CELL NUMBER 77

ASLAN DEMIR

 
Dedicated to 668 imprisoned babies in Turkey.
 
 
It is 03:00 a.m. and here they go again, prisoners number 3, 8, and 13. At the same time every night they start crying, not letting me sleep. Joined by other convicts, sometimes they make an annoying—yet musical, heartbreaking—noise. I know it’s 13 who starts the siren. He is so loud. Nobody knows what the problem is, and nobody can sleep unless he does, except for prisoner 21 who is partially deaf (a former teacher resisting against the police, hit with the gun butt several times).
 
Cell number 77. A small cell for 12 prisoners, currently occupied by 24 of us. Thick, high concrete walls keep us away from the endless blue sky. One shared bathroom and shower. A small window. We watch the sky from behind the bars. Pictures of our family members on our walls or attached to our locker doors. Three dim light bulbs, one already dead. A rope spans from east to west for hanging clothes on. With every sunrise, we wash our hope and hang on it to keep it fresh until the dark dries it, falling on us like a heavy quilt, clouds darkening our sky. Stars penetrate through and ignite our hope again, again, and again.
 
These walls of ours: twenty one steps to south. Eighteen steps to east. These walls here stand for more than what they are. They are the firsthand witnesses of our stories, tears, sorrow and joy. Prisoner 9 keeps carving, using them as a calendar. I have written a poem on mine, a poem by Nazim Hikmet. These walls, they are our most loyal friends. Who says they detain our freedom? Are we not free as long as our minds and spirits are? Have I not seen freedom in the bright green eyes of 13? Prisoner 13 doesn’t care where he is, and it annoys me.
 
These walls of ours, they are meant to keep dangerous ones inside. However, I can assure you, they deprive the outside world of the grace of these prisoners like prisoner 13. Maybe these walls are meant to keep us safe. From the hypocrisy, lies, blood, and all that is unintelligible.
 
Through our small window, the sunbeams keep on feeding our hope. It’s what keeps us alive here. A sinner hopes to be forgiven, a mother hopes something for her children, the poor hope to be rich, the rich hope to be richer, and when people don’t have something to hope for for themselves, they hope something for their loved ones. Sometimes we even just hope to have hope. And when we give up, we hope to die. We are as alive as our hope is.
 
For those who have put me behind these bars for announcing their theft and injustice publicly, I say onto them; don’t be scared. But tremble. Because soon you will prey on each other’s carcasses. So is my hope.
 
Children give us hope, a reason to adhere to life. But so much of what gives hope to people is considered a threat to the state, I guess. That is why they are imprisoned. The Pharaoh of Egypt also tried to escape from what was prophesized by killing babies, thinking one of them to be the chosen one. Moses came anyway, so did Jesus, so did Muhammad (peace be upon them all). There is no escape for pharaohs. Some will be swallowed by endless seas wild as the waters of Dicle, and some will be hanged by their subjects.
 
Every day after breakfast, we are allowed to use a small yard. I never knew the sky was this far, this blue, this beautiful until I was deprived of it. I guess we only know the worth of what we have when we lose it. All the prisoners are outside today; even 13 seems happy.
 
Let me tell you more about my cellmates: there are eleven mothers, twelve babies and me. Yes, Aisha has twins. And yes, this prison looks like a kindergarten. I am a journalist, and other women are teachers, doctors, and housewives. As for these babies, I seriously don’t know what to make of their stories. The eldest of them is eight months old. Aisha sleeps with her twins on the ground on a thin mattress. They don’t have proper conditions here for babies, or is the real question, how proper can a jail be for a baby? Cells are cold, there is not much food, and no diapers, for most of these women’s husbands are imprisoned too, since the so-called coup attempt. Their bank accounts are confiscated. They are fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, beaten in the streets and markets, and tormented in the prisons. Like prisoner 4’s husband: a twenty-nine year old teacher who was killed in the prison. His mother found his dead body five days later full of bruises and broken bones.
 
Prisoner 17 has something that she keeps in her pocket. She breathes it in like an inhaler used by a patient with asthma. Some say it is a picture of her husband Gökhan Açıkkolu, who was tortured to death in a prison. Others say it is a pair of socks from her baby she lost two weeks ago. She still has her baby’s cradle next to her bed. It’s one of those classic wooden cradles beautifully designed. And, whenever rocked, it makes a musical sound of reeds motivating her tears. Guards make fun of her, call her mean names, “Miss scatterbrain who rocks an empty cradle,” most of all. She is lost, that’s for sure. But after all she has been through, who wouldn’t be? I still recall the night her baby was taken to hospital, her deafening shrieks echoed through walls, piercing our hearts. The cruel world lay beyond and her shrieks went on. The baby did not.
 
I want to write about babies in the prison. But, what are stronger words than the fact of babies being in jail? 13 was born here five months before. Named Azad by his mother. It means freedom. His father has not seen him yet. As a matter of fact, nobody has seen his father ever since the day he was taken by police.
 
As for those who have put us behind these bars, I say unto them; don’t be scared. But tremble. Yet the fear won’t decrease your greed for you are drunk in power, and you are lost.
 
All the prisoners wear their numbers. 13’s birth certificate is addressed with the prison hospital. 13 is happy like all other babies are. Unaware of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen to his family. His sweet world is his mother’s arms. Everything about him, about his world, is beautiful unlike what lies beyond these walls. I am jealous of him. In fact I want to hate him. But I can’t. Because I love kids. And do you know why we love kids? Because they remind us how much we have lost, how much we have given up on by growing, for the work of growing up in this cruel world. So I whisper into his ears: Azad, don’t grow up boy, it’s not worth it.

 

 
 

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