Let’s Go Home Mom
The story of a woman who was imprisoned without due process under inhumane conditions for 10 months: a mother who had to hide her imprisonment to protect her children and pretended to be working abroad: a wife who felt her husband’s love over the tags of her clothes and tears that were shared with an unexpected company, a Greek border patrol officer.
Two weeks after July 15th, the day that everybody wished had never happened, my husband was detained. It was just like an army operation, seven armed police came to our door. I looked from the door hole and saw a group of men outside. They shouted “open the door.” As soon as I opened the door, they rushed into the house. They gave me a brief and quick explanation, called our neighbors and searched our house with their guns and body armor for 3-4 hours. They couldn’t find anything.
They said they were going to detain my husband. I will never forget that moment. They said “Say your farewells, you will not see each other anymore.” They handcuffed him. Fortunately, our kids weren’t there with us at the time to witness this.
I was a government employee. I couldn’t tell anyone what happened (to my husband) because there was a witch hunt. If I were to tell anyone, I was afraid that they would detain me as well, my kids would be left behind without care. Every day after work, I went to the police station where they took my husband. It was 40 kms away. All I could do was cry, in front of the counter terrorism police building.
One morning, the police came to my office and detained me too. While I was hoping my husband would be released in a few days, I was being detained. We went to our house and they searched it again. During the search, they summoned my neighbor. She cried a lot asking “what do you want from this family? They have two kids. We know them very well, you can ask us.” There was nothing to do. I was detained before witnessing my husband’s release.
When I was in custody, the worst thing was that they took our headscarves off. In a country where we believed we had freedom of religion, they left us without our headscarves in a room with 24-hour surveillance. We weren’t given enough food under detention and there were mothers who were breastfeeding. Only babies who were being breastfed were allowed to see their mother. These babies were taken from their father by prison staff and they cried until they were handed to their moms in the cell. Likewise, they cried when they were forced to leave their moms until they were handed over back to their dads. Babies were crying. Moms were crying. Everybody in the cell was crying.
It was so hard for me because I didn’t know if my husband had been released. I begged the police officer to tell me if he was out, because we had two children left behind.
On the 6th day of my detention, I saw a bag with my name on it. I thought maybe my family sent some clothes for me in that bag. I needed to change, because it was August and we were 16 people in the same cell. There was a pack of wipes in the bag. As I opened, I saw my husband’s handwriting on the cover saying “I’m okay and you will be okay too”. He wrote other things on the tag of my clothes as small as he could. He wrote little notes to support and to cheer me up. He expressed his affection and love in these small notes. When the guard saw it, she got
frustrated and asked what I was reading. I showed them and explained that my husband just wanted to let me know he was released. I was over the moon and said “I’m so happy. I can even give you a hug.” She was standing and I was on the floor. She pushed me like she was pushing away something disgusting and said “you all stink in there.”
I was crying from joy and everyone in the cell was crying from joy with me. We were all in the same situation. One’s pain could make all of us sad as well as one’s happiness could put a smile on all of our faces. We were all separated from our children, husbands, families, mothers and fathers.
When we were under detention, we couldn’t take a shower, we couldn’t even brush our teeth. They didn’t give us anything for 11 days. The only thing they gave us was only a half cup of shampoo. We asked for drinking water and they gave us a water bottle with chewed gum under the cap. After we saw it, we didn’t drink it because we didn’t trust that the water was clean. Then, we got our drinking water from the restroom which was already very dirty and disgusting. We were stripped from basic needs for 11 days.
Then, we were taken to the court. We were 35 people. Every one of us was accompanied by a police officer. The judge said, “All of them are sentenced to imprisonment except these two (judge said their names). So, you learn your lesson.” He took off his gown and left. That was it. We were shocked . Everybody was crying, screaming…” But the judge didn’t come back.
It’s really hard to enter prison. Maybe you get used to it later, but the way they treat you there is really hard. we stayed in a temporary cell at first. There were 6 beds and we were 13 women.
They took us to our permanent cell after 3 days. It was empty and dirty. There were only walls, dirty chairs and a dirty table. After a while, they opened the door and shouted “take the mess tin.” It was a big metal tin. We didn’t know what it meant. We opened it and saw food there, but we didn’t have any spoons or plates. We, 13 women, looked at each other and at the food. Later, they gave us 10 plastic spoons. We took turns and ate our food.
The first visit was very hard. It was the first time I had seen my husband in a month, behind glass walls. He didn’t look well. He said he had stayed handcuffed in custody for 10 days, they only took the cuffs off in the restroom, not even when he was praying or eating. He lost 6-8kg in 16 days. My family only brought my younger son, but didn’t let him see me because I might have gotten upset if he cried. I could only see him from a distance. For a long time, I could only see my kids behind a glass wall.
Both having or not having an open visit were painful. You start having cramps a week before the visit because you see your family, and then leave them behind and come back to your cell again. It was the first time my younger son saw me.There was a table and you can only hug them over the table. You can’t go to other side of the table but you can have your child sit on your lap. I hugged my little one but he kept looking at my face. He was 3 years old at that time. He didn’t talk much but he kept looking at me, saying mom and hugging me. he felt the need to check if it was really me. He kissed me all over my face. 45 minutes had passed so quickly.
Visiting hours were over. I hugged everyone. My husband, my mom, my father, my siblings. I walked carrying my son through the door. I was going to hand him to my mom, but he clung on to me and didn’t want to leave. I was pushing him, trying to detach his one hand, and he was trying to hold me with the other hand. He cried a lot. we were taken to our cells. I could still hear him screaming “bring my mom back.” There is nothing as painful as pushing your own child away who desperately wants to be with you.
