The communication management unit at Terre Haute, Indiana currently holds about thirty prisoners, twenty of whom are Muslims. These Muslims come from various parts of the world such as Yemen, Egypt , Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, America and elsewhere. The differences in their cultural backgrounds naturally causes distinctions in their personalities, but they all have one thing in common, they all share the same faith and that is what has brought them all to this racially classifed unit where their communication within the prison as well as, with the outside world is highly restricted. Insha Allah after reading this essay the readers will get a first hand account of who these prisoners are, and since the day they were snatched from their loved ones how they were able to maintain their sanity. Perhaps, if the world gets to know these prisoners and prays for the, Allah will bring an immediate end to their ordeal. Indeed, Allah is able to do everything.
These Muslims come from various parts of the world such as Yemen, Egypt , Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, America and elsewhere. The differences in their cultural backgrounds naturally causes distinctions in their personalities, but they all have one thing in common — they all share the same faith and that is what has brought them all to this racially classified unit where their communication in the prison and with the outside world is highly restricted.
Insha Allah [God willing] after reading this essay the readers will get a first hand account of who these prisoners are and, since the day they were snatched from their loved ones, how they were able to maintain their sanity. Perhaps, if the world gets to know these prisoners and prays for them, Allah will bring an immediate end to their ordeal. Indeed, Allah is able to do everything.
SCREAM IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
Until recently, those prisoners who were not already awake to pray Tahajjud prayer in the last part of the night would wake up hearing the adhaan given by John Walker-Lindh, commonly known as Yayha, but most of the Muslims here at CMU Terry Haute are already up for Tahajjud prayer prior to the adhaan, and can be heard reciting the Qur’an by those celled next to them.
Recently, Yayha was stopped from giving the adhaan and relieved an incident report for disrupting an early morning count by “putting his hands on his ears and screaming in a foreign language.” Since then, Yahya has stopped giving the adhaan loudly, but the Muslims still wake up for tahajjud and can still be heard reciting the Qur’an.
Yahya- a 29 year old American – has no time to waste. Like many others housed in the CMU who have memorized the Qur’an by heart, Yahya recites the entire Quran once a week. His whole life revolves around reading, writing, praying, and working out in his cell. His Muslim brothers know he is busy so they don’t hesitate to cook for him in order make sure he eats well. Don’t let Yahya’s calm and humble demeanor fool you. Yayha can be so funny that his jokes cause people to laugh until they roll on the ground. He has already served half of his twenty year sentence – a sentence that Mohammad Hammoud longs for.
AN INSPIRATION OF HOPE
Mohammad Hammoud is a Lebanese man in his late thirties is serving a 150 year sentence on terrorism charges. He keeps his schedule busy, so he is always behind in what he needs to do. According to Mohammad, “If you have lots of things to do and you are always behind in doing them, it means that you are doing your time the way it should be done.” Mohammad hasn’t given up on his freedom so he is often busy working on his case. He is indeed an inspiration when he wakes up every morning to remind those serving lengthy sentences that you lose when you give up, not when you lose your [legal] remedies. Perhaps it is for this attitude that he will be re-sentenced by the district court. Until then, everyone around him will be busy praying for his release. [His sentence was reduced to 30 years at re-sentencing – TML]
THE BEST OF THE PEOPLE BENEFIT OTHER PEOPLE
At 6:00AM, as the prison guards unlock the cells, Ahmad Bilal – a 32 year old American Muslim and a Hafiz of the Qur’an serving nearly a ten year sentence on terrorism charges – knows exactly what to do. His brothers are up and ready to start their day. Many want to start their day by taking a bath so the showers must be clean. Ahmad puts his boots on as he walks to the showers holding his cleaning supplies. Nobody has to remind him of his job. Close to a decade of incarceration has made him very disciplined. Ahmad starts his day serving people and ends his day serving them, and a small gift of a Hershey bar or something else sweet is sufficient to make his day, an opportunity which Dr. Rafil never allows to go by.
