled with joy, he started to prance around. Watching his buffoonery, and fake feathers, the peacocks turned on the dark little raven. Barely saving his life from the beaks and talons of the assaulting peacocks, the raven flew away.

Dejected, and rejected as a peacock, he flew back to his old friends. As he landed among the ravens, their hate and disdain for this turncoat, this pretender to be someone else, was palpable, they turned on him as well.

Dejected, and rejected as a raven, he flew away with his feathers torn and honor besmirched. He found a lonely branch of a dead tree that sat as a marker between the territories of the ravens and the peacocks. He wondered, looking at the peacocks and ravens in the distant, and then finally realized that he was now forever a foreigner!

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Retributivist

September 10, 2019 | 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

You ever seen those people in the movies, surrounding someone who is getting executed, lynched or having their heads chopped?
“Off with his head!” they shout in unison.

That crowd is always there shouting, coaxing for the execution to happen. Throwing filth at the condemned, and when the deed is done they simply disperse.

I have often wondered why? What is it that makes people so? Is it as simple as a release? Perhaps from the difficulties and injustices of their own lives that makes them – us – so callous, so cold, and so detached from another human being’s plight. Perhaps in that person’s suffering they feel some sort of vindication, a sense of justice for their own misery. Perhaps, even a mirage of finally getting even. An ecstasy for a retributivist!
There is a baser element to retribution, an innate desire to offset the harm, an instinctive desire to punish and to do so severely. The level of harm, the original wrong, in itself, whether it was perceived, or actually suffered, that is beside the point. To a retributive mindset, the end always justify the means.


“Criminal Justice Reform” is ‘in’, so to speak. The airways have run-amuck with the political charade and imprudence of ‘Presidential’ proportions. The “Reformers” are out in force. Almost every Cable Network has something to say about the ‘chattels’ behind bars. I am one of those who are locked up, so to see important people talk about us makes me feel rather – nauseatingly- consumed.


Even the President has dabbled in the foray of popular hysteria of Criminal Justice Reform. And to view him, surrounded by the stalwarts of the modern Republican Party, signing in to law the “First Step Act” made me feel so happy that I almost gagged. I was also lost on the choice of the name, ‘First Step’ to what?


I am serving a double life sentence, for two homicides, totalling 150 years, with a built in “No Early Release” parole intelligibility of 85 percent. Simply put, I must serve 127 1/2 years before I can qualify for parole.
Do not worry folks, I will not be boring you with my “feigned” pleas of being innocent and getting a trial that would make the “Emmett Till” jury proud. I am simply trying to make a point. So indulge me in as much.


I am skeptic as it is obvious, but I am one with some merit I submit. I actually live the very life those ‘experts’ in the media talk about. Because, watching the circus around the issue of incarceration on TV, and reading about it, makes me perturbed beyond reason since the pundits and politicians alike are trying to solve a conundrum which doesn’t really exist. The efforts in trying to solve the “Mass Incarceration” challenges are in vain since the problem isn’t correctly identified. The skeptic in me is screaming that it is done on purpose so that while the concerned public is appeased, nothing is actually done towards a real solution.


The effort to reform the Criminal Justice System and the Mass Incarceration is being talked about in terms of a drug epidemic gone wild. And even wilder have been those who had initially sought to incarcerate their way out to fix this invented issue.


As I said, the problem isn’t correctly identified. You see the flawed supposition that prisons are filled to capacity due to folks being charged for nonviolent drug crimes is as asinine a notion as President Obama being born in Africa. But still, the “believers” are also out in force.


Even I, a prisoner, with extremely limited capabilities to research can tell you this much that the hoax of nonviolent drug convictions burdening our prisons is baseless. Yet, according to a 2016 poll conducted by Vox.com, a majority of the liberals and the conservatives believe that half of the prisoners in these United States are locked up for nonviolent drug related crimes.


