New audio and comic series! Raising the voice of Muslim people in prison during Ramadan
Updated: May 11, 2021
The experience of Muslims in the prison system are not normally given a public hearing. This allows discriminatory acts to occur towards Muslims without accountability and challenge. Our work has enabled us to hear directly from Muslim people with experience of prison and in doing so challenge this silencing of their experiences and the stereotypes attached to Muslims.
Over Ramadan we will be releasing a series of audio clips and comics that share the first-hand accounts of Muslim people who have been to prison. These audios shine a light on the institutional racism within the prison system that is faced by Muslim people and the heightened impact this has during Ramadan.
It reminds us that this year, as we go through the second Ramadan during the pandemic, that there are Muslims across the prison estate facing such acute discrimination and under the added conditions of severe lockdown: a lockdown which has seen them confined to cells for over 23 hours a day.
Fasting and praying around prison regimes
About this clip A Muslim man describes the abuse and discrimination he faced as he is aggressively challenged by a prison officer to wake up despite prior arrangements to allow him to sleep in.
Muslim people in prison are entitled to fast and pray during Ramadan. It means they may stay up late to pray and get up early to eat before sunrise. They can therefore be excused from having to wake up at breakfast times with other prisoners. However this is ultimately left up to the prison officer to decide.
The abuse this man receives is a stark contrast to the treatment a fellow white prisoner receives a week later. He goes on to get accused of having a ‘bad attitude’, a stereotype that Black and Brown people are all too used to having levelled at them whenever they disagree with the way they are treated.
Access to food for breaking fasts
About this clip Muslims fasting during Ramadan should be provided with food by the prison outside of the usual mealtimes. Hot food in flasks or boxes should be given in the evening to be eating after sunset, along with breakfast packs for the morning meal before sunrise.
However, in this clip a Muslim man talks about how the boxes can arrive with food missing or completely empty because those working in the kitchen have taken from them. It can be difficult to resolve this because by the time someone goes to eat their food it is after they have been locked in their cells.
This man goes on to share, in a stark example of the bullying and targeted abuse that can be experienced in prison, a disturbing time where one Muslim man was victim to someone putting excrement in their food box.
He goes on to talk about how difficult it can be to raise a complaint, receiving dismissive responses in reply that don’t address the root problems of the issues arising. It highlights how the complaints process is a performative gesture that does not provide true accountability.
Waking up before sunrise
About this clip Timekeeping is an essential element of Ramadan so that you know when to begin and end your fast. But like so many aspects across the prison estate, inconsistency proves to be the problem.
Whether alarm clocks are allowed, whether they are provided or available to purchase on canteen sheets, and the price of them varies across the prison estate.
Alternatively, prison officers may assist with waking people so they can eat before sunrise. But this relies on the discretion of individual officers. This clip shows the response from a Muslim man with experience of prison when we asked him about this. He highlights how much this support can vary in different prisons.
Some officers make a dedicated effort to note everyone who needs waking up, but in other prisons that understanding and support isn’t there with officers telling him they forgot. This inconsistency is enabled by a lack of process and creates a postcode lottery.
This man’s experience shows that it is possible to provide the support. But it shouldn’t be reliant on individual officers having the commitment, understanding & time to create their own process for this. It can too easily lead to Muslims being denied the right to observe their religion.
Every prison should have a process for noting down those who need support waking up and ensuring a member of staff does this or consistent provision of alarm clocks.
Maintaining contact with loved ones
About this clip Prison is an isolating and lonely experience. It disrupts family and community ties and makes it incredibly difficult to maintain meaningful contact. In this audio clip, a Muslim man describes the impact on mental health when you can’t see your loved ones and how it can be more challenging to get through your sentence without that support network.
The treatment of visitors can make it harder for loved ones to visit and puts them in uncomfortable positions. He describes a time his partner was made to remove her headscarf.
During Ramadan there is usually an emphasis on giving to others and togetherness. Meals are often spent with families and friends and many people visit the Mosque more often, spending more time with their local communities.
For prisoners, being cut off from that and the lack of contact with loved ones during this time can make the isolation and loneliness of prison feel particularly acute. Lockdown conditions only exacerbate this with people locked in their cells for over 23 hours a day and visits cancelled. Short phone calls and video visits - or even in-person ones - can’t ever hope to replace the connections and experiences in the community.
You can read more about The Realities of Ramadan in Prison here.
Credits: Illustrations by: Hannah Berry With thanks to those we interviewed for giving us their time and sharing their incredible insights.