EVEN A SMILE IS A CHARITY
Dr. Rafil – a 62 year old Iraqi physician and a Hafiz of the Qur’an serving a 22 year sentence for feeding the children of Iraq – is a health conscious elderly man who starts his day with a morning walk. Since there isn’t much space to walk in the CMU, and no one here is allowed to leave this unit to use a huge prison yard, he walks back and forth in a small common area walkway. Dr. Rafil is not just concerned about himself. As an elder here, he smiles upon meeting others and won’t be content until others smile too. One way he brings a smile to everyone’s face is by making dessert for them. Right after the morning walks, Dr. Rafil spends time preparing these desserts and putting them in people’s cells. Indeed it is a time consuming job, but it sure is sufficient to bring a smile to somebody’s face, especially Mokhtar Al-Houari who sill grieves the injustice he faced at his trial.
THIS WORLD IS A PRISON FOR THE BELIEVER
After the breakfast is served at 6:30AM, Mokhtar Al-Houari – a 41 year old Algerian serving a 24 year sentence on terrorism charges – will grab his coffee and sit in the TV room to watch the news. Mokhtar has now been incarcerated for 11 years. He is extremely calm unless someone talks to him about his case. Whenever the topic of his case comes up , the anger he has been holding for the last 11 years starts appearing. Mokhtar talks about the injustices in his trial and the lies told against him. But those who know Mokhtar well, know exactly how to calm him down. All it takes is to initiate the subject of paradise. It is amazing how excited Mokhtar gets when the topic of paradise comes up. Other than that, the best way to cheer him up is to talk about soccer. Mokhtar spends his free time memorizing the Qur’an and already knows about 20 juz, and hopes to finish the remaining 10 juz soon insha Allah.
DEADLY DANCE IN DEADLY RIOTS
The CMU atmosphere till 10:00AM is silent. People have little to do, so many go back to sleep; but not Kevin James, also known as Shihab. Shihab – in his mid thirties – is serving close to a 10 year sentence on terrorism charges. He is known throughout the California state prison system for his dedication to Islam. While people are sleeping , Shihab can’t sleep. Throughout his incarceration, he saw many people get killed. It can often happen while prisoners are asleep. Even though such a fear does not exist in the CMU, Shihab still can’t sleep. Rather, he stays up cleaning the unit and memorizing the Quran. Shihab is extremely humble, polite, and can be funny at times, but it would be a big mistake to take these qualities of his for weakness. None knows how to dance a deadly dance — at times a deadly prison riot – better than Shihab.
WEDDING NIGHT ARREST
At around 9:00AM, Mokhtar Al-Bakri – a 31-year-old Hafiz of the Qur’an from Yemen – will gather his work out crew. This crew competes with each other in burning body fat. For the next hour and a half, Mokhtar is the champion of the workout galaxy. Nobody in his weight class is stronger than him in the CMU. This young man was arrested close to a decade ago on the night of his wedding, and was brought to the U.S. However, Mokhtar has a lot to thank Allah for. Mokhtar finished memorizing the Quran during this difficult time. He thanks Allah for this blessing and hopes to share it with this mother upon returning to Lackawanna, Buffalo.
A SON’S WISH TO SEE HIS MOTHER
Those sleeping will be up at 10:30AM. Saad Ibrahim, a 42 year old Lebanese man of Palestinian decent, is dedicated to running the kitchen by keeping it clean and serving food to the prisoners three times a day. All day long, people run after Saad asking him to do various things for them. Why wouldn’t they? Saad has expertise in so many areas. He is a barber, an electrician, a cook and also the head orderly responsible for maintaining the unit. Nothing pleases him more than someone making him feel special, and nothing makes him feel special more than someone asking him to do something for them. Saad has been incarcerated for about 18 years and hopes to be released soon. Saad’s biggest wish is to be able to meet his mother before she dies. Saad did not have a chance to see his father before his father passed away in Lebanon, and wasn’t even told about it by his family in order to not cause any further hardship on him. He found out about 6 months later. Saad’s 20 year sentences is almost over but for Brian Carr, much time remains.