Moreover, there is even more consensus among the ‘left’ and the ‘right’, they both vehemently oppose any sentence reduction for people convicted of violent crimes – Throw away the ‘keys’ and they are all happy. An observable inquiry would be as to how many ‘keys’ are they planning on throwing? Who says the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ can’t agree on anything. All you have to do is to appeal to their baser instincts. Voil!


The facts are often ignored in these types of debates, but for ‘kicks’, here are some realities: Over 50% of those locked up in the state prison systems are there for violent crimes. The drug convictions only make up for about 15% of state prison systems. And although, it is true that about 50% of federal prison population does consist of drug related offenses, the glaring reality is that the entire federal prison population is only 10% of all prisoners in the United States.


In layman’s terms, our state prison systems make up the bulk of the country’s prison population and majority of that populace is serving time for violent crimes. That is why the overly touted prison reforms such as the so-called First Step Act will have a minuscule effect on any reforms. Since the reformers are unwilling to focus on the actual issues – of violent crimes sentence reform – there will be no solution to the ‘Mass Incarceration’ plague.


For a country, and more specifically the political elite, that openly advertises its Christian Faith, the lack of forgiveness, mercy and second chances are beyond hypocrisy. Their messages of ‘Transformation’ and ‘ Redemption’ do not comport with their lack of belief in the concept that people can change. Where the rest of the world is lectured on a ‘civilized’, ‘cultured’ and ‘humane’ approach, the one in this country is reflective of a darker age.

All around the world there are stories of people changing for the better, accounts of salvation, recovery and emancipation. If a neo-nazi can change, an anti-semite can see the world differently, and if a terrorist can be rehabilitated to actually save lives and be a messenger of peace, why can’t those whom are condemned in American prisons?


One look behind our prison walls and the notion of “one nation under God” and “liberty and justice for all” sound more like hollow campaign promises. And the proclaimed ‘best’ Justice System in the world is akin to a Kafka episode if compared to the continuous stories of the wrongly convicted and executed!


A Buddhist monk, “Thick Nhat Hanh”, once said: “Here is the question, what is the right thing to do after the wrong has happened”. Maybe if the “Reformers” started with that premise we might see some actual reform. But, that is an inquiry of an enlightened mind and consciousness. To a retributivist, there is no difference between Retribution and Rehabilitation.

To me, all of this talk about reforms, and cyclical political environment, somehow feels like the ‘Groundhog Day’. After a little while it just becomes one of the talking points which a politician must check off before he or she ends their speech.


All the while the surrounding crowd hails and venerates. A ‘promise’ is made and a ‘dream’ is sold to a symphony of applause. And then — they all disperse.


On each Groundhog Day, I feel like the one stranded at sea, floating to a silent quietus. And then I see it, I see that ‘promise’ that was made, that ‘dream’ that was sold, I’ve bought it. Hope. And I swim towards it, like an island in the middle of the sea. And then as I get closer it seems, as if on cue, like all mirages — they all disperse.

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Being Human

July 30, 2019 | 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

A man died in New Jersey State Prison a few months ago. Rumors were swirling about as soon the ominous “Code 66” was announced on the prison PA system.

Walking towards the old building of the West Compound, I clutched a stack of institutional memos in my right hand to deliver to the area’s supervisor’s desk. With my left hand I lazily tried to tuck in my brown shirt. The institutional rules require us prisoners to have our shirts tucked in at all times. A relatively new rule, of course.

So, as I approached the door that connects to the center rotunda of the West Compound, the officer on the other side motioned me to stop. I complied, and was told to clear the hallway. “You want me to return?” I asked. He shook his head hastily and told me to step aside as “they” were coming.

As a prisoner, the word “they” could mean a plethora of things. At times it means the Administrative Personnel are coming through. At other times it means that the Special Investigation Division (SID) folks are about to pass. And sometimes, a special escort is taking place where someone from the Closed Custody units is being taken to one place or another.

“What do you want me to do, stand to the side?” I asked again with a slight gesture of my shoulders as I held tight to the memos.

