Understanding Incarceration’s Impact on Children: A Personal Reflection

By Reem Jayyousi, NCPCF Social Media Associate

According to the Casey Report, more than 5 million children in the United States have a parent behind bars. That is 1 in 14 children.

Ask me about the 1 in 14, ask me about the 1, ask me about me. My father was incarcerated when I was 14 and I grew up feeling isolated; isolated by the community, my family, and estranged from even myself. I didn’t want to face the reality. I didn’t know how. How would a 14 year old make sense of her father going to prison for a crime he did not commit? How would I face it if I couldn’t even understand it?

The pain was unbearable. My grades suffered. I had trouble keeping friends, and it even affected my relationship with my family. I had an overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness, and I felt like I couldn’t deal with any of it. Especially since I felt like I was alone throughout the entire experience.

This past week I attended the International Prisoner’s Family Conference, I met some amazing people; some who at one point in their lives had an incarcerated parent or those who were the parents that were in prison themselves. I walked around booths, hearing people’s personal stories about their own father or mother who was once in jail, I met people who turned their pain into children’s stories so that other children could have a guide to help them make sense of what is happening. It was a great experience, and it made me realize that there is a lack of research done on political prisoner’s children. Their stories impacted me in a positive way, it showed me that it isn’t the end of the world and that it does get better when you become older and perhaps makes you more capable of constructively channeling your hurt and anger. These stories taught me that I can make a difference in the community when I use my own experience and knowledge. I am inspired to create a program for impacted Political Prisoner’s children. The program will aim to help work directly with the children, their families, and it will also aim to collect data and research on the different emotions and problems that the political prisoner’s children experience. The programs main focus is to help connect the child with what is happening and to make them feel good about themselves and to help them understand that they are not alone.

I look forward to bringing new ideas and possibly creating research that looks at these children who are impacted by the incarceration of their parents and abuses in the American justice system.


An Entrapped Muslim Man Just Attempted Suicide, But Does Anyone Care?

Cross-posted from Huffington Post:  http://huff.to/1WrUFPV


“I want everyone to know that the next time I am violated by correction officers or their supervisors I will take my own life. If taking my own life is the only way to expose the evils that are practiced daily by corrections officers then I will be glad to do it,” as cited by John Knefel, 2016

These words come from Ahmed Ferhani, a Muslim prisoner who was entrapped by the NYPD, sentenced to ten years in prison and attempted to commit suicide late last week. Ahmed, who is receiving medical treatment at a facility outside of Attica where he was undergoing his sentence was in a place of hell — a hell that only those who have gone through the American criminal justice system can understand.

While Ahmed’s case continues to get little attention, his story represents a systematic effort by institutions in the US government to criminalize innocent Muslims. Criminalization of innocent Muslims has become a way of prolonging the “War on Terror,” and represents an effort to prove that the United States is “winning” this war.

Deconstructing the narrative around war and the Muslim body is to realize that Muslims have become a means to an end. Their bodies are devalued and used and abused only to the extent to which they serve national security interests. That’s why when 1.3 million Muslims are murdered, there is little, if any outrage.

“Muslims have become a means to an end. Their bodies are devalued and used and abused only to the extent to which they serve national security interests.”

In Ahmed’s case, his body follows in becoming collateral damage to the safety and security of the American state. Muslims, however have become collateral damage in a multitude of ways by either being put directly in harm’s way or putting themselves in harm’s way as the only means through which to resist state-sanctioned violence. In other words, Muslims bodies are continuously and precariously located at the nexus of life and death.

In her book, “Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence,” Judith Butler asserts that, “one way of posing the question of who “we” are in these times of war is by asking whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable.”

Muslim lives have become ungrievable precisely because they have been pitted as existing in opposition of “who we are.” The more Muslim bodies we lose, the more we know “who we are”; that is, a country that has relentlessly vilified Muslims to the point where one Muslim prisoner, Ahmed Ferhani, decided to try to take his own life. Remember, this is part of our narrative of “who we are.”

“Muslims bodies are continuously and precariously located at the nexus of life and death.”

While Ahmed lies on a hospital bed with his life hanging by a wire, former Guantanamo prisoner, Adnan Latif’s words come to life. In Latif’s poem, “Hunger Strikes, he writes that:

They are artists of torture,
They are artists of pain and fatigue,
They are artists of insults
and humiliation.
Where is the world to save us
from torture?
Where is the world to save us
from the fire and sadness?
Where is the world to save
the hunger strikers?

Where is the world to save Ahmed? Where is the moral outrage? Where are those who stand for justice? Ahmed’s attempted suicide is bold injustice met with bold silence. Will we continue to see Ahmed’s life as an indicator of “who we have become,” or will we become something different; that is a world that values Muslim bodies?