CLEANLINESS IS PART OF FAITH
Brian Carr – also known as Esa – is an American convert and does not need a reminder that his brothers at the CMU depend on him to remove trash from the unit so the unit does not start to smell. Cleanliness is Easa’s first priority, and he also encourages others to stay clean. Esa, the only Muslim in his family, is known for his politeness.
HAVE YOU NOT SEEN THE ONE WHO PROHIBITS A SLAVE FROM PRAYING
The warden and his gang come to the CMU about once a week. The hatred that some of them hold for the Muslims in the CMU is apparent not only their faces, but also in their actions. The Muslims better make sure they don’t get caught praying in congregation, even inside the cells, or they will be spending the coming days in segregation, commonly referred to as the “hole”.
This is exactly what happened to Patrick Byers, who , since his recent conversion to Islam , goes by the name Jibreel .
Jibreel- in his late twenties- had just embraced Islam and at the time did not know how to pray, so he joined some of the Muslims praying together in a cell. Poor Jibreel was caught praying by the warden. The warden went bananas and ordered the whole unit to be locked down. Jibreel and those praying with him were all sent to the hole after the Warden made it very clear that such an act is unacceptable because, “this is America.” That was Jibreel’s first trial since embracing Islam. Since then, the congregational prayer, even in the cells, came to an end. The warden and his gang still come to the unit and occasionally bully the Muslims, but Muslims do not react to such a behavior.
At around 12:30PM, the CMU Case Manager and the Intelligence staff will come to the unit for the mail pass. They will pass out the incoming mail and will collect the outgoing mail.
Abdurahman Al Amoudi – a 57 year old man from Yemen serving a 22 year sentence – will use this opportunity to convey to these prison staffers any issues of concern to the Muslim Community as a whole at the CMU. These particular CMU staff members are somewhat open to the suggestions, but their hands are often tied by the champions of Justice in Washington, D.C. Abdurrahman Al-Amoudi has an important mission in life that is expressed indirectly every time he speaks, and that mission is to help humanity. It seems as though he is so eager to earn Allah’s reward that he wants to participate in every good that takes place in the world. Of course, he can’t resolve everything by himself, so at times he will ask Ali Asad Chandia for help.
A DEDICATED DAD
Ali Asad Chandia – a 34 year old hafiz of the Qur’an from Pakistan — is serving a 15 year sentence on terrorism charges. He is known for his thick beard and thick dark hair which are always groomed in such a way that it seems as if he is about to get married. Ali Asad Chandia is one of the few people who delivers the Friday Khutbas (sermons). He gets along with everyone, avoids disputes, and spends much of the time in his cell. Arabs consider him an Arab, Pakistanis consider him a Pakistani and African Americans from DC consider him a “homeboy”. But half an hour prior to his weekly phone call, Ali has very little time for anyone. He is preparing a list of things which he will be discussing with his 6 year old boy and a 9 year old step-daughter over the phone. After the call, he will be a little sad, but Adham Hassoun is in there to cheer him up.
STARGATE: WHERE ARE WE?
Adham Hassoun – a 48 year old Lebanese man of Palestinian descent – is a co-defendant of the well-known Jose Padilla, and is serving a 15 year sentence on terrorism charges. Adham Hassoun – also known as Abu Sayyaf – if given an opportunity can joke 24 hours a day. But behind this humor hides a great concern for the Muslim Ummah. Therefore, he must read all the newspapers before sharing them with others. Abu Sayyaf is ready to help whenever called upon, and will leave behind everything which is important to him to do that, unless he is watching Stargate on the SciFi Channel. Dispute resolution has never been a problem for him, for he holds in his heart immense mercy for his brothers. No matter how many disputes he has had with someone, Abu Sayyaf knows nothing but forgiveness. It is probably for this reason Abu Sayyaf gets along with Shukri Abu Bakr who is also known for such traits.
