Israeli occupation forces kept me in isolation throughout the entire period of investigation. I had no idea what was happening outside. After thirty-three days had passed, they transferred me to the Damon Prison alongside Samah Jaradat (who is now released).
In the first few moments, we both stood in shock in front of the doors of the special section for female Palestinian prisoners. We did not know the place, nor what we were going to face when we entered. Suddenly, several female prisoners approached us. One of them announced, “Samah and Mais have arrived!” We wondered how they had managed to hear of us. Why were they waiting for our arrival? We found out later on that they were in touch with our lawyers and families who were checking up on us.
On the first day in prison, we got to know all of the female prisoners. We sat with them and talked for long hours. We were also able to take a shower and change into clean clothing after a long period of hygiene deprivation. The prisoner Amal Taqatqa brought us clothes and personal items. We ate lunch and learned about the rules of life in detention and internal regulations, one of which was to refrain from disturbing fellow inmates after 10PM.
I learned about the prison’s system, which included a time for turning off the TV, the lights, specific periods for breakfast and lunch, scheduled hours to clean our shared room, and the duties assigned to each detainee. The system I created for myself consisted of reading books, learning English and Hebrew, and following news and political developments.
Learning about the experiences of former prisoners was beneficial. Every prisoner sees in their own eyes what prison is like, and based on that, they create their own experiences. I never imagined that life in prison would be so cruel, and yet, at the same time, still carry a promise for a better tomorrow.
The first time my family visited me was very difficult. I had just come out of a harsh interrogation. I wanted to hug my mother and father, tell them how I felt and how much I missed them. I wanted to tell them what had happened to me, but for many reasons, I couldn’t. I felt safe and reassured after I saw them and heard news directly from them. When their visit ended, I felt that a part of me had left. I desperately wanted it back.
Stories of Suffering Alleviate Pain
Different stories are carried by prisoners under occupation. Arrest and interrogation experiences may be similar, but each is a tale that leaves behind an unforgettable imprint.
Prisoners are able to forget their own suffering and pain by listening to the stories of others. Still, it can be harmful for a prisoner to continuously remind their companions of their suffering. There is psychological and social support that allows a prisoner to overcome the darkness and to look towards the future in an attempt to resist guards and intelligence officers and to transform the prison yard into a cultural, educational and social arena. I was able to move past my experience through the help of the female prisoners, some of whom had received very long sentences. Through this sense of community, we were able to break free from restrictions, keep our spirits up, and live.,
Life in prison is an alternative world that only those who have lived the experience can understand. All details inside a prison matter, unlike those in life outside. One of the things I miss the most was in the evening, at 6PM, when the female section and the rooms closed. I would sit with Khitam Saafin, Elia Abu Hijleh, Ruba Asi, Shatha al-Taweel, Layan Kayed, and the dean of the female prisoners, Amal Taqatqa. We brewed tea or coffee and served sweets and snacks and spent the evening chatting about news or daily events. Any minor event made for fresh discussion.
Another thing I miss took place in the early morning, around 6:30 AM, when we would listen to a radio station that broadcasted songs by Fairuz. Her voice and her words interlaced with the calmness of those dreamy mornings. We would prepare Nescafe and get ready to live the life that the jailer wished to end.
The Israeli occupation attempts to isolate prisoners from their families and friends, as well as impose policies to make prisoners feel alone and unable to connect with the outside world. For instance, radios are often randomly confiscated by the authorities to prevent access to varied sources of information. The only way families can be reached is by smuggling out letters with freed inmates at the time of their release. In some cases, the occupation intelligence manages to seize these messages.
Sometimes, though, when a letter makes it to its destination, the prisoner is filled with a feeling of victory. A part of us is able to gain freedom and greet the people we love. Prisoners’ families consider letters to be sacred items.
“The sun of detention is rebellious”
All the darkness has passed. The rotten fabric that barely fades away from your sight, stands between you and the light along with life, like a steel wall...You wish that the color black would be erased and its name removed, or replaced by another. However, if replaced by a color deemed ‘fun’, your grudge and hatred do not fade away. Momentary blindness remains, even if it becomes the color pink. When it begins to descend right in front of you, you know that you have returned to the difficult moments. You may receive punches and slaps as you walk down a narrow corridor that you do not know where it ends or whose shadows were there. But you are not alone.
I wished to touch the sun’s golden strands, for it to dye my skin and for my sweat to drip from the intensity of its light. For it is she, the sun, who shines, and with it shines every hope and birth. When I first stepped out from the underground, after a long deprivation from the essentials of life, I welcomed the kisses of the gleaming yellow ball as she embraced me. I was teary-eyed, squinting against the light, and I said to myself “ah… finally.” For just those few seconds, I enjoyed this natural cosmic beauty.
The crow came and spread his darkness, yet I still saw through the small gaps of the blindfold. I felt victory and the failure of their promise to end the blossom of this country. After that, I was transferred to a place filled with sun rays that passed through squares, falling on those whose privacy has been violated and those deprived from enjoying the golden waves beyond prying eyes. I used to wake up early, like others, to sit and watch her beauty for a long time as the clouds passed by. Oh, how fast time passes. I recall the past as if it is a novel or a story that has not yet been released.
This crow has tried to deprive us of the simplest things humanity enjoys, to curse our identity and our Mother. We remain, hanging on the morning gallows with our forehead bent towards death, because we do not bow to her alive.
For Every Prisoner, a Gesture
More than two months have passed since I parted with the prisoners of Damon. I still remember every detail about them. I still remember how the clock hands moved away from the sun of freedom.
If a new prisoner came, they would prepare clothes for her and whatever supplies that were available. She would be welcomed with joy and love despite the cruelties of life. If a prisoner left, you would see the others’ eyes fill with tears as they watched her steps. Those were tears of joy and sadness that flowed with the parting of one of the girls who carried many smallworlds with her.
One of the most difficult moments is parting ways with prisoners who have been sentenced for a long time. An internal conflict arises: How will I enjoy my freedom while those who have accompanied me throughout my troubles remain inside? I will never see them again in the morning, nor the evening. I will never talk with them again about routine problems.
They are not just voices. Behind every human voice lies a story and a melody.
*Shorouk Dwayat’s voice in the early morning “ladies, good morning from inside the prison walls,” and “Mais, oh Mais, oh Mais. Get up, there are girls who want something from the kitchen.” Her love for food and her cheerful spirit - sentenced to 16 years in prison.
*Maysoun Jabali, her book bag on her way to the library and her constant preoccupation with reading - sentenced to 15 years in prison.
*Nourhan’s intelligence and calmness when acting and speaking, and her enthusiasm when she hears the voice of her family through the radio - sentenced to 10 years in prison.
*Rawan Abu-Ziada’s strength and courage in making decisions, and, of course, her exquisite cooking skills - sentenced to nine years in prison.
*Malak’s sweet childish personality, which she jokes about in her Beit Safafa dialect, “people are naturally hyenas and we need to be the same,” and her passion for art - sentenced to nine years in prison.
*Amal Taqatqa’s tenderness and compassion, nicknamed Awatef - sentenced to seven years in prison.