My Story

By Laila Yaghi, mother of Ziyad Yaghi

Every time I approach my computer to write, I become frozen and run away from facing my fears and my reality. I feel like running for eternity and not turning back!

People often tell me that “There are a lot of people who are worse off than you,” but that does not lull my pain or minimize it!

Yes, I don’t show my feelings a lot. I am the type that just stays quiet and breathes in pain. I rarely shed any tears, but when I do I feel the toxicity of them flowing back in me internally through my system. This chemical that is flown inwardly damages my entire being severely to the point it cripples my entire physique.

My days, minutes, seconds are laden with grief. I wake up so groggy from a night full of dreams. In my reoccurring dreams, I am trying to rescue my son from something or I am looking for him. The dream seems like it lasts for hours! The strange thing about my dream is that I know I am dreaming and in my dream I am so scared that I am going to wake up before I rescue my son. So I wake up very tired. I sit on my couch sipping cup after cup of coffee trying to exhale the grief and start a new day.

Then the days repeat themselves. I come home from work exhausted as if I had worked 24 hours with no sleep. I come and sit again on the couch like a statue not moving for hours. I then realize that I have been in that same position for hours and that I have not accomplished anything useful that day. I get mad at myself for not spending my day doing something useful and that I wasted my day doing nothing.

I thought that when I went to see my son, Ziyad, that things would be different. Of course anxiety kicks in weeks before I travel. I hope that he won’t see me depressed. I practice while looking at myself in the mirror to smile, to laugh so my face muscles will loosen up a little

I count the seconds and hope the days will go faster so I can see his beautiful face. That I will be able to touch him for once in years. I look at the calendar every day.

It is time to go now. I am in the airport thinking nonstop. In the plane now I’m praying nonstop that the visit will go smoothly and that I will look a little upbeat. I see him, I fight so hard to hold back tears but they betray me and they flow down. I feel terrible that I am causing him pain over the pain that he’s already enduring. I see his face and engulf it in my hands. I reach up to him and kiss him on his cheek and hug him. I really don’t want to let go. I want to stay hugging him but reality sinks in. I am being watched by a bunch of guards. He sits down and I sit down. I am at a loss for words. I need to keep staring at him. My motherly instincts are holding back. My mind is talking to myself, “you lost a lot of weight”.  He smells good, but looks a little pale. He squints a lot because his eyesight has significantly worsened. because he has been in solitary for so long; in fact he can barely see anything more than three feet away.

My heart was pounding so fast. I was so stricken with grief because his beautiful, big, green eyes were now weak. I smiled at him and he smiled back. I was happy to see him and I wished I could just take him back with me home. The thought that I couldn’t, made me bleed from inside. After the visit, I felt that I was turning my back on him while leaving and this reminded me how people turn their backs on the dead. Thank God my son is alive but thoughts rush through my mind, “Would I be alive when his term of 31 years is up?”

I talked to myself while I was in the motel room. I tried to convince myself that he is not doing that bad. I tell myself that I need to start taking care of myself so I can become healthier for him. But when I came back from this visit I sank deeper into depression. Depression cripples the person’s soul, mind and body!

I remember his big, green eyes shadowed with sadness. I feel he is still asking the same question he asked before, “Why am I in prison?” Except that now he is older and wiser so he holds the question in. I have no answer for that except that America will always be a country that preys on the weak. It will always oppress people and hurt people to the core! It will rip families apart, cause depression and sadness to anyone it chooses. It makes money off of people’s tears, off of mass incarceration so the wealthy will become wealthier. It lives off of people’s misery. It is a first world country in torture, in mass incarceration and betrayal of its own citizens!

I pray that America will become a better country. I pray that my son and all the people who are in his situation will be out soon. I pray that love will overcome greed!

Are Muslims Allowed To Mourn

Cross-posted from medium.com
Written by Maha Hilal

Are Muslims allowed to mourn?
Are they allowed to mourn the deaths of innocent lives?
Or do they not know what innocent lives are?
Are they allowed to mourn the loss of other Muslim lives?
Or does this make them disloyal to countries they call home?
Are they allowed to mourn the burden of collective responsibility that has been placed upon this?
Or do they have to accept this because we are told they are inherently violent?
Are they allowed to mourn the violence that will be justified domestically and abroad?
Or do they have to accept it because of the crimes of “their people”
Are they allowed to mourn at all?
Or can their mourning not be deciphered?
Are they allowed to mourn in silence?
Or does that still add insult to injury?
Are they allowed to mourn their positionality in this world?
Or is that asking for unwarranted sympathy?
Are they allowed to mourn the torture, detention, bombs, and murder of other Muslims?
Or does that mean they support violence?
Are they allowed to shed a single tear?
Or will that single drop be manipulated every which way?
Are Muslims allowed to mourn?
No one answers a word.

