Kevin: Ramadan Behind Bars

I come from a convert family (Irish American mother, African-American father), so I was born Muslim. So some of my best childhood memories are from Ramadan and staying some nights in the mosque.

Our prison is supposed to have a policy of accommodating Muslims, but the problem is that our chaplain misrepresents the faith. He says that prisoners don’t need to fast, gives people inappropriate advice. So there is no iftar provided, no prayer allowed in congregation. You get a styrofoam tray that you can take to dinner and get food for iftar. If there are other Muslims on the block, we can eat iftar together. There are no Muslims on my block, so I eat alone. It’s really hard to experience this after having experienced Ramadan on the outside.

The food they serve for dinner is high-school type food, but none of it is halal. Fish is rare. We can grab a suhoor bag with our dinner, it usually has some cereal or a PB&J sandwich, some fruit, a powdered fruit drink. It’s enough to go on, we don’t go hungry.

The Muslims do come out in Ramadan though. It’s the most people you see attending jumu’ah throughout the year. There are also four Tayba students in this prison. We spend time to counsel each other, rely on each for support, and pray for each other.

The non-Muslims are often surprised how committed the Muslims are to Ramadan. They’re also amazed at their conduct – even brothers who aren’t normally like that will be on best behavior in the month.

For ‘Eid, a Muslim community offered to send us a meal. The institution was fine with it, it just needed the chaplain’s signature on it. He refused, said that we don’t deserve it. It’s the same story for getting books or any other resources for the Muslims here. It’s probably in retaliation for people not attending his khutba due to his views. Plus, the khutba is English only and the recitation in prayer is very poor. I try to be diplomatic and attend. For prayer, I just pray two rakas of a nafila prayer.

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