The Realities of Ramadan in Prison
Ramadan should be a joyous time for Muslim people around the world, but for those in prison it can be a particularly difficult and isolating period.
Added to this, due to the Covid-19 pandemic people in prison have had a year of being confined to small cells for over 23 hours a day, with little interaction with others and in most cases having had no visits from outside prisons.
After a year of this forced isolation, and with prisons still under severe lockdown, we have a prison population that is mentally and physically fragile and disconnected from communities outside of the prison system.
This combined with the discrimination Muslim people in prison face, the disregard for their religion and the practical difficulties of observing Ramadan in a prison environment will make Ramadan an even more challenging time this year.
The experience of Muslims in prison during Ramadan are not normally given a public hearing. Our work over Ramadan aims to end this silencing of their experiences. Through a series of audios and comics we shine a light on the discrimination that Muslims in prison face during this important time.
Whilst every Muslim person in prison has the right to observe Ramadan, our research, Time to End the Silence, shows that inconsistent provisions, a lack of basic religious and cultural understanding about Islam, and outright discrimination creates barriers for Muslims practicing their religion.
Fasting: Access to quality food during Ramadan, as eating times are outside of the usual prison regime hours, is challenging with many accounts of food being cold, food being tampered with, or being taken before its able to reach Muslim prisoners.
Timekeeping: Inconsistent provision of alarm clocks leads many Muslims having to rely on prison officers to help them with waking up to eat before sunrise. Owing to the lack of recognition about the importance of this to Muslim people it can lead to a disregard by some officers and a failure to support them with this.
Sharing cells: Sharing cells during Ramadan with non-Muslim people can create greater conflict when Muslims may have to stay up late praying, pray more or get up early to eat before sunrise making them vulnerable to experiencing greater levels of abuse.
Health: Mental and physical health has deteriorated over the last year as a result of Covid-19 lockdown leading to concerns about the impact on those fasting.
Mental health, isolation, and loneliness
In addition to the stress and anxiety that all this can cause, Ramadan is also a time where the isolation and loneliness of prison can feel especially sharp. Cut off from families, friends and communities during a time that would usually be spent with others.
During Covid-19 lockdown, this is particularly acute with no social visits allowed and only short phone or video calls taking place. Added to this, the informal support networks between Muslim people in prison and gatherings that would usually be arranged by prison Imams – that could usually provide a coping mechanism during this time - have been cut off to a large extent as well by confining people to cells.
We held a number of interviews with Muslim people currently in prison or who had recently been to prison.
Throughout Ramadan we’ll be releasing a series of audio clips from these interviews that give voice to the experiences of Muslim people in prison in their own words and show how they have been prevented from fully exercising their right to observe Ramadan. Each clip is accompanied by comic panels which illustrate what they’ve endured during in Ramadan.