This is the third part of a series of posts about my little journey with the Tunisian prison. You can read this part as a separated sub-story or you can read the previous parts too, I believe they have more action in them.
The last part ended with:
My little rebellious show is over.
I'm in the van with the rest of the captured protesters, not knowing where we are being taken.
A horrible realization strikes me. I have just passed the most important exams in my engineering studies. The results of those exams will decide what choices I will have for my next year in university. If I fail to submit my choice, for any reason, I will be stuck with a university that no one else has taken, or I will have to pass the exams again next year...
Even the shortest amont of time in prison, now, can cost me a year in my engineering career!
Being arrested on a Friday afternoon, the law states that we should be kept in custody until we stand in court no sooner than the next Monday. But that's just the law. We're in a transition between a state that has no regard for laws and human rights to one that will finally prove that people can earn respect and well-being when they pay the price.
Since our arrest is not documented so far, the possibilities in my head vary from taking us somewhere isolated in the city and setting us free... to taking us somewhere isolated in this world and never admitting they have us. Actually, that didn't come from my imagination, such cases existed in Tunisia, under the rule of the two Dictators.
The ride in the van didn't take long, we ended up in front of the most famous Tunisian Prison. "Bouchoucha" is its name and Tunis (the capital) is its location. I bet my father spent some time here, too.
They lead us inside, they search us again, take off our handcuffs and the strings of our shoes (later, I will learn that they do it so we don't use the strings to strangle and kill each other), and, still no formal interrogation, they take us to an empty cell.
Not only it lacks any former prisoners, but it also has no furniture. No beds, no covers, no chairs, no nothing! Just the concrete above, below, and all around, except for the bars on one side, a hole with a fan sucking the air out, and a toilet that has no door, in one corner, for the eight of us to share.
Time passes, the cell starts getting cold, we start getting used to the situation and start chatting and getting to know one another. We get interrupted by dinner. Not really dinner, just some old, hard, and small sandwiches a normal person would only eat if he's starving. I'm not as hungry as the other guys, thanks to the lunch I had when they refused to eat, but I'm one of the few who eat their "dinner". I also try to convince them to do the same.
"If not for your health or because of hunger, do it for your family. They will be allowed to see you, one day, and it would hurt them to see you're losing weight in here."
My argument doesn't work on everyone.
Hours later, about 2 or 3 AM, according to my biological clock, they lead us out of the cell, to interrogate us. The moment of truth! Will they use the classical ugly methods of interrogation, or will they acknowledge the fact that we made a revolution and earned our human rights?
The answer to that comes sooner than I think. The sight of the desks and the policemen with computers, and the empty chairs in front of their desks is a relief. So this is the new normal... All I need now is make a good case, and stick to it. After all, they have nothing against me. I was arrested on the street going home from the protest, not even in the protest (even though protesting should be legal after the revolution, but who knows, I won't take risks)
My story was "I saw an event on Facebook about a protest, I went there to see how things will go, when things started getting violent, I went away, to get arrested on my way home". My interrogator types, not only what I said, but also implements a few additional sentences, prints the whole thing and gives me the paper to sign. He stares at me while I read my "testimony" carefully. None of them expected someone to be so "in his mind" that late in the night and stand for his right to decide what gets written in his name. OK, I'm not brave enough to refuse to talk until my lawyer is here, but I'm focused enough to play my own lawyer.
I asked my interrogator to make some edit before I sign. This time he shows me the file in the computer before printing it. I ask for yet a few other edits, to make my situation safer at courtroom, if ever there will be a court for me. He changes and prints. I scan read the final paper, afraid he would make the edits on the computer then print the original version. Once convinced it's safe to sign, I get this over with and let them lead me to the cell.
They lead us to another cell this time, one that has other prisoners. Still no beds, but they give us an oval-shaped carpet and a cover for each. The carpet is the kind of things we put outside the door to wipe our shoes before entering, smaller than a human body, in a way that forces me to decide what parts of my body I want to keep from the cold cement. The cover smells of... you-don't-want-to-know-what.
We have a chat about what just happened with the policemen, we introduce ourselves to our new "friends", They all have similar cases. All arrested in the protest, awaiting court hearing. All strongly against the newly assigned prime minister because of his link to the old regime, and all denying any relation to any political party.
In the meantime, I start getting used to the new conditions. Sleep helps me forget how humiliating they are.