Isra could not believe the situation she found herself in. Never in her entire life had she even dared to cross the road until the green man showed and now she was staring at the four walls of her prison cell in the local police station. Her children were in the cells next to her and although her grandchildren, aged 5, 1 and a tender 6 months had been taken with them to the police station, she had little idea where they were now. She stopped pacing the floor of her cell, gingerly sat down on the hard metal bench and silently broke down in tears.
She tried to recollect her thoughts, recalling everything that had happened in the past 12 hours. She had gone to bed later than usual that night at around 11pm as she had been busy preparing the meal for the next day. The entire family had been filled with excitement because it was her daughter’s graduation day. As she finished up in the kitchen, she popped her head around to the living room to survey her family. They were all enjoying each other’s company in the living room with the hum of the television in the background, though no one was really watching. Entertainment was instead being provided by her eldest grandson who was running through his rendition of his latest favourite songs. As she made her way upstairs, she called down to them to make sure they didn’t stay up till too late as they all had to be up early the next day. In the privacy of her own room, she read her prayers and quickly fell asleep to the comforting sound of ringing laughter that drifted into her room from downstairs.
She awoke suddenly to some sort of droning sound. As she listened some more she realised the sound was coming from outside and much closer than she had initially thought. Was it a helicopter? Light from the helicopter shone through her widow and momentarily blinded her. What on earth was going on?! She quickly glanced at her mobile and saw it was 4:47am. Suddenly, she heard a bang at her door. Was it her door? CRASH! It was definitely her door. She jumped up, but too quickly. She felt the room spin around her, as her legs gave way and she fell right back on the bed. Panic ensued. Her children rushed into her room as police marched up her stairs in their heavy boots, straight into her bedroom. Hijab! She wasn’t covered and so reached for the closest thing she could find but the police officer stopped her before she could cover her hair. Her son was sprawled on the floor as the police dug their knees into his chest. She tried to move forward and screamed stop! Stop! She felt utterly helpless. Another police officer came and dragged her back, screaming in her face to step away and to put her arms behind her back. She recognised the words that were coming out of his mouth but she couldn’t comprehend what he wanted from her. Why were these men in her house?
Her beloved grandchildren! Never before had she witnessed their eyes fill with utter terror. They were frantic, crying and screaming for their mother or for her to embrace them. She felt the warmth of her tears as they rolled down her cheeks because she knew there was nothing she could do; she was powerless to protect the people whom she would happily give her life for. As the police officer forcefully grabbed her arms and proceeded to handcuff them, her sobs rolled out of her unwillingly, “Get on the floor, get on the floor!” the officer screamed as he pushed her down to her knees. She complied as she felt herself being pushed downstairs out through the front door of her house in what she could only describe as an out of body experience.
The wind struck her face sharply. She could not believe the number of the vehicles that were parked outside her house. She realised the droning sound that had first awoken her was from the helicopter circling above. She couldn’t quite believe her eyes. The light of the sunrise seemed to be at war with the garish blue lights that unremittingly flashed as if they were offended by the very sight of her and needed to warn everyone. And that drive to the police station that seemed to last forever had brought her into the cell she was in now. She’d been searched, finger printed and humiliated more than she ever thought she could bear. The police officer’s taunts rung her in her ears, ‘you are a Muslim mother, you are a Muslim terrorist’. With the four bare walls of the cell bearing down on her, as she awaited questioning, she sat in silence. Her eyes had no more tears to cry.
Grief is a walk alone
Her train of thought was suddenly disturbed by the sound of her cell door opening. A police officer walked in and asked her to follow him. She stood up and cautiously walked out behind him. They approached the front desk of the police station where the same officer presented her with forms for her bail. She signed at the appropriate places and was escorted to the door and again, into a police car.