“Step into that room.” The office motioned me towards the adjacent Court-line room, where the institutional infractions are reviewed by the so-called review panel. I instinctively hesitated before entering the room, which serves as a mini-courtroom inside prison walls.  When a prisoner is charged with a violation of institutional regulations, his case is heard in this room.

At such hearings, the person charged with an infraction is usually provided with a prison paralegal who acts as his attorney. The statistical probability of an actual acquittal in front of the prison’s kangaroo court is beyond laughable.  And I think every prisoner in here shares some sort of apprehension in entering that door for obvious reasons.

I sighed, and walked towards the swinging iron-bar door that connects to an interior wooden door. I paused for a brief moment, and then entered the room with a prayer. As I turned to see the coming “they,” it dawned on me that it was probably that dead man.

I was right.

The door leading from West Compound Center Rotunda opened and a rather serious and mean looking SID officer stepped out. They have a peculiar preppy way of dressing with the customary golden SID badge hung on their belts. It’s worn with pride, a shiny badge to let everyone inside know that “they” are indeed special.  

He barely glanced in my direction. Special people like him tend to look at prisoners like me as though we are little more than the white smudge of spittle that accumulates on the side of the mouth. Two other SID personnel followed him. And then an outside EMT entered, pulling on a gurney on which lay the black bag containing the dead man’s body. The bag was large and from the contour of the corpse I could tell that the dead man was tall.

My heart sank. There were rumors spreading that the dead man was one of friends — one of my Albanian boys from Bronx.  But I knew it couldn’t have been him. He was locked up in solitary confinement due to a recent violation and was in another part of the prison. I shook my head to chase the disturbing thought out. But the question still remained: who was the dead man?

The procession was followed by two sergeants and a young woman, who I assumed was from the prison administrator’s office. She was slender and tall with dark hair tied in a tight pony tail, very easy on the eyes. She and the two sergeants walked behind the gurney smiling and cheerfully talking as if the gurney contained balloons. Then one of the sergeants whispered something into the woman’s ear and they both laughed aloud.

I froze.

A memory suddenly flashed before my eyes. I was perhaps ten years old, walking to the local bazaar with my father in the country of my birth, Pakistan. We lived in Lahore then and he was holding my hand as we walked. He was taking me to get a treat, something which I really wanted. For the life of me I can’t remember what it was, but I remember that I wanted it bad. As we walked past a street vendor selling mangoes, we encountered a small group of men. They looked like construction workers, known as mazdoors, from out of town.

Similar to the Mexican migrant workers who gather early in the morning here in America around local towns for work, the mazdoors would travel from the rural parts of Pakistan to seek out manual labor, such as construction and other back breaking hard work in the big cities.

I noticed that the mazdoors were gathered around a makeshift gurney containing a dead body, covered with a dark blanket. That dead man was also tall, and the blanket only covered a little past his knees. I could see his long legs and large tan feet. He had muscular calves and big ankles. He must have been a tall man indeed.

“What is going on?” my father asked with concern in his voice.

“He fell off the building, sahaab,” replied one of the mazdoors with tears in his eyes. “We don’t have enough money to transport his body back to the village and we only have enough to bury him. But, if we use that money, then we won’t be able to give anything to his widow. He has a young child as well.”

Without another word, my father reached in his pocket and handed the mazdoor some money. “Shroud and bathe him, properly,” my father said. “And bring his body to the mosque. Insha-Allah (God Willing), everything will be fine.”

The mazdoors thanked my father and graciously took the money and the body of their companion.

But instead of taking me to the market, my father turned towards the mosque. I complained and whined to no avail. I asked him why we had to go to the mosque since we already gave money to the dead man’s friends. In response, he told me about a tradition of our Prophet in which the community has a collective obligation to pray over the dead. That important obligation would be satisfied if even a few members of the community prayed over the burial. But if no one performed the rites, the whole community would be held accountable on the Day of Judgment.

