By Karin Friedemann, TMO
In a surprise move by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Albany, New Yorkâ€™s Imam Yassin Aref, who was serving a ten year sentence inside the Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion, Illionois, has been moved to the general prison population. Aref stated in an email to his friends dated April 13, 2011:
â€œFinally and thankfully they accepted my request and agreed for me to come out of CMU. Now I am just a regular human – I mean regular prisoner! I am no longer in CMU, so if any of you come and visit me I promise I am going to hug him! Hopefully after six months they will transfer me to somewhere close to my family so I can see my children but as for why and how? Believe me I donâ€™t know anything more than you! They just told me to pack up. 25 days before that I had a team review. I asked for transfer as usual and they told me they would do the recommendation for me but the decision its not theirs. When I called my son Salah, he told me, â€œDaddy how is it they let you out?
What has changed?â€ I told him I am still Yassin and they did not tell me anything. However, I am very thankful they allowed me to be in the regular general population.â€
Aref was inside the CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana from May 2007 until March 2009, when he was transferred to the Marion CMU. As of April 10, 2011, Aref is in the same prison building but in a different unit. Now he has more space to walk and more recreational activities. He has more lenient social, visitor and phone call rights. There are some African American Muslim brothers in his new unit and they pray the Friday prayer together. Whenever he leaves his unit to dine, go to the yard or library, and to visit the chaplain, he walks by the door of the CMU. Imam Yassin describes his past experience:
â€œAfter spending about 20 Months in total solitary confinement at a county jail, I arrived at CMU Terra Haute, Indiana to find a small Middle Eastern community where inmates from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen among others were already there. In CMU, most inmates are Arab or Arabic speakers.
â€œWe are separated because of our nationality and religion. Of course they deny that, but the reality in the CMU proves this segregation is the whole point of a CMU. Otherwise what did I do? Why am I classified as a high risk inmate? How can it be dangerous if they allow me to hug my children? Why do they need to limit my communication? Who I am going to call besides my family?
â€œAll my life in Iraq I was treated as a second degree citizen and half human because I was Kurdish. I left my country to regain my humanity and live free, not to be targeted, imprisoned and placed in a CMU.
When I learned CMU prisoners donâ€™t have the same rights like other prisoners in the BOP, and I found that 65 to 75 percent of the inmates in CMU are Muslim and another 8 to 15 percent are Spanish speakers, I became sad and it seemed like this country is going backward to the dark days of its history when Black people were slaves or treated like slaves. Many inmates in CMU are not criminals. They are political prisoners and victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Some like me never committed any crime. Yet they treat us as the highest risk inmates!
â€œMy youngest daughter is still a child and she was born while I was in jail. I never carried her or kissed her and I could never buy a candy for her. She doesnâ€™t have any memory with me. Until she was four years old she used to think â€˜daddyâ€™ means the phone! Thatâ€™s because whenever I used to call home, her brothers and sister would run to the phone saying â€œDaddy, daddy!â€ So, she thought daddy means phone! Whenever anyone asks her, â€˜Where is your daddy?â€™ she would point or run to the phone and say, â€˜That is my daddy!â€™ Itâ€™s heart breaking but I am laughing. In Arabic they say the worst trial is the one which makes you laugh!
â€œThank God with all of these unjustices still my heart is full of peace and Love. My faith saved me from hate. I believe God allowed this to happen and that is why it happened. I look for His reward for all my pain and all of what my family going through.â€
Aref is involved with a civil rights lawsuit which questions why Muslim prisoners who are considered a low security risk are being put under high security communication restrictions without any legal recourse.
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Attorney Alexis Agathocleous told NPR, â€œOur clients were designated to the CMUs without due process or oversight, even though they have no significant history of disciplinary infractions.â€
However, Aref does not believe that his transfer has anything to do with the lawsuit.