Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award, was arrested for looting and accused of being a terrorist against no evidence from his home in New Orleans a few days after Katrina. There were many wrongfully arrested in New Orleans during this period of time, they call it-doing Katrina time. This man is a Syrian immigrant married to a woman born in the United States. They own a business and are very well known in the community. He is a very hard working and honorable man. He had stayed behind while his wife and children left during the storm because his family owned a business and had several properties. He wanted to fix roof leaks and other problems as they occurred to decrease the damage, especially with regard to their home. He is very stubborn and could not be convinced to leave New Orleans during Katrina.
When he was wrongfully imprisoned they would not allow him to call his wife for three weeks and then they allowed him only one call, the only number he had for his wife was a cell phone which was not allowed. He was taken to a makeshift prison made at the bus station known as the Greyhound Prison. Cages were erected like the ones at Abu Ghraib. Now, remember they did not bring help to the people stuck in New Orleans without food, water, or health care, but FEMA brought in tons of supplies to build a temporary prison at the bus station. The priority was to form a police state, helping people was low on the agenda. He observed the staff spraying pepper spray on inmates frequently including a developmentally disabled man who was not able to comply with their commands. They had to sleep on the ground. He had something in his foot and it was infected, he could get no medical help and finally dug it out of his foot with a shard of glass. They were fed pork which Zeitoun and his friend could not eat because they are Muslim. Zeitoun had a canoe and had paddled around helping people who were left in New Orleans, in fact he was gleeful and proud that he was able to help people. He also was taking care of four dogs left to starve and die of thirst in the homes of two of his neighbors. Zeitoun felt it was God's will that he was there to help. He would not leave when his wife asked him to.
When arrested the doors of his home were not locked, so their home was looted. He had moved anything of value upstairs so much of it was salvageable. He asked them to make sure the dogs were taken care of and they lied and said they would. When he was released from prison he found them all dead from starvation and thirst. No one told his wife where he was. He was not sure what was going on or really why he was arrested. He was denied medical care. The prison guards were abusive, lied to him, and did everything they could to block his civil rights. No lawyer was provided. He had actually been arrested by makeshift personnel by FEMA, so the prison staff decided the regular prison rules and procedures did not apply, even after being removed from the cages and taken to a prison facility. He begged everyone to call his wife, constantly. This is typical, prison staff constantly formulate illogical reasons to deny civil rights, including lies.
This is very similar to my story. I have come to find out the process of abuse and injustice is actually very similar everywhere. This is how I know the problems with our prisons and justice system are not just incompetence, it was planned.
Dave Egger’s book, Zeitoun was first published I was very interested in reading it. Realizing the similarities with my story I was afraid it would trigger my PTSD, so I waited knowing I would eventually read it. Like myself the Zeitouns had already been traumatized before the wrongful imprisonment. As the anniversary of Katrina approached I decided I was ready for this story and decided to listen to the audiobook rather than read it. The story was so interesting and so well written that I listened to it in just two days. As Zeitoun was arrested and as the abuse from prison staff and the justice system occurred I knew from my own experiences that they were about to happen, such as no medical care for his injured foot and lies about the phones. There are some abuses that are SOP throughout the country. In Alaska they let inmates use the phones, but they only work in the immediate area. Fees for long distance calls are high. They will not help the inmates figure out how to call people where they were taken from. I eventually had a bail hearing on the phone, but could not contact anyone for a long time to ask them to pay it so I could leave. The public defender agency knew the people I was trying to contact and simply left me in limbo for a long period of time. Ask yourself this, if they were on my side why would they do that? Zeitoun got out of the prison in less than a month because his family had the means to hire a good attorney. His friends who were arrested at the same time had public defenders and one of them ended up imprisoned for a year. One of them had about ten thousand dollars with him when he was arrested and the FEMA staff stole the money. The public defenders are not on the side of the defendants because of the way the system is set up, no one is. Once incarcerated you have no access to your bank account, so even if you have the bail money, unless you arrived with cash to prison or jail you can’t pay it without help from someone. This helps keep people who have been given bail in the prison longer, insuring job security for correctional staff and profits for private prisons and partially-private prisons(where the prison hires private prison companies to build prisons, supply laundry, commissary, food, and other essential needs). Never think that because a prison is not private that the policies and procedures aren't driven by the prison corporations, they are. Our legislators allowed this to happen all over the country.