After reaching the mosque my father spoke to the Imam and made arrangements for the dead man’s funeral and burial. The last prayer of the day was upon us and, after the prayer, people from our neighborhood donated a large amount of money for the dead man’s family in the village and prayed over his dead body. Following the prayer, in line with Islamic traditions in burying the dead as soon as possible, the entire crowd somberly accompanied the funeral towards the local graveyard.

Once again, my father yanked my hand and joined in with the crowd. I whined again, craving what I was craving, and asked him why we had to go all the way to the graveyard after doing so much for the dead man. “It wasn’t a favor son, but an obligation,” my father replied.

“So, okay, we did the obligation, so why can’t we go to the bazaar. Why do we now have to follow the funeral?” I remember complaining. He stopped and bent down to look me in the eyes after kissing my forehead kindly. “Son every living thing will taste death. He was someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s loved one, and a man is dead. We are following, for the sake of ‘being human.'”

Another bout of laughter jarred me back from my day dreaming, away from the streets of Pakistan and back into cold prison. As the gurney rolled down the hallway with its laughing entourage in tow, I couldn’t shake the difference in treatment of the dead. There was no mourning, no collective respect for the loss of a life. Here the dead man was simply scurried to his final abode: the ice box.

Once secured inside cold storage, the job of the Department of Corrections personnel would be over. The nameless dead man would remain in his cold confines for the foreseeable future until the rights to his body were worked out. If someone claimed his remains, then all was well. But, if not, well then after a lengthy stay in the ice box he would be unceremoniously hauled off to yet another box of an entirely different and opposite nature. It was one of fire and heat, where his remains would be cremated, his existence burned to ashes, scattered, dumped, wiped, forgotten. His memory lost forever.

Even the dead man’s living quarters in prison, such as his cell and property, would be reclaimed immediately after his body was removed. By the very next day his cell would be cleaned and a new dead-man-in-waiting would enter; a never ending nameless and enigmatic commodity.
You see, in this place where the warehousing of humans is commerce, where the perpetual trade is of dead men, there are no identities, no rites, no somber moments of silence. There is no remembrance, no dignity. Not even a modicum of humanity even at the moment of death.

As I said, the prison is a place of commerce, and business here is booming.

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Author: Hamza Franklin | 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 knew a man whose life was swell and grand
Known for his good character through out the land
Handsome, a real sight, broad-shouldered and fit
One physical flaw, from time to time, his eye suffered a twitch
A miserly person he was not
Mom and Da slept on plush feathers, he slept on cot
A dutiful son looked at in amazement
He loved father fondly, of course mother was his favorite
She was gentle, yet stern, experienced and wise
Beautiful despite she was missing her left eye
In fact mother’s absolute favorite thing to do
Hold her son and let him know, “I’ve got my eye on you”
They talked for hours laughing and sharing into the night
Mother would fall asleep, Son would tuck her in tight
Come morning, there’d be toast and tea, more chats and laughs
All the adorations that a family can have
Father quietly protected Son and Mother’s world
One thing that mucked it all up, Son finally met a girl
He courted her and sported her much those passing days
Mother and he, little by little, lost their laughing ways
Days lost the battle to weeks, and weeks lost to months
After wedding bands and bells, children were sure to come
Mother was now Grandmother doing what she had to do
All the while she told her son, “I’ve still got my eye on you”
One day the grandchildren began shouting a dreadful shout
Their mother bustled down the stairs to see what the shouting was about
She found her children pointing, trapped in their cries
They were frightened to the core because Grandma was missing an eye
The wife told her husband she knew that this was so
“Husband, tell your mother it’s time for her to go”
Grandmother realized what she didn’t want to believe
Her son was in agreement that it was time for her to leave
She said, “Son, I know what you THINK you have to do
Just know “I’m still your mother, and I’ve got my eye on you”
Again, the day lost battle of times to weeks
Grandmother and Son were on the outs, the two would barely speak
Distant days later there came a rapping on the door
Father said, “Boy, don’t let me pound this door once more”
The door was opened and Father feigned as if he’d hit
He maintained his reserve, looked at his son, and simply told him, “Sit”
What is this I’ve heard from your mother’s. mouth?
Her eye scares your children, and you throw her fro. your house?
I must tell you something about the night that you were born
Entrusted with this secret, I was duly sworn
When your mother bore you, my heart began to cry
My soul trembled because you were born with just one eye
Your mother took my hand and told me you’d be fine
Then said to the doctor, “Please give him mine”
So the doctor obeyed until his very last stitch
Why is it do you think that eye if yours always has a twitch
Your mother gave you half if her sight, and this what you do?
What do you think she meant all those time she said, “I’ve got my eye on you?”
We’re parents, Son … We make mistakes

