I saw her walk past the corridor that was surrounded by bars on all four sides. Clad in white with hair so black seeming like the perfect definition of contrast. She was young perhaps in her mid-thirties. The officers grabbed a huge chunk of keys from their pockets, handed the lady a few towels, slid open the doors of the cell and asked the lady to step in. When they locked the gates behind her and I saw her stand behind those metal bars, looking straight at me and I figured there was something different about her.
6 months later, the walls of our otherwise completely silent jail echoed with the cries of a newborn baby. I had spoken very little with my neighbor who was still very new in the hood. I had observed her throw up more frequently than other newbies in jail.
It wasn’t easy settling in this environment for people who had lived normal lives outside. The walls were dark. The floor was damp. Over a hundred people lived under one roof, simply divided by a few brick walls and steel bars. The hall would fill with the foul smell of the sweaty prisoners after afternoon break. Most of the prisoners came from shabby households and little heed was given to hygiene. It was a daily practice for the warden to shower us with the pungent fragrance of Cobra Air Freshener sharp 30 minutes after we assembled back from the break. It had been 17 years, my nose could no more recognize another scent except the Cobra. However, this would make all new entries puke their souls out of their bodies. I used to believe this is what’s happening with her until today, as I saw her lying down with a few hour old baby boy.
In my country, Pakistan, women who give birth behind bars are allowed to keep their children for 3 to 6 years of age. Unless the woman has killed her husband and no other caretakers are available, a woman may also be allowed to keep her child for 10 years of age. Beyond that was impossible.
In the blink of an eye, a decade passed and it was time for this young boy to live his life out of jail. The day he stepped out, I wondered the misery he’ll face. He has seen no other human other than us illiterate prisoners and criminals. I spent nights wondering if he would make friends. Would he ever go to school? Would he fall in love? Will he be okay? Over the years, I had grown fond of him as his mother became my confidant in crime. I felt like he took a part of my brain with him.
It was 3AM and the prison doors barged open. I saw the officers throwing abuses at a new inmate they had got. We would usually get newcomers during day-time unless the crime involved murder. Proven by court. I couldn’t care less and fell back to sleep. The next morning as I stepped out for breakfast on our 8AM morning drill, a 10 year old kid came to sit beside me. He killed a guy on the streets of Karachi. He said, “This has been all my life. I couldn’t go too far. I’m born this way. This is home.”