I hadn’t seen my older child for 4 months. They didn’t tell him that I was in prison because he was an elementary school student. The Failed coup attempt was included in the curriculum and his mother was in jail. We didn’t tell him because we were concerned that he might get hurt or bullied at school. I could only talk to him on the phone. They told him that I was abroad. So he kept saying on the phone, “why did you leave without saying anything? Do you need to earn money? We have money. Come back. ” He always begged me to return home
I thought I would forget his face. After 4 months, I told my husband to bring him over to the open visit. He came to visit and held my hand and said “Mom, let’s go home,” I said I can’t and he started to cry. I told him I had to work and he kept saying “you don’t need to earn money, my father will take care of us.” He begged me to go with them.
Then they left. Once the bell rings everyone has to leave. You go to your cell, they go to their homes. Whether you are inside or outside, everyone is heartbroken.
In prison, they make you forget that you are a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend to someone. I wasn’t any of those there.
Sometimes, when we went out to the prison yard, we could smell the sea. We wanted to feel that smell. We didn’t see any green except the food we had, but they sometimes cut the grass out there and we liked that smell. Sometimes, I missed vacuuming. I started crying when I said I missed the sound of our vacuum cleaner. My friends brought a hair dryer once, just because I could hear the sound and be happy
I used to grind my teeth, probably because of stress. Two of my teeth broke from right and left. I could not eat. I wrote a letter for a dentist referral every day. After 1.5 months, I was sent to the prison’s dentist and he said everywhere in my palate was inflamed. I used antibiotics, but they ran out. I started writing letters again for referral to the hospital. I was extremely tired of fighting just to have my basic human rights.
I was handcuffed and transferred to the hospital many times with 2 soldiers, a commander and a female guard. The good thing was you had a chance to see outside even if it was from a tiny window of a vehicle. From that tiny window, seeing others walking outside gave me hope.
After months they allowed us to keep a family photo. My family brought one which was taken at our house about 6 months before I was detained, with my husband, my kids and my parents. In my dreams, I always went back to that house. We were so happy there. We had an ordinary family life. All of a sudden, in one day, everything changed. When you were working for your country, you suddenly became “terrorists,” as they called it. I had never seen a gun in my life, let alone used a gun. But I am accused of being a member of an armed terrorist organization because of using a messaging application called Bylock. Once you are accused of something, it is extremely hard to prove your innocence. No one hears or sees whatever you write or say, there is no due process. You are either banned or limited to meet your lawyer. I spent 9 months like that and was released on the 10th month with a travel ban.
Later, I attended my husband’s trial. One of his friends who gave his name told about the torture when he was in custody. He was questioned at 12 am. They beat him until morning. They especially hit his legs because he had a surgery in one. His wife was in the courtroom listening to his words in tears. They pulled down his pants and underwear and tapped him with an object which I think was a nightstick and pushed it harder and threatened with giving electric shock. While they were doing it, they also threatened him by doing the same things to his wife and his 3.5 year old daughter. As a result of the torture, he was left with no choice other than signing the paper that had his friends’ names. This was the level of the torture.
It was hard to decide whether you should flee your home country or stay. My husband said “I don’t want you to go back to prison unjustly even for another single day. You will most likely be arrested again. Your mother and kids cannot take this anymore.” My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was in prison. My parents knew that if I stayed, I could be sentenced to 7-8 years. The decision involved a big responsibility.
We put everything at risk. We went to Edirne to flee over Evros. While we were waiting for human traffickers to take us, we told my son everything, that I didn’t work abroad, instead I was imprisoned. I was talking to relieve him “We never did anything wrong to this country but we were misunderstood. We could stay in prison for many years. We must go but everything will be fine.”
We were on the streets until midnight. Kids were cold. They wanted to go home and sleep.
We made two attempts to come to Greece. In the first one, there was a heavy flow and it was deep. We kept turning around but could not move forward. The paddle broke in the middle of the river. We kept crashing against tree branches and stones. We couldn’t make it. However, you must take the same risks again with your kids. You either stay and live through the same or you must go, you have to. That’s how you feel. So we tried again and we succeeded in the second attempt.
You enter a country in illegal ways with fake documents. And as a result, you are detained. But they still understand your situation, they treat you very nicely. We stayed under detention for 5 days. My husband was separated from us. A female police officer brought my husband one night. She said “Only 15 mins” and left. 2 hours passed, but she didn’t come back. We knocked on the door thinking they might have forgotten my husband. She took him back and came 10 minutes later. She entered the dirty, stinky, and cold room to sit with me. She said “What are you doing here with your kids?” I started explaining. When she saw that I was upset, she grabbed my hands. I told my story and cried, then she started crying with me.
I apologized for entering her country illegally. But this was a survival instinct for living together as a family. “Please” she said. “I cannot take this anymore, I am a mother, too. Later, she came with a box of cookies and insisted on taking it. She said she would take the kids out if there was a playground nearby. I told her that I would never want her to be in trouble because of us. She left in tears, and I cried for her kindness. After half an hour, she brought my husband back and said “Family is important to me. You will have dinner together. I will take him after dinner.” I will never forget how she listened to me while holding my hand and how kindly she treated me.
“Even the breeze I feel on my face when I’m walking outside now is so precious. Sitting on a couch is a blessing after sitting on a plastic chair or on the floor for 10 months. Cooking food for your children, cleaning your own house, being a mom… They are all blessings.”
We are all good, nonetheless. We are happy to be with our kids, to be healthy. What else would I want?