It’s not the tall things, but small things we do that make us great
So fix this, your wife will understand what you must do
Just teach her the importance of your mother’s eye on you

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Big Yard

April 8, 2019 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | 2 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

The “Big Yard” of the New Jersey State Prison is separated into four quadrants, aptly named “Quad” ‘1 to 4’. The entire concrete expanse of the yard is covered with a chain linked fence and barbed wires; which is further enveloped by the famous Leviathan of a wall that was built, perhaps, with the fort that housed George Washington’s troops crossing the Delaware River.

But seriously, walking within, past the sliding iron doors, and further surrounded by the massive prison structure, it gives an uneasy feeling of being encapsulated a la the “Russian Doll”. Even with the open sky, the claustrophobia is perceptible.

Along the southern wall there are row of houses that run into a McDonalds on one end. The very restricted view of the “Golden Arches” can be seen sideways from the two quadrants that are next to the southern wall. On the other hand, the sweet fragrance of the Big Mac and the McDonald fries is more of a liberating affair.

To the west, a grey, square church tower rises dwarfing even the big wall of the prison. Its Gothic architecture is plain to see with “Gargoyle” like small figurines decorating the four corners. I am rather quizzical about those ecclesiastical architecture choices but that is not the subject matter.

Anyhow, in the middle of the tower edifice there is a statue of ‘Mary’, her gaze lowered, she is glancing down serenely with a look of mercy, forgiveness, love, and perhaps a promise of a better tomorrow.

During summer months, right outside the prison walls, below the loving effigy of Mary, there are church events, talks, street fairs, concerts, Barbeques, voices of children and other merry-makers. I am talking proper festivities.

On other times the hustle and bustle of the city of Trenton is always around; as the prison is situated right in the middle of it, which constantly reminds us behind the walls about the subtleties of being alive. Yes, because that is what’s missing inside – life!

Sometimes I wonder whether people outside ever think of us in here or whether they even notice this prison. Or, is it as invisible to them as a fish in an aquarium.

You know what I am talking about right? The little exotic fish in that well-lit, full of bubbles, colorful aquarium. There are “oohs” and “aahhs” in the beginning and then it becomes almost invisible. Even feeding that damn fish inside becomes a chore. You forget, and every time you pass by the fish’s eyes follow you, the mouth opening and closing – screaming: I am still here.

In a way a prisoner’s life starts in a similar manner. A crime happens, investigations and sensational media reports are followed by the “oohs” and “aahhs” of the public reaction. Then the arrests are made and more “oohs” and “aahhs” follow, and finally convictions. The appeals that follow and the cries of injustice by the wrongly convicted are ignored as that fish in the aquarium – screaming: I am still here.

Walking the yard, I get this surreal feeling sometimes as if I don’t exist. With the cacophony of voices all around, I sort of feel like Patrick Swayze in that movie “Ghost”. I see, without anyone caring; I walk without anyone seeing me; I talk without anyone listening. Sentenced to literally die in prison; dead man walking.

As I walk, I hear a prisoner from the ‘Toastmasters’ program talking about the Virginia politicians’ “black-face” news. I wonder if those outraged with that scandal ever get offended by the tragedy of the incarcerated in this country. The charade they show outrage for is colorless. Yet the one within these walls take a peculiar hue of ebony and darker shades.

Epiphany! I suddenly look up and realize that I mistook her look. I hear a voice screaming in my head: There are no ‘glass houses’ anymore; they have built houses of stone and mortar!