A HELPING HAND
Shukri Abu Bakr – a Palestinian man in his early fifties – is serving a 55 year sentence for running one of the largest charity organizations in the United States called The Holy Land Foundation. Like many others, Shukri’s crime was to feed the poor, build schools and hospitals, and provide scholarship and relief to the people in war torn countries across the globe. He is a father of four girls who visit him often. Even with the sadness which shrouds him after the non- contact visits, Shukri is easy to approach for any emotional or physical help one may need. Why shouldn’t it be easy? Helping people is what he has done most of his life. Some approach him seeking help in Arabic grammar. Others need help with a GED. Some want him to mediate in resolving minor disputes amongst the Muslims, and others just want someone to talk to. Shukri can only do so much; therefore, his co-defendant Mohammad Ahmad Al-Mezain shares some of these responsibilities with him.
FAITH PUT INTO ACTION
Mohammad Ahmad Al-Mezain – also known as Abu Ibrahim – is a 57 year old Palestinian whose crime is also lending a helping hand to the needy. Abu Ibrahim is a hafiz of the Qur’an and has numerous medical problems. He walks with a cane and can’t walk up or down the stairs. Those who know him, know him to be one of the most disciplined individuals in the CMU. Abu Ibrahim’s lifetime experience as an imam has prepared him for many challenges. He recites the Qur’an throughout the day, prays Tahajjud during the hours of the night, and his poor health does not serve as an obstacle to his early morning workout. Because he is a certified reciter of the Quran, people not only like listening to his recitation, but occasionally recite to him as well. Abu Ibrahim is extremely generous and does not know how to say “no”. He loves to cook, but dislikes to eat alone. He treats the younger generation in the CMU as his own children and often says, “I wish that my children grow up to be better than me”.
AS IF WE ARE LOOKING AT A MAN OF PARADISE
Even though Abu Ibrahim is known to have exemplary character, some say that when they look at Al-Sayyed Nysair, it is as if they are looking at a man of paradise. From Egypt, Al-Sayyed is in his late fifties is serving a life sentence on terrorism charges. Al-Sayyed has been incarcerated for the last 20 years and has spent much of these years at the supermax facility called ADX in Florence, Colorado. He always has a smile on his face and speaks in a very moderate voice with a sweet Egyptian dialect. If visited in his cell, he will be found making dua with is hands raised high, begging Allah for the goodness of his family, his ex-wife and his children with whom he lost contact more than a decade ago. Al-Sayyed loves to discuss the dreams he sees and tries to find their correct interpretations. He often writes letters to the world leaders to express his views on how to make this world a better place in which to live, and also likes to share the responses he receives from the White House and elsewhere. Everyone in the unit prays that he be united with his loved ones.
4 O’CLOCK STAND-UP COUNT
Much of the activity at the CMU will halt at 4:00pm as the prisoners are locked in the cells for a stand up count. Many will now take a short nap or will just lie down with their eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling with their minds busy thinking of the various concerns each one of them carries. The cell doors will be unlocked at around 4:45PM and a chow call will be made. Many will walk to the kitchen to eat, but not Ahmad Jibreel. He fasts most of the days of the month.
A SON’S GRIEF
Ahmad Jibreel, a 41 year old American born Palestinian is a Hafiz of the Quran, a graduate of the University of Medina, and also holds a law degree with a specialization in United States Labor Law. Like most lawyers, Ahmad loves to chat, except that Ahmad does it for free in order to cheer up his Muslims brothers. But behind this cheerful attitude hides the grief of a son who lost his mother while he was incarcerated. Prior to his arrival at the CMU, Ahmad was housed in various prisons. In one of the these prisons the staff took away Ahmad’s telephone privileges and he was unable to call home for months. Ahmad woke up one morning in a very uncomfortable state of mind as if something was wrong but he was not certain why he had that feeling. He couldn’t call home to share this feeling with his father, a known scholar of Islam. Ahmad walked to the chapel and humbly requested the chaplain for a favor, “ Can you please call my home and find out if my mother is OK?” The chaplain found the request quiet strange, but upon Ahmad’s persistence they called Ahmad’s home and asked about Ahmad’s mother. As the chaplain was talking on the phone, the chaplain’s face changed. After hanging up the phone, the chaplain told Ahmad “your mother passed away.” “Thanks,” said Ahmad, as he walked out of the chapel to cry in privacy, not to be seen by anyone. Just let Ahmad know that you pray for his mother and he will do anything for you.
