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And I Thought Freedom Was Free

November 11, 2005

It was around 7:30 pm and the sun had just set. I took a shower and donned my Lee Cooper’s and a Reebok t-shirt, choosing some flip-flops over my boots for comfort. I took my Guyton textbook out of my bag and grabbed my Physiology textbook and a couple of pens. I took my cell phone off the charger and then grabbed my wallet, checking if I had enough money for dinner; then stuffing both of them in my pockets. After I was sure I wasn’t forgetting anything, I grabbed my car keys and told my homeboy I was headed to the library and then to some friends to do some discussing for next week’s Physiology exam. 

It was pretty fair outside…a nice breeze to relieve us from the constant dust storms we’ve been having the past week. As I made my way to the car, I waved at Waheeda, the old lay that made tea at the corner. I wished I had time to sit and indulge myself with a cup of her sweet coffee but knew I was running late. Just as I reached the car and was taking the keys out of my pocket, I heard someone call my name. I looked around and didn’t notice anyone I knew. Then these two Western Sudanese men dressed in plain clothes approached me, followed by two which I recognized. They were the ones who have been trying to sue me. 

I asked the two Western Sudanese men what they wanted. They were both tall and well built. They had an air to them that made me sense that they were not here to talk, but were here for some other business. They asked me if I knew the other two and I said yes. They asked me if I owed them any money, to which I replied in the negative. 

Then I mustered up some courage and asked them who they were and what they wanted. They said they were cops and I asked for their badges. They willingly showed them to me and told me I was under violation of the law for not responding to three court orders. I told them that I thought the court orders were a joke but the cut me off, telling me that they’ll be taking me to the precinct now. I didn’t want to create a scene right outside my own house so I agreed, not even asking for a warrant. I asked them if I could at least go back upstairs and dump my books there. They didn’t allow me. 

They stopped a rickshaw and we hopped on; me in the middle of the two hefty cops. The other two who were suing me stayed back and were told to come the next morning for the hearing. 

The precinct turned out to be one near my neighborhood. Inside, there was a TV in the main hall with about 8 officers glued to its screen. They were watching an Egyptian series which I recognized from one of the actors. All of the officers looked at me, wondering what the hell I was doing here. I certainly didn’t look like a crook so they must have thought I was filing a complaint. They were wrong. 

The officer at the desk approached us and asked the two cops why they brought me. They said I am to spend the night in jail pending my hearing the next morning. The police officer asked him if they had any warrant for my arrest and told them he can’t book me without due process. That’s when I realized that corruption has no limits. 

One of the guys who arrested me took him aside and said something to him, totally brainwashing the officer of all the ethics and laws he had learned. They ended up laughing together and I instantly knew I was spending the night here. 

They took me inside to meet the ‘booker.’ They asked me my name and address and other related info and told me to empty my pockets. They told me to switch off my cell phone and I activated the security lock before doing so. They told me to count all the money in my wallet; yea right…as if they won’t steal it. Then they frisked me for other objects which might come in handy once inside the cell and they told me to remove my belt. I asked them if I could make a phone call and notify the boys but they snapped at me and one of them aimed a fist at me; letting me know that I’m their bitch tonight. Then they threw me in the cell. 

At least a mug shot would have been cool; I just had a haircut and needed a shave. 

The cell was a huge room with 3 openings to separate cells. To the far left was an opening without a ceiling, and I could see what looked like bathroom stalls. The part without the ceiling had bars on top to prevent anyone from escaping. The floor fully ceramic and the previously white walls had taken on a new color; brown. 

As I entered, I saw all eyes focusing on me. I was so terrified that I stood there for what seemed like minutes. There were bodies sprawled all over the place, each man fending for himself, trying to occupy as much space as he can in order to stay comfortable. I saw an empty area and sat down, thinking of what just happened to me. A man approached me and I thought he was going to threaten to kill me if I didn’t give him my t-shirt. 

Instead, he offered me some space and asked me what my ordeal was. After telling him, I asked for his story. He told me that he got into a fight with two guys and beat them up, later hospitalizing a police officer that came to the scene. Right then I felt embarrassed…thinking I should have made up some macho story to replace the one I got arrested for. I was in a room full of murderers and thieves and all I had to offer was a pathetic story about owing someone money. 

I had to improvise a way to notify my boys of what just happened. A while later a man came to visit one of the inmates. I thought there was a meeting room where they would talk but soon found out the only way they’d talk was through the bars. Right then I got up and asked the guy if he had a cell phone. Much to my relief, he did; and I told him I was jailed illegally and needed him to call a friend of mine and tell him where I am. He agreed…God bless him. 

