A very special post today from our favorite guest author, Taylor Anne Vigil:
Inspired by true events
“For those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste, the protected will never know and for those who have lost it. Freedom has a taste that the protected will never appreciate.” – Anonymous
A man sits against the wall of his prison cell. He hasn’t heard the voices of his wife and children in months.
‘How are they? Are the children crying? Is my beloved staying strong?”
He buries his face into his arms. His muscles quake. It hurts to think about them. It hurts not to think about them. But what else can he do?
He no longer has his radio or his tattered paperbacks to ease his mind. It wasn’t enough that the guards had stripped away his every human right. They wouldn’t be satisfied until they stripped away his sanity as well. His thoughts are all he has. The cell is small and bare, with only a toilet and a thin mat for sleep. Of course, sleeping is rare in Solitary Confinement, especially in a cell that has no ventilation and a light which is always on.
His only companions are the flies hovering about an untouched food tray which sits just inside the heavy padlocked door. Consisting of a single egg and buttered bread, it wasn’t much of a meal. His stomach growls loudly, but he ignores it. He won’t eat until the guards start treating him like the human being that he is. But the guards don’t care. Truthfully, they are more than happy to let him continue to refuse food until his body succumbs to weakness.
A sharp pain shoots up his back. He winces, clenching his fists. It’s his kidneys. The guards have denied him access to crucial medications, leading to his health’s rapid decline.
“It could be worse.” he thinks to himself.
Oh, what a tall tale this was. Yes, he could’ve been forced to sleep in the lavatory where filthy tissues and excrement covered the floor. He could’ve been forced to endure the electric shocks given to other prisoners. Then, at least, he’d be with other people. Isolation is just as debilitating and he knows it. Ironically, the phrase, “It could be worse,” is only uttered by those fighting to stay sane in unbearable conditions. It is a lie they tell themselves to ensure they won’t give up, a false idea that they are better off than others.
What could be worse than being neglected in the cruelest of ways?
What could be worse than being treated like an animal?
His thoughts drift as the pain in his back increases. They drift to one of the darkest moments of his imprisonment: his flogging.
It was midday when a bus took him to the center of Jeddah. A crowd of men, recently returned from Friday prayer, formed a tight circle around him. One guard stood in front of him and held him in place by the wrists. Another stood behind him, whipping cane in hand. A third guard spoke through a megaphone.
“Allahu akbar!” he shouted. “God is great!”
The shackled man, the blogger, the activist, bowed his head. He clenched his eyes shut as the blows began to rain down on his back.
Throughout the abuse, he refused to cry out. In a bitter way, though, this was the goal of his oppressors: to keep him, and others like him, quiet, to keep those who spoke up for change gagged without the use of a cloth.
The blows were quick and relentless, the guard brutal and merciless. Still, the writer made no sound. He trembled in silent agony. He clenched his teeth.
The cane struck his shoulder blades with a sickening “Crack!”.
It broke open the welts that had already started to rise under his clothes. His knees shook.
His right leg buckled as the final lash was administered to his tortured flesh. Suddenly, he knew not where he was or why he was there. His thoughts, his movements, his entire being, was disoriented by the intense burning of his back, his buttocks, his legs. The cane had broken him, if only temporarily.
And yet this man was resilient. He would write a book a year later, despite the threat of further lashings. He would not allow himself to break again.
Hunched forward and in pain, the “criminal” was led back onto the bus as the crowd continued to shout the phrase they used in all aspects of their lives: “Allahu akbar!”
The man lifts his head.
Had he just heard a voice? Or was it footsteps?
“Hw shakhs hunaka?” he calls helplessly. “Is somebody there?”
No answer. He strains to hear something, anything which will indicate the presence of another human being. There is nothing but silence. Even the flies have abandoned him. Frustrated, he links his hands behind his head and tears at his hair. His breathing grows heavy, his gasps uneven. It’s all becoming too much; the isolation, the hunger strikes, his worsening health. All of this suffering for what? For a series of blog posts. All of this suffering for writing words of peace.
“Answer me,” he pleads to no one. “Someone talk to me, please!”
His back convulses. His knees squeeze his temples, his eyes desperate for darkness, his ears searching for sound. He rocks back and forth. His emotions spiral around him.
“Let me out of here.” he whispers, sobbing. “Tell me what day it is. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
He rises to his feet with effort, swaying as if ready to collapse. His limbs start to tremble. Tightness constricts his chest. His lungs struggle to inflate, filling with fluid. He stumbles forward, holding out one hand to steady himself. His eyes widen at the sight of his fingers spread against the wall. His nails are blue. His fingertips are next. He curls up, gasping, and coughing, fighting for air. His legs give way. His head smacks against the unforgiving stone floor. Dazed, he spots a thin shadow under the door. His food? A guard?
Uselessly, he reaches out with one hand, desperate for nourishment, for human contact, for mercy.
“Musaeadat!” he wheezes. “Help!”
Nothing. Balling his hands up and drawing them to his chest, he remembers his last words to his beloved, his best friend, his wife.
“I don’t care what happens to me. As long as I know that you and the children are safe. That’s all that matters.”
His breaths shorten. His eyes scan his cell. Sitting halfway upright against the wall is a napkin he’d managed to sneak in and hide from the guards. He squints, reading his sloppy handwriting as his vision begins to blur.
“Alhuriya.” he reads out loud. “Freedom.”
I wish I could say that this is only a story. I wish I could tell you that the subject came from my own imagination. But, if I told you such things, they would be the furthest from the truth.
This man, the man upon whom this story is based, has been subjected to inhumane treatment in a Saudi Arabian prison since 2012. He has a kind heart and a soft voice. He is peaceful and caring and only wishes good things for his people. In his black eyes are flecks of suffering. At the age of 37, his thick black hair is streaked with grey and his delicate frame has become even more fragile and worn down during his nine years of incarceration. His health is deteriorating at a rapid pace, despite recent reports stating that he is “being well-fed”. His wife and children haven’t heard from him since early 2020, shortly before he went on his sixth hunger strike. This one was sparked when he was attacked by another inmate shortly after being taken out of isolation. They are increasingly worried that their husband and father won’t survive until his release in 2022. I myself am fearful that he has been thrown back into isolation, where he is likely to remain until his release. Since his public lashing in 2015, he has suffered from kidney problems, respiratory distress and periods of unconsciousness. His life is in jeopardy with every day that passes.
His name is Raif and he needs our help. Though his sentence is nearing an end, Saudi authorities are placing him under yet another investigation, which could lengthen his time in prison. I urge you, my dear readers, to visit the links below. Let’s share his story. Let’s say his name. Let’s save his life.