This time Isra was taken to the hostel, after being escorted to her room she opened the door and timidly stepped in. The first thing she noticed was the dirt clinging onto the walls and carpet. The room was dark and made her feel afraid. She sat amongst the strange furniture trying to discern the situation. Slowly, Isra’s grandchildren and younger children joined her but they were made to stay in the same small room. Frustrated by the lack of space, Isra couldn’t stop them from running around the corridor, searching for something to do. As he scurried around, her youngest grandson discovered a used syringe. Utterly petrified for their safety, Isra stopped them leaving the room again. Without any clothes or shoes, they tried to return home to collect their things but discovered the door and windows sealed off with thick, hard woodâ€¦
The trauma of those days and the weeks that followed, left a lasting impact on Isra’s children and grandchildren. When they were finally returned home, they discovered that bank accounts had been frozen; the family cars, her gold and jewellery, amongst other items, had been confiscated and all phones taken – even her most prized ceramics and crockery. Feeling angry and confused, Isra’s 11 year old daughter Sana ran away from home, desperately trying to escape the never ending grief that was consuming her at home. Although she was found and returned, Sana was never the same, distancing herself from her family and behaving in strange ways. Eventually, Isra was visited by social services and following an emotional ordeal, her grandchildren and Sana were taken into care. Sana never returned home to her mother; she felt that she was faced with two choices, one was to return home to Isra and be surrounded by memories which dug deep inside her soul; the other to go into permanent care to face an uncertain future. The pain in her heart was so deep that, to Isra’s devastation, she opted to leave the family home and went into careâ€¦
Although the rest of Isra’s grandchildren were soon returned to her, one after another, each of her four elder children would remain in custody. Some held on the basis of secret evidence. The pressure on Isra was mounting and so was the pressure on her marriage. Her husband was not as strong as her and he wasn’t in the U.K. to witness the trauma she was experiencing. Each time Isra spoke to him all she could do was off load her concerns and talk about all of the different struggles she was facing. Unbeknown to Isra, her husbands will-power was crumbling until one day, he simply told her he wanted a divorce. Isra paused, answered in the affirmative and hung up the phone. She didn’t shed a single tear that night, she felt her heart had taken a new turn to a place where she was immune to mourning. Never again will you open your heart Isra, she told herself. She closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.
Stars can’t shine without darkness
The weight of responsibility slowly dawned on Isra; she was expected to become the sole provider and support for not only her own children, but all of her grandchildren. She tried desperately to pull herself together, to take responsibility and maintain her household. But,where most people would crumble, Isra refused to bow down to her destitution. Each weekend, she took her grandchildren to visit their parents, but the long distance from her home and between each prison drained her. Still, Isra would travel from one prison to the next, dragging her legs painfully along so that they could see their parents; one day, their mother, the next, their father. Isra hardly had any energy left to comfort her grandchildren who were petrified of the prison. They would scream every time they had to see the fierce intimidating dogs, which would mercilessly search them out. Isra’s heart would break at the sound of their tears before and after every visit. When they would return home, her grandson would enter a perpetual state of fear, clinging desperately onto Isra at all hours of the day.
Money was scarce, with all of the breadwinners gone, and so Isra had to find a way to keep running her home. Her children had saved up enough to open a family business, Isra thought she could lean on their savings when she realised the money had been confiscated by police. Each day felt never ending to her, but she never stopped, she kept fighting herself to take care of her family. But everyone knew there was only so much more that Isra could take, her body was frail and something was going to giveâ€¦
“You can’t sleep because what is happening– you lose everything – how can you sleep? If you lost everything how would you feel?”
Just as Isra was reaching her breaking point, she learned of HHUGS. Once HHUGS intervened, they supported Isra with essentials like bills, rent and Quran tuition for her grandchildren amongst other support. HHUGS took them to see their family in prison. With the hardship of travelling alone on public transport with several children in tow, due to the lifts there and back, Isra could finally look forward to visiting her children with some ease. Most importantly, while the world had turned its back on Isra, HHUGS let her know that they were always going to be there for her; no matter what.
Storms don’t last forever
Years passed when Isra’s children’s appeals were granted and slowly, they began to be released from prison. They were rehoused across the UK, far away from their families and friends, living isolated lives and some in very racist areas. After their arrests their friends had abandoned them, exacerbating their isolation and making them resentful of outsiders, so they decided they just preferred to be alone. People were just going to reject them anyway, they thought. But now they were released, how could they possibly adjust again, alone and without support?
