A day of Ramadan in prison is something unique in terms of the limitations imposed upon you and that is especially for someone who was very active during Ramadan when he was in the free world.
I will start the description as the evening of every day in Ramadan begins to dwindle down, around 8:00 PM.
At that time, me and another brother start preparing a small Iftar snack in the dinning hall for all the brothers to break their fast. We stuff dates with peanuts and give each brother 3 stuffed dates and a small cup of water, place them on a napkin and take it and place at a table in the chapel waiting for the Athan of Maghreb prayer.
Today actually I made Baklava (a Palestinian sweet) for everyone, so each brother will get his piece of Baklava along with the three dates and water. Every evening, about 45 minutes before Iftar, there is a halaqa for all the brothers for tafseer al-Quran or a talk about one of the companions or other related Islamic subjects.
Around 8:45 pm which is approx. 25 minutes before Iftar, most brothers go to their cells and bring whatever other sweets or food they have specially cooked for that day. Ten minutes before Athan (call for the prayer) you will find each one mostly by himself in some isolated corner making duaa for themselves and families and asking Allah for quick release from this jail.
At Iftar time, which is now around 9:09 pm, we all gather in the chapel and one brother from the Philippines will make Athan and each one breaks his fast with the dates and water. We perform Maghreb prayer in group (jamaa) following the Iftar.
After the prayer, everyone moves to the dinning hall where the food service usually brings the food cart that has our lunch and dinner food (which is exactly what other inmates we served lunch and dinner for that day). Me and another brother set up the food stations with the pans, pots, trays, spoons, napkins …etc.
The brothers line up and each get a tray, and we scoop/serve the food for them. Everyday the food is different, but normally we have one kind of meat (hamburger, chicken, or tuna). Some vegetables such as spinach, mixed vegetables, beans, lettuce or other vegetable. We also have some kind of sweets such as cakes or pie.
We also hand every brother a small bag of food for his Sohor (pre-dawn meal) at the same time he takes his Iftar food. The Sohor bag usually has a small bag cereal, cake, one piece of fruit, or 2 boiled eggs. For the Sohor, also around 4:00 am, one brother accompanied by a guard would bring two milks to each Muslim’s cell.
After we eat our Iftar, we clean the entire dinning hall (all the tables, food stations, sweep and mop the floor) and pick up the trash and go back to our cells for the final count of the day. Everyone is locked up for the night. Most brothers pray Isha Prayer followed with Taraweeh and then eat and drink or read and then go to sleep.
The next day starts at around 6:00 am when the guard comes and opens the doors for all cells, and another day in the CMU is about to start.
Most brothers sleep after making Fajr prayer, and you will see them around 10 or 11 escaping the heat from their ovens (their cells) and try to look for a cool place in front of a fan to read Quran.
Around 12:00 is usually what is called ‘Mail Call’, where a BOP staff brings the mail of all inmates and hands each inmate his own mail that was sent to him. This is one of the happiest moments of the entire day when each one of us is looking forward to receiving any mail from his loved ones or friends (inmates love mail, any mail, even junk mail is welcomed).
After mail call, most of the brothers go back and do whatever they want. During Ramadan I have noticed that 99% of the brother do not watch TV as usual. I have also noticed more peace and tranquillity.
Around 3:45 pm is the normal lock down for the day for the evening stand up count (to count all inmates in the unit). Each inmate must be standing in his cell as the guards come by and count every inmate.
Around 4:45 pm or so the doors for all cells are open and non-Muslims go to the dinning hall to eat their dinner while Muslims are busy with the Quran, praying or just relaxing.
After Asr (afternoon) prayer, I usually go do a little bit of a workout with several brothers. This workout is just a mini version of what we normally do and it is intended just to maintain the muscles. The workout lasts for about 30 minutes.
After shower and as time gets closer to Iftar, me and the same brother go back and start preparing the small snack for the brothers’ Iftar. Tomorrow, I will be adding to the Iftar snack a special Palestinian sweet called Kunafa with a special touch of love.
The heat has been a major problem because we fast approximately 16 hours and that makes us get dehydrated, and I noticed that myself. For the last few days I noticed that I loose an average of 6 pounds between the hours of 10:00 AM and 8:00 PM everyday when I weigh myself on the very same day. For example, at 10:00 am, I weighed myself and lets say that I weighed 188 lbs and then I weigh myself at 8:00 pm the same day and my weight would be 182 lbs. That is a loss of 6 pounds of mainly water because of dehydration. Sometimes I feel dizzy and have to sit down and cool off.
The temperature yesterday was 104 degrees with a heat index of 120 and no air conditioning. At night the heat prevents me from sleeping because you wake up with your pillow soaking wet and you are sweating all over as well.
It is very difficult to pray and have any kind of khusoo’ (peace and tranquility) with such an intense heat. One of the big fans in the unit broke down over three weeks ago and they still have not fixed it yet. So the area that fan was cooling off is abandoned by all inmates.
This is a real test in worship. When I pray Isha and Taraweeh I have two fans pointed at my face and body and I also soak my clothes with water and wash my face every two Rakaat to cool off and I am still sweating like crazy. This situation is extremely difficult. Despite all this heat, I know that all the brothers still make their Isha and Taraweeh and night prayers.
This brings me to remember of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him) and the companions during Ramadan when the month of Ramadan happened to be in the summertime. They did not have any of these luxuries that we enjoy now and yet it never affected their worship of Allah. I think we are all spoiled, including us in jail.
I have been in prison for 4 years and this has been the most difficult and trying Ramadan for me. This facility is unfit even for animals not just humans. I know that the reward for worship increases as the difficulty increases, and I ask Allah to reward all of us for this hardship.
When you are in your house, under the nice cool air condition, and wondering if you should go to pray in the mosque or not, think of us who are deprived of even a chance to pray together, and get up and take your entire family and just go and enjoy these blessed days of Ramadan when you have all that convenience and comfort.
You never know when all these luxuries will end, and you may never witness another Ramadan. It is a blessing by itself to witness Ramadan. Please keep me and all my brothers in your duaa and I will keep you in my duaa.
Your brother Mufid Abdulqader
Palestinian Political Prisoner #32590-177
Mufid Abdulqader #32590-177 FCI Terre Haute Federal Correctional Institution PO Box 33 Terre Haute, IN 47808 USA