It was in June 2009 when I met Shukri Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, and Abdulrahman Odeh at Seagoville Federal Detention Center (FDC), three of the five members of the Holy Land Foundation case.
I was terrified of being sent to jail. I had just spent three days in solitary confinement at Lew Sterrett County jail. You have to understand, I was raised in a completely prestigious household, and although I was a computer hacker, by virtue I did not live a criminal lifestyle.
Not in any conventional sense. I didn't steal money or secrets. I was curious about all the ways I could gain access to computer systems. Hacking, for me, was about solving puzzles.
Let me elaborate on my level of anxiety I was feeling in this new environment. I didn't shower for a week. That's because suddenly I couldn't shower in the privacy of my own home. There were no shower curtains, and everyone was exposed to all.
To make it worse, I was too scared to come downstairs from my 2nd tier cell and eat with the general inmate population. It wasn't until Shukri Baker invited me to sit with him, Muhammad, Abdul, and friends did I ever find some semblance of comfort in this completely new reality.
I saw Shukri's life as a political prisoner unfold in this jail unit, minute by minute. I witnessed a racist correctional officer arbitrarily toss his cell, confiscate his family photos and food he bought, and throw them in the trash.
(That was CO Greenhaw, who did this. This same guard eventually found himself wearing an orange jumpsuit, but that's another story for another time.)
At the time I met Shukri, I was a radical fundamental Christain with unwavering views. Still, I was welcomed every day to share meals with him and his friends. And when a fellow Muslim friend of his had treated me with disregard, he stood up for me and defended me.
I, being a Christian, was staunchly defended by a Muslim man, of a religion I knew nothing about. Muhammad, whom I mistakenly called Rabbi, was the first person to explain Islam to me. I though their religion was weird. I knew no other expression of the Abrahamic belief.
I did not look at the HLF5 in terms of innocent or guilty. I was too absorbed in the possibility of facing up to 20 years in prison, and desperately trying to hold onto my family, my marriage, and my 13-month-old child whom I was abruptly torn from and suddenly missing from the family photos.
Shukri told me about his wife and daughters, whom I would eventually see visiting with him in the inmate visiting rooms. He shared the children's books he was writing and showed me each illustration he so artfully made to accompany the narrative, until the day the order came to deliver them all to solitary confinement because they were "too dangerous" to remain in the general population.
I have not seen Shukri Baker since. And at some point, while I was facing my own horrors, I forgot about him. I forgot that he was innocent, and the children's books, and so on.
I had 11 years of time to face without my daughter, and family. Thus, as all inmates know, we are moved through time, from warehouses, chains and shackles, various locations, and States spanning miles from those we love, and time yet even more.
Twelve years later, I remembered, and all the details came rushing back like uncovering a trove of photographs.
If you are interested in the facts of the HLF5 case, it's extensively covered. I have provided a short explanation here.
However, Shukri Baker is confined in one of America's most violent prisons, insomuch that it's called "Bloody Beaumont." He resides at Beaumont USP, in Texas.
Against insurmountable odds, this innocent man is still alive and his resolve to live remains, in the hope to see the prison gates open, where he walks out a free man.
Personally, I will stop at nothing until my mission to free him is complete. I, for one, will not take "no" for an answer. In my world, nothing is impossible, and I believe this because the forces that stand in our way are only human.
Recently, this innocent man nearly lost his life. These are his words.
I'm Okay, by Shukri Baker
The outpouring [of] support is amazing. I'm humbled and my family feels surrounded by love.
I'm Ok, alhamdulillah. This is briefly what happened on Friday 10-28-22.
A fight took place in my unit while I was in the [recreation] yard coming back from the chapel after Friday prayer. Along with a score of other inmates, we waited outside the building while the officers were taking the offending inmates from inside the building, cuffed up.
We were ordered to go back to our unit and get inside our cells to be locked down. Upon entering the building, the air inside was still filled with the [pepper spray] that the officers
has previously used to subdue the fighting inmates.
[After] about two minutes of exposure to the
gas I started coughing and breathing heavily before I lost consciousness and passed out.
My lungs experienced a severe respiratory allergic reaction to the pepper spray and I basically stopped breathing. Two close friends carried me down the stairs from the 4th floor right into the
hands of the officers that were gathered outside the building as part of the team that responded to the fight earlier.
The two friends insisted that I get immediate medical
care because I wasn't breathing, they told me later. I woke up in the prison hospital, they told me I had passed out. T
They quickly administered oxygen, and other inhalable medicine
via a nebulizer, [and] put me on EKG and other vital signs monitors. I was in and out, not completely alert.
Shivering at times and still having difficulty breathing, I remained under observation attended by the head nurse and chief administrator.
The warden came down and check on me. About two hours later, when my color came back to me, my vital signs normalized, and my breathing eased a little I was wheeled back to the unit [and] then to my
This is the second incident with pepper spray. The first one took place right before the pandemic had started. This situation will repeat itself every time I'm exposed to pepper spray.
I really thought I was dying. All kind[s] of images popped up in my head. I saw the dead in my family and I broke crying for the living, for this sad reality, I and they found ourselves forced into.
But I'm alive and my resolve to keep fighting for my liberty has not ebbed in the least. This incident galvanized my resolve. I was born alive and free and I won't die willingly.
It's just a reminder [of] how quickly things can devolve, how bad events can go in a place like this where I don't belong and will never belong.
People! Feeding hungry children is NOT a crime. What am I doing serving the rest of my life caged up? But I'm not quitting.
I love you all. Freedom is near. Allah is the most Compassionate. He will answer our prayers. Thank you.