When they came to visit her, Isra noticed that her children had changed. From being happy and respectful they had become irritable and impatient with her. They were constantly angry, shutting themselves alone in their rooms and letting out their frustration on each other and those around them.
Isra’s daughter, Saima, had been a Christian at the time of her arrest and had little contact with Muslims. She had realised that religion was not a part of the equation of an arrest and that her innocence meant nothing. She reacted with anger and cut herself off from society. Because of the boundary she was extremely restricted and conditions meant she had to sign into a police station every two hours. Every time she spoke to someone, she had to report their name and their number as a part of her conditions, making her feel that it was better she spoke to no one. Isra’s sons also felt confused by the sudden change, they were worried about their loved ones and had no one to speak to. They wanted to work again, so that their family could be more stable but failed, again and again to find work. It was simple: nobody wanted to hire a ‘terrorist’.
HHUGS have years of expertise of working with former detainees, so they were well equipped to step in and assist Isra’s children return to normalcy. HHUGS sent Saima a keyworker in the area she had been relocated to. Hesitant, Saima agreed to meet her, but went along wearing her natural scowl on her face. With her eyebrows drawn in and eyes giving piercing looks to those around her, she spotted her HHUGS keyworker. She observed her face, it was warm and friendly; her head was wrapped up in a colourful hijab and she greeted Saima with a massive smile. ‘Strange’, Saima thought. They had numerous coffee sessions over the next few months and eventually, Saima found herself connecting with another human being. Her keyworker balanced her out; while Saima felt weighed down by the pressures of her situation, her keyworker was laid back and relaxed. Before Saima knew it, she was smiling and laughing along with her new friend. During the time they spent together, she felt she didn’t have a worry in the world.
“We just have this bond, she has been there when I needed her the most and when I needed someone, Allah placed her to be with me and I will never forget that.”
HHUGS continued to provide holistic care to Saima and her siblings. They paid for Saima to attend kickboxing sessions, where she found her feet again. The sessions made her feel exhilarated, confident and stronger. Her passion meant she found herself quickly progressing in the sport which reflected in her life, which was finally beginning to move forward. So impressed was Saima’s instructor that she encouraged HHUGS to fund Saima further so she could develop this into a career herself. Once their conditions were lifted, Isra’s sons were determined to get back into work, so HHUGS paid for one of them to undertake a course in personal fitness. When Isa’s son applied to university, his conviction meant his application was constantly delayed and led to him not receiving his first term of funding. To ensure he was supported, HHUGS paid for his first term of fees and rent so that he was able to attend University. Later HHUGS covered the cost of a moped for both sons, so that they were able to find work as couriers. Isra’s family needed holistic support, so HHUGS organised for them and others to attend Eid parties and coffee mornings, where they could find space to offload and have fun.
Family: Together we have it all.
It was years before Isra’s final daughter was released from prison. Isra remembers the moment she came home, they all wept tears of joy; so intense was their longing, one of her children fainted from the shock. They had missed her so much and finally, she was here, standing before them. HHUGS stepped in when she was ready, providing her with counselling so that she could learn to become a part of society again. Surrounded by instability and sadness, Isra’s grand-children’s school grades had dropped significantly over the years. Though their mother was now home, they had fallen far behind their peers. Wanting a better future for them and to return to some normalcy and stability, HHUGS paid for extra tuition, to protect them from falling behind any further. Saima’s keyworker continued to grow closer to her and Isra, now they no longer refer to her as their keyworker: ‘she’s family!‘ they say happily.
“I didn’t think I would ever find myself in this situation ever – let alone the police, I didn’t think I would ever be in a police station let alone prison. So you know, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I was squeaky clean with no criminal record and all of a sudden, this situation but it has opened my eyes to a lot of things so Alhamdulillah, a lot of people need to take into consideration their brothers and sisters. Tomorrow, it could be them…”
“HHUGS to me – Fearless. Trustworthy. Caring. They’re like family. There is no other charity that would support us. This is the only charity I see as being trustworthy enough, not leaving people in the darkâ€¦ who can actually give them the support and help they need.”