Now I know why she is looking down. The messages of being ‘born again’ and preached opportunities to ‘absolved’, ring as hollow as the empty halls within that church. Mary’s gaze is lowered out of shame!

I have often wondered whether the walls of this prison were made to protect the society outside from us and our shameful acts, or whether these walls were erected to hide the shame of the society.

Food for thought I suppose – “I’ll be moving along now Mary”, I mumble. Because what do I know, I’m just a dead man walking.

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Casper

March 19, 2019 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | 3 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

There is a house outside of the large wall surrounding the New Jersey State Prison, a quaint little Tudor house with an attic window. I can see the upper portion of the house from my housing unit and when I walk around the prison yard.

Back in my high school days, a good friend of mine lived in the attic of a similar house in Long Island. His room faced west and, from the attic window, the sunsets were epic. Sometimes we would climb out of the window to sit on the roof that hung just over his driveway. From that point of view, we could watch the girls from our high school playing basketball on the court across the street.

All these years later, here this alien swath of land with its barred windows and barbed wire, I can look at that little Tudor house and find solace in its presence. It reminds me of a much happier time.


In prison, being melancholy is not a feeling but rather a state of being – in perpetuity. A few fleeting moments of joy feel like gasps of air for a drowning soul.

I don’t know who lived there, but that attic window with its pink curtains, was a breath of fresh air. In this sea of despair, that attic window became an island of hope. In that window, humanity was alive and well.

I am Muslim so holidays like Christmas and New Year don’t mean as much to me. Yet during Christmas, someone would place a pink placard sign in that attic window, wishing all a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Through falling snow flurries, I could see that pink message of love. The humanity of that simple act touched me to the core. It caused me to smile in my despondency and, for that, I am forever grateful.

In my mind, I often place myself in that attic, wondering how the view must look from that vantage point. Surely, looking out at the wide expanse of the prison – foreboding and threatening – must have felt foreign and eerie from behind those curtains. The apparitions inside must have appeared ghoulish.

Over the years, the little attic window changed steadily. First the window was shut, its curtains draped, no more pink signs spreading love across the expanse. Eventually, it was just boarded up. The view blocked, the hope crushed and the well-wisher silenced.

I didn’t like seeing the changes but I did understand. I am a pragmatic man, after all. People move on, things change. And from their perspective, the prison must have been a frightening place, filled with ghosts. In a way, they were right – partly. As it is with all things, there is good and bad here. And in prison, there are also many who are just misplaced. Wandering spirits.

So, yes, I understand but I am still mournful because I never had a chance to show my appreciation. Among the many evil wraiths that roam these cell blocks, I like to believe I am one of the friendly ones. So, if by some chance of fate, this composition reaches the one behind the pink curtain in the attic, I just want you to know that from the bottom of his translucent heart, Casper says: Thank you.

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Dark Side Of The Moon

February 17, 2019 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | 53 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

William Shakespeare once said: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot… signifying nothing.” I often wonder if Shakespeare was ever incarcerated, because I am, and I feel this way every day.

I like to consider myself an optimist. But behind that optimism lies this feeling that I just can’t shake off. It’s the feeling of worthlessness and uselessness. It’s an utter negativity that’s at odds with my deep religious beliefs. If I look through a religious prism, I know that this sentiment is blasphemous. No self-respecting religious person would adhere to the notion that our lives signify nothing.

If I were to mention this to a fellow Muslim, for instance, he or she would surely quote me a hundred verses from the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet that explain this concept away. “It will all make sense at the end,” is the belief we’re taught to hold on to. I’m sure that Christians and Buddhists and Hindus will likely say the same. Even an atheist who argues about the fallacy of believing in the existence of a God would probably disagree with the idea that life signifies nothing.

Now ask a person who is locked up behind bars, where human existence is abstract at best, almost like living on the dark side of the moon. To a person like me, sentenced to 150 years, the phrase “life is a tale, told by an idiot… signifying nothing” is more than a concept in literature. It is an anthem.

