This one goes out to these 12 and to all the others, some of whom made it out before reaching prison, some others probably up in Roumieh by now. Let this series of portraits also be yet another standing ovation to Zeina Daccache for her most moving and inspiring work with “12 Angry Lebanese” – a tribute to the thousands of people living through the horrors of Lebanon’s jailing system day in and day out, whether they’re experiencing it first-hand (the prisoners) or second-hand (their relatives).
29 year-old Mazen whom I met over in the “Mores” floor. An average Joe, a good guy, Mazen fell to the exact same modus operandi that they used on me. He was the first catch for that night, I was the second. When I could finally open my mouth to speak past the first night, we found support in each other. He made it out in about 3 days because he was clean on the drug test.
40 year-old rich kid from Cairo and his girlfriend are speeding through the security check at the airport as they’ve started calling their names for boarding, carrying loads of Champagne from the Duty Free. But remains of coke in a straw which was cut in half and forgotten in a box of cigarettes, added a prison stay to the couple’s 5-day non stop Orchid/Skybar Beirut marathon.
17 year-old Mohammed from DaHiye gets caught with 114 carefully packed one-halves of Freebase. Says business has been good lately, and that he’s been making up to $12k a month. Now he’s absolutely certain that it's the militia running up his neighborhood that sold him off to that other gang who busted him. But Mo’s almost happy to know that his next stop is Roumieh: he’ll be joining his four older brothers who are already in, and who continue to do their business from within.
|Zeina Daccache's theater play "12 Angry Lebanese" |
and the related documentary: Two must-sees.
28 year-old Rami is in for the eighth time. Says the fourth day without heroin is the most critical, that the withdrawal symptoms are worst. His stomach won’t take in anything. He’s vomiting water. Rami knows all the guards by now, and does a great job at guessing which one of us is getting sent up to Baabda next. Rami has never done a proper rehab, only 8 prison stays. Each and every time after he got out, he’s gone back to H.
19 year-old Karim’s car gets searched over and over again at a checkpoint, as though they knew there was something. The hair of his two friends and his looked too crazy indeed not be hiding something. The cop finally finds a tiny piece of hash: it’s the leftovers of these university students’ first-joint-ever. The three friends came in knowing virtually nothing about this world, but got out a week later from what felt like a crash course in Criminology and Toxicology.
38-year old family man Salim is so coked up when he gets thrown into the room at 4am that his eyes are shining in the dark. We are 8 people in a 10m2 room trying to get some sleep, but he won’t stop talking to whoever seems to be awake. Salem’s stories are so hard to believe it’s almost funny, but there must be some truth to them as he did end up spending time in each of the Drugs floor, the Mores floor, and the Gambling floor.
80-something year-old Abou Mezher is brought down from his village somewhere up in the mountains still wearing his gardening clothes. He was arrested in his own garden where it turned out he’s been growing one marijuana plant next to each plant of tomatoes. He calls it l nabte shareefe (the Plant of Honour) and has been making a living off it for years, but that’s probably the end of his little family business.
21 year-old Johnny has been helping his entire village get through the hurdles of official exams and paperwork, by forging legal signatures and documents. He’s been doing it for years now and has become such an expert at printing and faking techniques, he might be headed for a big career. While his crime appeared to be pretty big in terms of social impact compared to some others’, he was the first one to come out and without even a hearing (da3wa).
15-year old Abboudi has been away from his house for weeks. He’s still too high on Rivotril and Benzoxyl when he gets picked up, that he’s unable to recall why he’s getting arrested this time around. Something to do with Abou Ali, his older brother from another mother and also his drug dealer. As his fiercest protégé, Ahmed likes to hang out with Abou Ali all the time, it feels so light and mellow when he’s around, and all that counts is he is with him now.
35 year-old Abou Ali is the Pablo Escobar of his district, but only for prescription pharma drugs. Over the 15 years of his 5 past imprisonments, he has accumulated so many scars on his body that – by his own words – he looks like a zebra. Based on jail experience he’s found self mutilation to be the best way to keep the staff away. Abou Ali doesn’t mind pissing outside the hole despite the smell, and telling Hassan to clean after him.
16-year old Palestinian boy Hassan looks after everyone, keeps the room tidy and organized, even cleans the “bathroom” after Abou Ali, spreads the good mood. Hassan says he shouldn’t be here, that they’re trying to make him admit of raping a mute child from his neighborhood, and that he has no clue where they got this crazy idea from.
And last but not least…
50-something year old Umm Omar, mother of four, mother of all convicts, the only feminine presence around. She kept us well fed throughout the day and smoking cigarettes that she would smuggle in for us. Umm Omar makes a decent living as the cleaning lady to the floor, and also gets bonus reselling us goodies from the snacks and stores around Bliss street… at 50% percent premium.
(all stories as told, names were changed)
--by GiL. Photo by GiB#2