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

President Obama’s Speech at Mosque Missed American Families Victimized by State Violence

Cross-posted from Muslim Matters
Oped By Mariam Abu-AliMariam Abu-Ali was born and raised in Northern VA. She graduated from Georgetown University with a major in Government and a minor in Arabic. After graduating, she worked as a Communications Manager at ICNA Council for Social Justice, where she helped manage projects countering Islamophobia. She is currently the Director of the Prisoners and Families Committee at the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. Mariam’s involvement in civil and human rights is very personal. She has been advocating on behalf of her brother Ahmed Abu-Ali, a victim of torture and extraordinary rendition and a US political prisoner for over a decade.I was at the airport with my friend Reem when an older woman stopped me in the restroom.

“I’m sorry for what’s happening to Muslims in America.” she said, “I’m glad that President Obama visited a mosque yesterday. I just want you to know there are people on your side.”

I was shocked and touched by her words of solidarity with the American Muslim community. I embraced her and thanked her for her kindness.

Yesterday, I watched as President Obama delivered his speech at his first ever trip to a mosque. There is no doubt that his speech was a powerful one, and the content of his message is one that I hope reached Americans across the country. President Obama talked about the concern and fear that the Muslim community has faced in the wave of hateful rhetoric by politicians and growing anti-Muslim sentiment. He talked about the bullying and harassment that American Muslims have experienced, as well as the vandalism of mosques across the nation. He spoke about the long history of Muslim presence in this country, dating back to the slave trade, and stressed and affirmed the constitutional right to freedom of religion.

What Obama did not talk about, however, were his administration’s policies which directly contribute to the hateful, discriminatory environment American Muslims have and continue to endure till this day1. The reality of the matter is that our President’s rhetoric is at complete odds with his policies. And his policies are a significant reason why American Muslims have been seen and treated as second class citizens.

What Obama did not address was the fact that Guantanamo remains open and that it has only housed Muslim men. Until today, 93 detainees remain at Guantanamo.  Not only has Obama not fulfilled his promise of shutting it down, but he has kept Guantanamo open for longer than Bush did.

What Obama did not address was the surveillance of our communities, the incarceration of innocent men convicted under the guise of national security, and the informants who target our youth and houses of worship.

I watched as Obama gave examples of young American Muslims teens who wrote to him, troubled by the way they are treated in their schools and confused about their place in the world. And all I could think about was how our government, the U.S. government, tore my family apart when I myself was only a fourteen-year-old. It also tore apart Reem’s family when she was fourteen years old. Two Muslim men stolen from their families —my brother Ahmed Abu-Ali was 21 when he was illegally detained and tortured in Saudi Arabia at the behest of the US. He was convicted using the false confession obtained through torture,  and he continues to be held in solitary confinement with severe restrictions on communication with the outside world.

Kifah Jayyousi, Reem’s father, who once proudly served in the U.S Navy, has suffered a similar fate being detained in solitary confinement without charges for an entire year, then  held at a Communications Management Unit on false charges of material support for terrorism. He continues to be unjustly incarcerated because he did what every American strives to do, which is to help the global human community through charity.

In both cases, being good patriotic Americans didn’t shield them from the wrath of a government that has sought to fundamentally criminalize the Muslim identity. Therefore, when President Obama remarked in his speech that our community is both Muslim and American, we recoiled. After all, how did being American protect us?

Reem and I are both only two of countless victims of state violence, and for too long, the world has tried to silence us. The Muslim community has tried to sweep us under the rug, afraid that our stories will prove to be barriers on their journey to be accepted as “good Americans.” But we will never be silenced, and we will remain steadfast in this fight for justice.

Ultimately, my frustration lies with the American Muslim community. It is us who refuse to face the reality behind a recurring cycle of violence that is buttressed by deep-seated Islamophobia [1]. We continue to frantically put a band-aid on a problem that stems not from lack of interfaith efforts or outreach, but which stems directly from a set of policies under the guise of the War on Terror that distinctly and specifically targets Muslims.

Islamophobia [1] is systemic and institutional; that’s why my brother is in one of the most notorious prisons, the Supermax in Colorado.

That’s why it’s been 13 years of living without my brother in a country that heralds itself as being a beacon of human rights.

That’s why I write this today.

[1] The University of California Berkeley’s Center of Race and Gender defines the term Islamophobia explaining the reasons behind the fear:  Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure.  It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehab” of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise).  Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.