I FEEL GOOOD
As the night approaches, Christopher Paul – also known as Abu Yusuf – stands in the kitchen by the microwave, singing a song by James Brown called “ I feel good” with full passion. Why is he so happy? It is his Cappuccino time. Abu Yusuf – a 47-year-old American convert – is serving a 22 year sentence on terrorism charges. Abu Yusuf’s personality allows him to blend into any age group. He can be an 18 year old, a 20 year old, a 30 year old, a 40 year old or the 47 year old that he is. This distinctive quality of his allows him to get along with everyone young and old. Abu Yusuf has a wife and a daughter he misses greatly, but he has accepted the fact that for now he has a new family which lives with him in the prison.
NO CAT LEFT BEHIND
“Habooba, Habooba,” is a call many can hear from their cells as Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer calls the cat that lives right by the CMU outdoor recreation cages. Habooba knows Abu Mezer won’t let a day go by without feeding her. Abu Mezer – a 38 year old Palestinian – is serving a life sentence on terrorism charges and has spent much of the last 14 years at the ADX in Florence, Colorado. Now that he is out of the ADX and is not in isolation, Abu Mezer likes to spend his time walking in the unit. He is also known for his dedication to serving the elderly and sick prisoners. Abu Mezer loves talking about his childhood experience in Palestine. The torture that he went through in Israeli prisons can indeed bring tears to one's eyes. Abu Mezer is not a very wealthy man, but that does not hinder his generosity. He also has an incredible memory, and from the pleasures of this life, he loves listening to the Qur’an and eating chicken. Those who know him constantly pray for his release so that he is reunited with his family in Palestine.
A GOLDEN ADVICE
The prisoners will soon be locked up in their cells for the night, but an hour prior to that, some will sit in the lively company of Mohammad Rashid, also known as Abu Zohair. Abu Zohair – the eldest Muslim prisoner in the CMU – did not just spend last few decades of his incarceration at the ADX, but also at various prisons around the world. As a Palestinian who was an active member of the PLO, he was dedicated to serving the people of his homeland. In his presence, poems are read, stories are told, and songs are sung to cheer those present. Due to his incarceration, Abu Zohair hasn’t see his children for more than 20 years and has a golden advice for those with lengthy sentences. According to him, “a great favor that you can do for your family is to pray for them. If you are constantly distracted by the worries of the free world then time will break you.”
THE FEW AMONG THE FEW
At around 9:00PM, the prisoners will be in preparation to conclude the day. They will take some ice from the ice machine and will lockdown in their cells awaiting a new day. Some are a day closer to freedom. Others have not lost hope that Allah’s help is near. They must go to bed early. Some have to wake up early for Tahajjud and for some, the sleep will bring an end to their stress …at least for a night. After all, they are all humans who, like everyone else, have feelings . At times they are happy and at times they are sad. At times they get along and at times they have disputes, but they don’t last long. They don’t have many belongings, so they have very little to lose.
They jewels of patience, gratitude and reliance upon Allah are what help them pass their sentences which will either end, or remain until they meet their Lord. It is because of the sacrifices of these few that many still live in peace. It is by the virtue of their sincerity, supplication and prayer that insha Allah Islam will be victorious. Indeed it is by the virtue of their sacrifices that they are honored as the few among the few in the CMU.
The prisoners at the CMU Terre Haute can be reached at the following address:
Inmate Name, Inmate ID #
FCI Terre Haute, CMU
Terre Haute, IN 47808
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)