Sharjah: A.O, 34, an Egyptian national who now lives in Saudi Arabia, tells Gulf News what it means to be a free man again and the life’s lessons he learnt in a Sharjah prison.
“I ended up in prison when I was 25, in 2008, for possessing drugs. I was sentenced to 15 years in jail. It was a huge shock to me and my family.
“The prison world is completely different; the rules are different, the environment is different, the food is different. You can only see the sky through the iron bars. And the water, however good its quality, seems to taste bitter.
“In the beginning, I thought prison was the greatest calamity to befall me, but as I look back, I realise it was the best thing to have happened to me. Of the 15-year term, I spent seven years, three months and 22 days inside and I emerged from the experience a better human being.
“I learnt how to live by principles regardless of personal interests. I discovered the Quran, memorised two-thirds of it, and I discovered that I did not lose seven years of my life but rather I have gained years of life. How? I quit drugs and smoking during my first year there. So the prison gave me extra years of life even after deducting the seven years I spent there.
“However strange it may sound, sometimes I miss the prison ... I miss the solitude in which I studied the Quran, I miss my friend Saeed Al Muhairi, the library that I was working in, each book I read, and every book I wished I could have read.
“I miss policeman Saleh Mohammad Belamish, the perfect model for good morals, I miss policeman Ahmad Ghuloom who found purpose in helping others, policeman Adnan who always made me feel that I was his friend.
“I miss Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah Othman, an Ethiopian who helped me memorise the Quran and Shaikh Abdul Qadir, who taught me how to work ... I miss Colonel Ahmad Suhail, who gave me the confidence and opportunity to be creative and work, and Brigadier Khalifa Al Merri, who gave all the option to change, and encouraged us to do it.
“Ramadan inside the prison is a period of reflection. Beginning with the Asr prayer to the Taraweeh, life is about what we wish to make of it. There are religious and cultural events, entertainment options ... In addition, there were various sports activities, such as the five-foot football, basketball and volleyball, rope tethering, tennis, and other fun sports.
“From one Ramadan to the next, there is a sense that you are evolving, changing.
“Ramadan in prison is like a white, fragrant jasmine flower in the middle of an arid desert.
“It was during Ramadan two years ago that I heard my name in the list of inmates who had been granted pardon. I prostrated on the ground to thank Almighty Allah and sang to the cold ground with my warm tears.
“I do not remember how long I lay there, but I remember that when I tried to get up, there were dozens of others around me [to help me]. When I went to the airport, I felt I was discovering the world again.
“I started my life again, as a new man. I forgot the past and left old friends behind who no longer align with my new values. I developed a realistic plan and did my best to implement it believing that Allah does not waste the efforts of those who do good work.
“Thanks to Allah, I got a good job and met a good woman who accepted me despite my past. Today, we are married and are expecting our first baby.
(Full name withheld at the request of the former prisoner)