Half an hour later, Moh’d shows up. Relieved, I thought he could put some sense into these guys and let me out. After dozens of minutes, the cop put his put down and told Moh’d that there’s no way he’s letting me out tonight. I told Moh’d to go home and come back early the next morning. He asked me if I needed anything to eat but I said no thanks. The last thing on my mind was food. 

I sat down and leaned against the wall; remaining in that position for 4 hours. My whole life was flashing before me. A million thoughts were racing through my head. All the mistakes I had made in my life were playing in my mind and I was thinking of ways I could have corrected them. I marveled at the truth in the saying that one can think clearly when they’re out of the box. I was arrested…and could see my whole life in front of me. 

I swore that I’d be a better Muslim. I planned not to miss a single prayer. I told myself that I’d fix things and set my life straight once I get out. I felt like I had died and was going to hell but was being given a second chance to make things right. 

I don’t know when I’d fallen asleep but I woke up minute before Fajr prayer. I had put my flip-flops under my head for two purposes: support for my neck and so no one would steal them. 

I asked an officer to give me some water; which he kindly did. Just then I had remembered it was still Ramadan and that I hadn’t eaten enough yesterday to go on another day of fasting; nevertheless, I chose to fast and endure the hunger. The call for Fajr prayer began and I got up to perform ablution. A group of other men joined me and we prayed together. 

I swear I have never prayed with such fear. If many of my prayers were added together, I believe that Fajr prayer would outweigh them all in terms of faith and fear. 

Come 8 o’clock, a decorated officer came in and his deputy followed, banging the bars with his club. We all woke up and I was glad the next day had arrived and couldn’t wait for the court hearing. The same court hearing I could have gotten done with 2 months ago under my own conscience. 

The officers entered our cage and they all told us to be seated under the area with no ceiling. Then the lieutenant started calling out our names; attendance. We were told to enter the inner cells after each of our names were called out. I carefully chose a cell that had lesser ‘savage’ inmates in it. Then the officers left. 

An hour later, my cousin and a friend came and talked to me. They said they’ll go and talk to the judge so he could speed up my case. 

Another hour passed and the officers came in and counted us again like we were sheep. 

After another two hours, the officers started calling us out one by one after 15 minute intervals. Finally when my name was called one of the inferior officers escorted me to the rear side of the precinct; the court. No handcuffs… 

It was more like a motel. There was a gate leading to a huge courtyard. On either side were doors with labels that read judges’ names and their specific branches of law. I was led to a door that read, “Judge Mansour: Civil Law.” Waiting inside were my cousin and his friend and the two guys who started all this. The judge called me to his desk and ordered me to stand there. He then called the other guy to the other side of his desk. He asked us both our versions of the story and took notes. 

The judge asked me if I want to counter-sue and I quickly agreed, wanting as much compensation I could get when I win this case. He then said that the hearing is over and he’ll book another hearing and was considerate enough to let me choose a date since I was in the middle of exams. 

I was bailed out by my cousin with $400 and that money, coupled with a friend’s civil card, were put down as a deposit for my not running away from the country. I had no reason to run; I had a case to win and two guys to put behind bars. 

I collected my belongings; was surprised the money wasn’t stolen from my wallet. I couldn’t study Physiology that weekend and went on to the exam with whatever I already knew. I met with the community elders who helped me gather information to use in my case. A couple even said they’ll go with me as witnesses. 

Come Monday, I was surprised to see all my boys, a few elders, friends from different states, and many of my colleagues there at the court premises. The judge was late so I called him from my cell phone and asked where he was. He told me he just got out of the shower and was putting on some clothes. Is he really a judge? 

The judge finally arrived in his ’90 single-cab Toyota Hilux and the case began and my enemy had changed his story and I used it against him. How stupid can someone get? First filing a lawsuit with conflicting stories and then changing his story right in front of the judge? 

The judge then said that the hearing is adjourned and said the witness hearing is in a month. I asked him if he could make it earlier since my vacation just started and waiting a whole month was impractical, but he refused. Then, sensing a way out, the Sudanese guy said that he’ll drop all charges against me if I did likewise. The judge asked me if I wanted to…but I said no; I spent a night in jail and was going to make him pay for it. The judge then said that we’ll have to come back in a month then. 

He put me in a tight situation and I already wasted a month of my vacation in
Sudan and couldn’t have another month squandered by this so I gave in. Going back and spending time with my family in KSA was more important than getting my revenge… 

We shook hands and I asked the judge to write me a letter stating that this man can not sue me in anyway and should keep his distance from me; sort of a refraining order. 

Sure…like that works here…

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