Haroon was a typical teenager. He had just turned 17 when the police arrested him. During his time in prison, he was assaulted and his mental health suffered. He could do nothing to help the family he’d left behind, who were simultaneously struggling with poverty, abuse and isolation in the aftermath of his arrest. In his darkest hour, he told his mum to forget about him, and succumbed to despair.
My first night in prison I didn’t sleep a wink. It was cold and dark, and there were inmates shouting throughout the night. In that situation, you don’t have a clue about what’s going on, because you don’t get any kind of civil explanation, nothing about why you’re there. You just get stripped down; thrown some old, grey rags to wear; given some cold rice and gravy to eat; and then you’re locked in a cell with a guy you don’t know. And that’s the end of it.
My name is Haroon. I was a typical teenager. I used to go to the gym and I used to go out with the boys for food. I attended the masjid quite a bit. I was in sixth form and working a part time job, as well. I had just turned 17 when the police arrested me.
It was the fourth day of Ramadan. I got back home from Fajr prayer and crashed out for a few hours. Then at about half past six in the morning, I was ripped out of my bed by the police. They took me to the station before I had a clue what was happening. They wouldn’t even let me put on clothes -you know, it was a hot summer and I wasn’t sleeping with much. I think, in the end, they picked up any old thing from the laundry pile, and put that on me. I remember I wasn’t allowed socks, for some reason. And yeah, they just dragged me to the police station.
Maybe there was some blessing in the fact that I’d accidentally left the front door open when I returned from Fajr, so they didn’t have to boot it down; because they ransacked the house after. Drawers were ripped out, wardrobes and walls damaged, doors torn off their hinges, even the flooring was ripped up. My mum, my family, they didn’t know what was happening. They were terrified and screaming. There were dogs and all the rest of it. They locked my mum and my brother and sisters in their bedrooms, while they searched the house. They shut off half the street and made a big fuss. All for nothing.
So they kept me for half a day, and then released me. I was kept on police bail for six months. And then it was December that same year, when they put me in prison. On my first night, by the time they’d processed me it was really late, so they couldn’t even get hold of a blanket for me. It was freezing. There was no heating. Our window was smashed. I didn’t sleep at all. Then, around five in the morning there was a security raid, where they came in to search the cells and rip out our sheets. It was awful.
A Family Devastated
My family suffered a lot after I was taken away. The police had obviously given the media a heads up before they did the raid, so it was all over the local news. My mum and sister lost their jobs. And my younger siblings, who were still in high school at the time, they suffered quite a bit as well. They were bullied. They got derogatory comments from their classmates and even some teachers. It affected their mental health
The whole local community knew. And people knew exactly where we lived. So at one point someone threatened to fire bomb my mum’s house. She had to move out.
My mum called her siblings for support, but they wouldn’t answer the phone. When they did, they’d tell her, ‘We told you so. We don’t care,’ then they’d put the phone down. Even now, they don’t speak to us. No one wanted anything to do with us. 99% of the community we had, just didn’t want to know us anymore.
News from my family always reached me a week or two late. By the time I knew about some trouble they were dealing with, or I could get onto the phone, the problem would have been solved. I would worry about them, but also I didn’t want to. Because if you’re constantly worrying and thinking and there’s nothing you can do, you just go crazy. So you block it out, because you just don’t have the mental capacity to deal with it.
For my mum, it was traumatic. She lost her hair, she got depression, just the full whack. Her appendix even burst, from the stress. I didn’t find out until afterwards. And she had no support from anyone at all, except HHUGS.
The True Meaning of Ummah
I heard about HHUGS from another prisoner, at the first prison I was kept in. Because I was so far away from my family, I was worried. And he was in the same situation, so he gave me their number to forward on to my mother. Subhanallah, they were fantastic.
Before that, I felt so alone. And my mother, especially, after she lost her job and was ostracised by her family, she felt completely isolated. Even my brother and sisters lost all their friends. But Alhamdulillah, HHUGS volunteers used to call my mother and visit her at home. They even helped her financially. And that takes a huge of burden off your shoulders, you know? Because before, when I was working part-time, I used to contribute to the rent. So when I was inside, and I couldn’t do that, I was worried all the time. But Alhamduliah for HHUGS; they helped my mother so much.
I believe they are the true meaning of the Ummah. Imagine, you’re totally alone; you’re isolated but you have that one Muslim brother, or that Muslim sister, that’s there and they are willing to listen to you and help you and they say, ‘Let’s see what we can do for you.’ –that, for me, is the true meaning of brotherhood right there.
If HHUGS weren’t around, there wouldn’t be anyone else to support people like us. I know, because I asked people for help when I needed it, and my mother asked people for help, and no one was willing except for HHUGS. They embody the spirit of Islam, and of brotherhood. Giving to them, it’s more immense than just putting 50p in a charity box. If you only knew the difference they make to the lives of people who are desperately in need of help. They had a huge impact on me, and on my mother. My family, they’re not Muslim, but the impression that HHUGS have left on them – thanks to that my family have a positive attitude towards Islam now.