A Two-day Trip to Taiz Prison [Archives:1999/12/Culture]

March 22 1999

I got a culture shock. 
As I walked in, my hair stood up on one end. 
The state of our prisons is terrible, and the way prisoners are treated is disgusting, in spite of the many human rights organizations we have in this country. As a mater of fact, this situation is one of the major issues that directly bears on the security of the state. The horrible and indescribable suffering of prisoners goes beyond the power of any writer. 
To drive my point home, let me tell you of what I came to realize a week ago. 
Last week I was jailed in a court’s prison for 2 days. I did not, of course, do any thing wrong. The only reason I can think of is that they wanted me to bribe them and when I refused to comply, they put me in this jail. I tried my best to be patient but I was stunned by so many things. 
The first thing that caught my attention is the way prisoners are treated. They are treated like animals, may be worse. I think what is called the rights of the prisoner never exists in our jails. Often the prisoners are like tools or toys used for the amusement of the jail keeper. Though he is only a jail keeper, he behaves like a mighty commander in the field. Once you are locked in, any thing you want, including going to the toilet, is not possible without the consent of the jail keeper. Of course you have to buy his consent with your money. If you want to drink or eat or go to the toilet or even simply to sleep, well you have to pay up. Money is the only language he speaks. 
And how crooked and twisted ways he has to extract your money. I will tell you something I saw. One of the prisoners decided not to let the bastard get any more money from him. Do you think he succeeded? No way. Being very shrewd, the jail keeper came to this stubborn man smiling and told him that he has been released and that he is free to get out if he pays some money – hak Alrissama meaning the jailers fees for taking care of him! The happy fool, eager to get out, swallowed the bait. He borrowed some money and gave it to the jailer, who took the money, turned his back and walked away. The poor prisoner who realized what happened, simply cried and cried. 
That is not all, for I saw something more dramatic. At night, specifically after the Night Prayer, this prison’s keeper took money from some wealthy prisoners and let them out for the night. Of course they have to come back early in the morning. In other words, they are not really prisoners. 
And now to the prison as a place. I can tell you with complete sincerity and honesty that this jail is not fit for pigs, let alone human beings. It is very old, very small, filthy and awfully crowded with human beings. Some people have been there for a long time, without trial. We could not sit down nor could we sleep. There was no water, no bathrooms, no electricity. You might die out of hunger and thirst if you have no money. 
The really sad thing about all this is the fact that no judge in the whole country is moving a finger to deal with this issue. The people we honor as men of justice are perhaps busy with more serious cares and problems, like building houses or getting new cars! No human rights activist has been able to do something about it, though they do make a lot of noise. 
Prisons are places for rehabilitation not of destruction, assuming, of course, the people who have been taken to prison deserve to be there. These people are made to pay for wrong deeds. In our country, however, the case is quite the reverse. I hope my appeal, based on a pseronal experience, will reach the ears of the people who control this country, and will do something about it. 
By Tawfiq Mohammed M. Saeed,