A Place Where Time Stops: Jail

I was sitting right in the middle of a minibus filled with bundles of textile; while they were taking me to the Bakirkoy Women’s Prison, the weather was cold, winter was coming and it was understood that this winter would be a harsh one for me and the others like me. I was sobbing out loud.

For the first time in my life, I was crying this hard. I was so sure that the judge would set me free that I didn’t request for clothing from home. With a thin silk blouse on in a jail cell, I shivered and cried. The hardest part was, as someone with diabetes, at the end of a long day in which I was left in hunger, I was fully stripped and search by female guards in an offensive manner. They say time heals everything, but no matter the time lapse, the trauma this created will never fade. Although months have passed, I still hold this belief.  

Jail cell… upon being locked up in a tiny jail cell, when the iron gates closed up on me, the verses of one of my favorite writers crossed my mind

“Bir alem ki gökler boru içinde…

Akıl olmazların zoru içinde

Üst üste sorular soru içinde

Düşün mü, konuş mu, sus mu, unut mu?

Buradan insan mı çıkar tabut mu?”

“The place where time stops”

They say there are two places where time stops; prison and hospitals. I am in a single jail cell. It was filled with more tears and pain than cockroaches. As I was shivering and crying, I cannot put to words how I awaited the reflection of the sunlight through the tiny window. Who would have thought the start of a day could bring such happiness to one’s life. That day, again, I was reminded.

With the early sunlight, the iron gates small windows opened up with a clamor and a piece of bread was thrown in. Tragicomically, as someone who hadn’t accepted the fact she was underarrest, I refused to accept the break. I thought soon, they’d bring breakfast, I mean they would bring breakfast, right? I was not going to eat a dry, crusty bread. A little after, when I asked the guards about breakfast, the bursted out into laughter asking, how would you like your omelet prepared. Yes, it took a while for it to sink in, but that dry crusty bread I had refused was my breakfast.

I was very stressful when the guards came into my single cell to place me with the others. I had no idea whom I would see, or what I would encounter. Once I entered, amongst the large crowd, my eyes locked on one figure; I spotted an old friend and we both rushed into a hug crying. Soon enough, I realized I should be introduced to others. How long one can stand to live in prison can be a topic of debate, but I thought I was lucky to be in one that was livable. Nonetheless,  learned a lot later on the kind of circumstance those in prisons of the Anatolia were situated in.

The only thing making me happy in the crowded prison was that we were all here for the same crime. I had never seen such qualified people in my lifetime.  

Two women who had headed the organization “Kimse Yok Mu,” a few police officials, business women who at TUSKON cheered for Rızanur Meral as she criticized the current government, a recently married clerk at a courthouse who had faced an unwarranted arrest, a girl who was solely arrested for visiting her arrested brother in prison, a wife and sister of a business owner, a total of 14 people.

Hand cuffs, jail cell, courtroom and prison… All things that I had only seen in movies. But there was one thing I hadn’t seen before in movies. While I was crying at the point of reunification with my old friend, one of the inmates made coffee and brought it to me. Another one used her own sheets to make a bed for me. And another offered me her last cigarette. Unlike in the movies, instead treating me in a bad manner, these inmates were supporting me. “We cannot say welcome, but we hope things get better soon” they said. And I understood that day that I had not conversed with the wrong people.

The poet said, “in a dungeon, minutes are no different than months.” Oh, how right was he. Unlike the rush in the outside world, time had stopped here. I was not giving anyone dates, shopping, eating with loved ones, tucking kids into bed.

We had a notebook, where we would leave a tally mark each day to keep track of the days… Everyday we would leave a mark and count, how many days had we been jailed? How many days ago were we tucked away in this prison as criminals?

Every God damn day, as I waited for my name to be cleared and set free, I would have put down the 137th tally mark in that notebook. If you asked me how that 4 month passed; with one word, I’d say “bad!” For most the 4 months, we told each other about our families and cried… “Let’s have some fun” we would say and sing a song, wanting desperately to distract ourselves. However, we’d end up singing sad songs and cry… We dreamed up the good days upon us while celebrating friend’s wedding anniversaries with simple cakes made with biscuits. In the prison cells we were all tucked away in with baseless claims, we made a prayer to God and accepted out fates.

“You still haven’t come to your senses?”

Yet, in our ward, they were even scared of us carrying out a prayer. Amongst us, the one who could read the Quran, had started to teach others who wanted to learn. Soon after, a threat from the prosecutor’s office reached us. çok geçmeden savcıdan tehdit geldi. One sentence; “have you still not come to your senses?” We all knew what this meant. They were disturbed even with our most natural right to pray and like many other things, we had to give that up too.

