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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.

All content on this website is protected and copyright of MaQbool Inc

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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Eagle

January 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

What are you to me?
Who are you to me?
Whatever it is, you are to me!
I live inside and you inside of me
Indentured, captured, ensnared
You are tied to me!
You may walk and talk, fly about it seems
They might deny all they want
You belong to me!
The man is condemned, and finished
What is he to you?
They might inquire all they want
I belong to you!
Our love is surely an enigma
Our lives seemingly a non-ending stigma
Many have declared love as such
Yet, here it is, everlasting like eternity
In state of flux
But, sturdy, consistent, persistently evergreen
It flies, it soars, landing on
Snow covered peaks
My love gripped in the talons of your loyalty
My heart, my being, my existence it seems
Indentured, captured, ensnared
Forever imprisoned in the fields of your dreams
So, do you still ask…?
What are you to me?
Who are you to me?
Whatever it is, you are to me!

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Untitled

December 26, 2019 | Prison | Incarceration | Inmates | No Comments

Author: An Unknown Poet | Edited By: Tariq MaQbool & Hamza Franklin
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

Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that

There’s something good in everyday

Because when you take a closer look

This world is a pretty evil place

Even if

Some goodness does shine through once in a while

Satisfaction and happiness don’t last

And it’s not true that

It’s all in the mind and heart

Because

True happiness can be obtained

Only if one’s surroundings are good

It’s not true that good good exists

I’m sure that you can agree that

The reality

Creates

My attitude

It’s all beyond my control

And you will never in a million years hear me say that

Today was a good day

**NOW READ FROM BOTTOM TO TOP**

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