Former inmate Avon Twitty gestures at the screen while addressing students at Johns Hopkins University on the sordid, inhumane conditions at the controversial Control Management Unit federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Photo by Sarah Khasawinah.
Over 80 members of Johns Hopkins University concerned with the abuses of prisoners within the U.S. criminal justice system and with the protection of American civil liberties, gathered April 23rd to discuss Our New Orwellian Reality: Arrest without warrant, incarceration without trial, & buried alive for life.
The event featured lawyer Mr. Ashraf Nubani of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, Avon Twitty (also known as Abdul Ali), a former inmate from the controversial Communication Management Unit prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Mariam Abu-Ali, with the Islamic Circle of North America Council on Social Justice and sister of Ahmed Abu-Ali—the man who also served as the face to the evening’s discussion.
Ahmed Abu-Ali is an American college student who was arrested without warrant, held in a foreign prison for two years with no charges, tortured and forced to confess to a fabricated “thought” crime, and sentenced to life in solitary confinement. He is currently held in the Florence ADX supermax, the second most secure penitentiary, only next to Guantanamo.
Horrific were the torture measures taken to paint Abu-Ali as a terrorist, but also absurd are the conditions under which Abu-Ali has been imprisoned. Ahmed wakes up everyday in an 8x12 foot cell 20 meters beneath the ground, with a toilet jammed next to his bed. He receives his food three times a day through a slot in the door and has virtually no human contact. Ahmed is only allowed one unscheduled fifteen-minute phone call to his family every month and if they miss his call, they miss it. “Even Ahmed’s books are inspected by the FBI. In fact, he couldn’t even read Obama’s books, because they’re considered ‘potentially detrimental to national security’,” shared Ahmed’s sister in reference to the myriad of absurd conditions to which Ahmed is subject.
Although light was shed on the many inhumane injustices to which Ahmed Abu-Ali and his family (and many other victims of allegations) have been subjected, panelist Twitty was careful to leave the auditorium with a message of promise, “the one thing you can’t do is give up hope. Because once you’ve lost hope, you’ve lost all ability to ever change anything.”
Twitty continued, “and don’t just think this is a Muslim problem. I was in prison with good, Christian people who were accused of being terrorists as well. I was even in prison with a guy who was there for wanting to ‘save the trees.’ These violations of civil liberties affect us all.”
Lawyer Nubani shared similar sentiments, “because if you, the youth and future of our country don’t think this is an important issue, we’re truly in a crisis.”
The event was sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Graduate Muslim Student Association, the Health and Human Rights Student Group, and the Black Graduate Student Association.
To watch a video played at the forum, see: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1700876626/yearning-to-breathe-free