I live in a cell that measures 12 feet in length and seven feet wide. The walls are painted a light gray, sort of matching my mood. I could have chosen a dark gray color but I chose the lighter shade. I try to be an optimist, after all. I don’t hang anything except two calendars on the wall. Pictures of loved ones would only hurt too much on my bad days and I don’t want to invite any comments from the other people in this place that might trigger a fight. So there’s nothing to look at when I sit on my bunk, other than a long, thin plexiglass window, through which I see the world when I choose to look.

When I do look out the window, the feeling is almost surreal, as if I’m doing something forbidden. As if the mere act of looking outside is sinful, somehow. The scenery sucks, anyway, because my view of the world is hindered by the sight of the sprawling prison itself. I mean who wants to see castle-high walls and chain-linked fences decorated ornately with barbed wires all day? I do enjoy looking at the sky, though. Finding star constellations has been one of my hidden hobbies since I was a child. My name is Tariq, after all. It means North Star.

My life is far from celestial, though. I sometimes think about the man I was before I was incarcerated. I come from an immigrant Pakistani-American family. We came in pursuit of the American dream and, for the most part, my family was able to achieve that success. Obviously, with the exception of what happened to me. I was the first born son, the older brother. Before prison, I went to college and started my own business. I worked hard to supplement my father’s income and to be there for my younger brother. I had meaning then. I had purpose.

Now, the smallest interactions with my family can make me feel worthless, although that is never their intention. Case in point: I just got off the phone with my brother. I couldn’t ask for a better one as he is the best man I have known in my entire life. I daresay that all of the dictionaries in the world should just paste his photo under the definition of the word brother. He is a real estate agent now, a husband and a father. He takes care of my parents. His life is busy but whenever I call, he puts everything on hold to see what I need.

In this case, I needed him to do some research for me. It was a simple request that I would have been able to do myself if I was on the outside. But we don’t have the ability to search on the internet. So, instead my brother made his high-end client wait and began to search for me. He did his best to pay attention to my instructions and requests. But I could feel his agitation building up the more I asked of him. As always, he didn’t complain. The only thing he said before ending our conversation was “I wish you get out soon, bro.”

And that was enough for me. There was nothing in that remark other than his earnest wish that I come out of this prison. But in his voice and his tone, I heard pain and I heard resignation for my plight. I heard the sadness that comes from his putting his life on hold, even for a short amount of time, to help me whenever I had a small request. I felt the weight of being a burden.

Prison is designed to inhibit all avenues of your dignity. It makes you feel like a beggar. And that is exactly the way things are meant to be inside here.Prison makes you a person in perpetual need of others. For a person like me, who was always the helping type on the outside, having to ask for help with even the simplest tasks goes against everything I am. Every request for help is a favor which I am unable to repay. So, that brings me back to feeling like a beggar. It’s a feeling of worthlessness.

This is my existence in prison. These are the thoughts I have as I sit alone on my bunk or see the five storage bins that contain all of my belongings. Three of those bins, which are about the size of your average laundry bucket, contain my documents from my criminal case. Of all the property I own right now, legal paperwork makes up the majority of it. I’m sometimes astonished by the amount of paperwork I’ve accumulated over the last 16 years trying to appeal my case. That process has also added to my sense of meaninglessness.

I sometimes think it would have served me, the taxpayer, my family and trees, in general, better if they had just told me at my conviction that I should play the lottery instead of filing for appeal. I wonder at times if I die in this cell today, would they recycle all of this paper or would they just throw it in the garbage. Useless paperwork for a life rooted in uselessness.

Every day I contemplate whether it is worth it to leave my cell. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I do. Whether I’m good or bad, the day will end the same, exact way. A door will slide shut and I will be back in my cell. I wonder if any of this experience means anything or whether Shakespeare had it right all along. But then I consider whether I even have the right to wonder about anything at all. I’m just a convict rambling from the dark side of the moon. Is anyone even listening?

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