 Amongst us were some with terrible conditions. Ones without a family and therefore with no money at all.. those who couldn’t affoard shampoo or personal hygiene products like pads or tampons.. those who had to sell the homes and cars they’d bought through years of hard labor, all because they were trying to prove their innocence.

Yet the hardest where the mothers who had been separated from their little ones.. even if it is once in a while, they were allowed to visit their mothers and those days, we would each become an actress and act out a part in a play. In the play, the child who came to the prison to see his or her mother, the mom was an employee there and was there to check on us. We would all act according to our roles to be as convincing as possible. One child, we got him to believe this was a hospital, and as a doctor, his mom was there to help us. For instance, we’d pretend to be patients coming to his mother asking for medication. As adults, we’d move past these one-day, but our goal was to make sure our children wouldn’t be negatively affected.

We were women who lived their lives in honor, who did no harm neither to the government or the people…. Yet, the treatment we received here hurt us all very deeply…the actions, the poking of fun, acts of shame… and I could no longer endure.

I could no longer endure, breath, and didn’t even want to live! I don’t know how it happened, but I went through a mental breakdown. And forgetting I was a mother, I cried in front of my children. “Call me my lawyer” they say I screamed. “I don’t want to be in a place I don’t belong” I had said. I had made up my mind, dead or alive, I’d be out of there and I couldn’t think of anything else.

“I was put in a mental institution”

Yes, I’d leave prison. And I would be taken to a place that I’d never ever crossed before, a mental institution, and I’d be forced into being placed there.  

When my lawyer mentioned my state of mind, the psychologist of the prison called me in and asked “are you planning on committing suicide?” I replied, “Absolutely not.” Yet, no one can know what one will do here and I worried about the things I would do.

The psychologist didn’t even want to listen to me. No one listened to me, they didn’t try to understand me and therefore didn’t understand. It was a cold evening, when they once again handcuffed me and took me to the ward of the Bakirkoy Mental Institution. It was a mental institution designed like a jail cell. I was taken out of my ward with the words, “You are being taking for a routine control” and they took me to this institution.

It is February 1st… That was the date on the calendar when they stripped me of all my clothing from my tank top to the boots I was wearing. The heating system was not working, and although I wore size 7, I was given a size 12 male slipper along with a white attire. I looked crazy.

I was both very cold and very scared. Who would have thought I’d miss the prison ward. At that very moment, I would have given anything to be back in the ward. I continuously cried and begged them to get me out. Instead of listening to me, they were showing me papers with weird symbols on them. What do you see here? I see nothing. God damn it, I don’t see a thing in those damn papers!

I was afraid of them drugging me and making me go crazy. The next day, I wrote a statement to the prosecutor’s office. I wrote, that I would not accept any treatment in a institution that I was forced into. And including the diabetes medication I needed, I didn’t take drug they attempted to give me.

While I had thought the longest day’s I’d have had been in the prison ward, I spent a week in this mental institution that was worth a year in time. While people who had committed murder were taken out the other crazy people (should I say mental patients?) for fresh air, I was deemed “dangerous” and was stuck in the ward. I was on the edge of truly becoming crazy!

On the 6th day of my time in the mental institution, they brought in an unconscious woman to my ward. The drugs they gave her left her this way.

I got goosebumsp with the answer from the the guards as to why she was there: she had killed her 5 month old and 6 year old children by strangling them. She kepts repeating, I didn’t do it, the green man told me to do it.

No matter how much I begged them, they didn’t change my ward. She was unconscious, so there was nothing to be afraid of, they said. I spent the whole night hidden behind my bed, with my eyes on her.  At exactly two am, she opened her eyes and started to move. I started to scream. I couldn’t calm myself down and was about to have a heart attack. In exchange for accepting the medicine they gave me, they agreed to move me to another room…

In a room with only one couch, I fell asleep shivering in the cold. Next day, I was seated in a room with a group of doctors. “I said, I screamed last night to save my life. Look, I never though about committing suicide but I was about to have a heart attack last night out of fear.” And I told them about my friends in the prison ward. I said, we couldn’t even dare to kill the rats that were in the prison, and yet you tuck us in with criminals. I begged them please, please send me back to prison.

