A Step Closer to Freedom by Joshua

By Joshua, Year 10

Written as part of Factory Feedback

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6 years of being imprisoned in Pul-e Charkhi prison made me yearn for the freedom I once had, now a figment of my imagination. The doors of the prison swung open for the first time in days, letting powerful rays of sun illuminate the abundance of dust particles in the air and alleviating the asphyxiating feeling in my chest. The new cell I was in was located far closer to the door, and so for the first time, I revelled in a more complete view of the outside world. 

The air was ripe with the pleasant petrichor of recently nurtured land. It replaced the scent of stale urine and body odour that lingered in my nostrils. The outside sky was a vibrant blue that contrasted with the grey and silver metals that restrained me. A golden eagle flew overhead of the prison, encircling it. It was Afghanistan’s national animal, a symbol of pride. However, the creature struggled in its movement, losing altitude as one of its wings seemed to be injured. The once majestic animal was impaled by a fence spike meant to impede human intruders. It let out a howl and its death brought with it an ominous sense of foreboding. My first, real experience of the world outside prison was death.

“What’s your name?” Isabel asked, catching me off guard as the doors were shut, cutting off my access to the outside world again. 

“Jamila,” I answered weakly.

“Jamila, how are you doing? Are they treating you all right? Do you have enough to eat?”

I swivelled my head to look at the guard just in case she was listening, but thankfully she wasn’t.

“They treat us like animals—only goats are fed more than we are and have a choice between grasses on the hillside or leftovers. We eat only leftovers.” 

One of my fellow inmates proclaimed “The grasses would be better!” 

“It’s true,” I muttered under my breath.

All the other prisoners chuckled, and the guard glared at them, silencing them.

“Can you help us?” I pleaded weakly. 

“That’s why we’ve returned. To help you get out.” Isabel announced.

“I cannot go without my sisters. Please help them, too.” And I gestured towards all the women, the people I’ve bonded with over the years. “And their children, who must stay with them wherever they are.”

“I don’t know when or how many, but we’ll try,” she promised, filling me with hope. 

“Otherwise, they will sell me as a slave for—” I cut myself off, fear enveloping me. “For men.”

Isabel seemed utterly outraged. “What are you saying? The prison will sell you?” 

“Yes, they send the young ones like me to the Gulf, or worse yet, we stay in Afghanistan, for the pleasure of men.”

“How do you know this?” she asked, trembling.

“Because they took my friend Haliya,” I explained, recounting how Haliya overheard a conversation about this matter when she was pretending to be asleep. 

She was caught pretending by men and they mutilated her, so she would never be suitable for anyone, and these words of mine fuelled my anger further.

“Because she ran away, they did this to her, they threw acid on her, saying, ‘Now you’re too ugly for anyone.’ They are worse than dogs, these things that would call themselves men.”

“Can you help us? Will you?” 

Isabel introduced me to her partner, Candace. There was more conversation, but the only thoughts that consumed my mind were about escaping Pul-e Charkhi prison and exposing the horrors that my fellow women and children have experienced. 

Soon enough, Candace and Isabel were leaving. I felt a hand land on my shoulder, except that it wasn’t to hold me steady for punishment but a hand that caressed me in a motherly way. 

“We will be back for you. Don’t be afraid.”

“Please don’t go. Take us with you!”

“It’s not as easy as that. But we will be back,” Candace said, her eyes full of fire. “I promise you that.”

However, I had my doubts. The one time someone offered me freedom it was snatched away at the last second. The lawyer was no use either, I had no money. However, I had a good feeling about Isabel and Candace and despite my scepticism, I had my faith in them. They were the ones

 

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I cried out in pain as they dragged me away from my unlocked cell. Their hands kept their wrapped form around my limbs, numbing them as I struggled to my feet. My stomach churned as flashbacks of other women being taken away in this manner infused me with dread.  I pleaded with the guards. It was useless though; they didn’t understand English nor did they need to. Their only job was to transport me. My pain was universal though, it transcended languages; my fellow inmates, despite half of them not knowing any English, understood my pain. They came to my aid, creating a cacophony of noise that reverberated throughout the prison; a useless attempt to get my assailants off me. 

The light enveloped me as the prison doors were once again opened. It offered the same eternal warmth as it did days and years prior. I bathed in the light despite the situation I found myself in. I was not heading towards freedom, but to a terrible future.

The orchestra of sounds was silenced by a single blow to my forehead. I slowly tumbled to the ground and the descent was eerily graceful. I could feel the warm blood gush out of my forehead as rivers of the warm liquid cascaded down my face. I saw the same expressions of shock on everyone. However, in the heat of the moment, I don’t think they understood that I was going to suffer a fate worse than death. I would live a life of being at the bottom of the food chain, no more than a tool used by rich men to pleasure themselves and disposable when replaced. This sort of thing was considered morally wrong in countries like the USA, but not in countries like Afghanistan and in the Middle East. Here, it ran rampant, and no one behind such heinous actions ever faced the consequences.

Perhaps this was an escape for me. I took relative solace in the fact that I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. In my last moments, I felt liberated. I was a bird whose cage had been opened, spreading my wings. Death had granted me this freedom. It wasn’t the ultimate sacrifice, but the greatest gift. All I could do was pray to Allah as I lost consciousness, hoping for Candace and Isabel to come to the rescue and if they couldn’t save me in time, at least save the hundreds of women and children in this prison. If I die, I hope at least that my death will serve as a rallying cry for my fellow women and children and encourage them to expose, to speak of the unspeakable evils that happened here in Pul-e Charkhi prison. At least I could be of some use to this world.

Factory Feedback was created with, and generously supported by, the Dusseldorp Forum.

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