“Accepting malaria when shown death”

In my country, there is a saying ““accepting malaria when shown death.” This was exactly that kind of a situation. I had been crying in prison because I was taken in with a baseless accusation and now I was begging to be back there.

 

You wouldn’t even see in movies the gathering of such reputable women in one place; an academic who had made an important contribution to the findings in health at TUBITAK (also had worked before at CERN), in the Ergenekon case, the women who gave the report saying Dursun Çiçek’s wet signature was “authentic”, innocent girls from the military academy, and I.

This was the profile of my new prison ward. I felt lucky to be surrounded by such people, even if it was in a prison ward. Imagine a prison ward; no one screams, no one acts out, all inmates are friends, everyone is an education women who read, think, write, and pray…I couldn’t be sure whether I should be sad or happy with this phase.

“I am being released”

This is life… while it took away my family, freedom, job, and honor, it gave me a ton of great people. If one day this nightmare was over, I would want to be friends with all these women.

We were all in a big resistance… with the dying justice, with our loved taken from us, with being identified as terrorists. And out resistance was not by spur of riot, but with singing songs and holding on to each other tightly and crying. If one day I get out of here in good health, I’d burn the songs we sang on a cd and remember and cry in honor of these days. And those days weren’t that far away.

I had counted day by day, hour by hour the time that went by in that prison I had once been thrown into on one October day. It had been excactly 4 months, 7 days and 3 hours… And that night, the guard opened the door and passed me the paper that was to set me free… I couldn’t touch it. Yet, all those around in in the ward, bursted out in excitement as if they had been set free.

The ones in ward were all happy that at least one of us was set free, but I was crying. They were crying from joy while I was from sadness, as I had left behind my friends. Why couldn’t their innocence also be seen, why couldn’t they reach their loved ones? I had stopped the tally marks in our notebook at 137, but many innocent ones would go onto making tally marks in new notebooks and still it wouldn’t be over for them.

When the body gets out of jail, the soul does not…it was not possible to see this while I was in jail. My children, while I thought and promised to hug them tightly, I didn’t because my friends in jail couldn’t (and doing so would feel like betrayal) and each time I would go on to eath, I’d recall what they were eating and choke on my tears. I knew that, they didn’t even have the right to write letters to their loved ones. They would have to suffice with speaking to them and seeing them over the glass window once every other month.

“Adults aging too fast, children growing up too fast”

Only those who experience it will know what it means to be able to  could watch the sky’s infiniteness after months. You see trees, avenues, streets, and people who continue their lives despite witnessing you face injustice, and still seeing them makes you happy

If you ask me, what did you think when you first got out of jail, all I remember is a women wrapped around the arms of her children, crying hysterically like a child. That night, we didn’t sleep until dawn, we facetimed with my husband abroad, and talked for hours. Even if it was just virtual, it was great to be all together again.

My dear children. While I was aging so rapidly in the most beautiful, most fertile times of my life, they had been pushed to grow up too fast at a young age. While I was away, they were left home all alone. The most important thing was they never looked down, and tried to continue their life as if we were still there. Despite the peer pressure they faced in school with kids saying “You are all terrorists,” they continued their education. They continued being part of society, even though those whom they called aunts and uncles shut them out and turned the other way, without fear and their heads up high. I have to admit I am very proud of them.

Unfortunately, I cannot be as strong as my kids. Although I was out of jail, it was not easy to talk about that trauma. I still wake up each day thinking I’m inside that cold prison ward, I jump out of bed so I won’t be punished for being late for the 3 am count. After a while, my traumas increased, and I couldn’t stay home due to the fear that they would knock on my door one morning and take me in again. I was sleeping in a different friend’s home each night.

Anyone who read the lines above would think that I didn’t go through a typical “after jail trauma.” But in my country, there was so many crazy things happening that things one would think would never occur were occurring. Eventually, I would see that I was not wrong to think this way.

Only 20 days… it had only been 20 days since I had gotten my freedom back when my lawyer gave me the bad news; there was again a new case file put forward  for my arrest. I was going crazy, why were they doing this? What did they want from me? If I went back to jail, they would never let me go out again. I knew this very well and I had no power to go through the same thing.

There was one thing I had trouble accepting; I could no longer stay in Turkey…but they had placed a ban on travelling abroad in 30 percent of the people in the country (I made the number up but it is more effective if we put a number) and I was one of them.

As soon as I stepped into the airport, I got arrested! If I had stayed here, I would have been arrested too. Taking a huge risk for an ordinary person like myself, I made a choice; I would be leaving the country for good. But how?