I remember that she broke down, saying, "how can I eat when I don't even know what is going on with my son?
At the age of 17, Musa felt optimistic about his future. He met Sabrina – beautiful, kind and funny - combining all the qualities he had been seeking, and so, he was determined to marry her. He worked hard to persuade her parents and eventually, with their blessing, they married and began a new life together. They continued living with in-laws whilst Musa worked, all the while planning to fulfil his dreams of starting a business. To their delight, just a few weeks into their marriage, Musa received news that his wife was pregnant. His eyes lit up upon hearing the news and he was overwhelmed with joy. Although they were a young couple, he was determined to give his wife and child a brighter future.
“I was doing some work for my brother in the market at the time and because I got married I was looking to start up my own little thing. I was working and I was saving up at the same time just to provide.”
Their days of newly wed bliss were shattered when one day Musa, while out eating with his friends, was arrested along with his companions and taken to a high security prison miles away from home. Simultaneously, his father’s work place and family home were humiliatingly raided; leaving his mother and wife in utter shock and despair. The police took a painstaking four days to search the house splitting up Musa’s family and leaving them in a disarray of panic…
“Just going through the entire arrest for a 17 year old, I was shell-shocked, it hit me to the core. My wife was pregnant at the time so it put her under a lot of stress. I know that for my mum it had the biggest effect; I remember she couldn’t eat when there was food on the table and I remember that she broke down, saying, ‘how can I eat when I don’t even know what is going on with my son?’ It was a month and a half before they got to see me. It had an impact on me; it had a ripple effect on everyone.”
Musa’s arrest dealt a heavy blow to his young wife, who had barely known her husband a month before he was taken away. She felt immense pressure from all sides; her family began tocriticiseher for her life choices, her finances became straitened and she had few people to lean on. At the time, she tried her best to comfort her husband. She would go to see him at every given opportunity and soothed his fears over the phone.
“My mum and my wife they were really traumatized. My wife’s family was asking, ‘Who is this guy you married and why has he been arrested?’ My wife was struggling but didn’t want to ask others for help. But I knew the reality deep down. A lot of people were keeping their distance and stayed away because they didn’t want to get in trouble. The prison visits were hard…It eventually reached the point that the visits were getting too expensive for her…”
Musa’s arrest had a domino effect on his family; his parents and siblings each began carrying their share of the heavy load left behind from his arrest. Whether dealing with media, the financial struggle of having lost a breadwinner or struggling through their own trauma…
“There was this one journalist which just kept on knocking and asking my brother to do a report, it’s such an invasion of your privacy. My younger siblings were affected; my youngest sister was traumatized, she was only 8 at the time. During the arrest she ran under the bed and the other two locked themselves in the cupboard; it makes me feel so bad.”
Musa was physically and mentally trapped, in prison he could do little to support his crumbling family. But whilst he watched his family falling apart, he turned 18 in prison, necessitating his transfer to an adult prison, where he stood before a minefield of terror.
“It took me a while to come to terms with what was actually going on.I’ve never been in trouble with the police and for me it was a whole different type of experience. People were there for murder and for mad stuff. When I was in prison the guy was like you’re going to be here for life. You don’t know how the day is going to be and it’s just mixed emotions; it is traumatic for you. With me, I lost a lot of hair, a lot of hair subhanAllah. I lost a lot of weight and my mum could tell, although I tried my best not to show it.”
At home, Sabrina had given birth to their first child, Amir. In an unforgettable moment, filled with emotion, Musa would meet his son for the first time in a prison. But as time passed, Sabrina would struggle to afford the visits and came less and less frequently. Musa’s ailing mother would have to take taxis to the prison the prison, sometimes costing £90 for a single prison visit return journey. Though the family found it difficult to trust people and organisations after Musa’s arrest, they finally agreed to take help from HHUGS with prison visits. It was through Sabrina and Musa’s brother that he first came to learn of HHUGS, though it was not until his release that he would fully realize the positive impact they could have in their lives.
Musa’s trial had begun but was constantly being prolonged and delayed. For months on end, Musa anxiously awaited a result. Eventually, in a desperate attempt to minimize his sentence, he pleaded guilty.
“I am going to be honest with you; it was hard on a mental level. I just feel like it was so hard to go through and everything else felt irrelevant. It was a hard experience and the uncertainty was the main thing. There were two trials and it was a strain waiting for them. I was in limbo. I was concerned about my family, I knew I could only come out by pleading guilty. I knew it would affect my future prospects of providing for my family but I had to do it.”
After serving a painstaking sentence, Musa was finally released and reunited with his family. His reunion with Sabrina was a sweet moment for Musa, but soon, the after effects of his detention began to carve holes in his marriage. His once newlywed wife was now the mother of a baby boy. She had developed and grown without him and he was left to try and adjust to an entirely new world.
“We were newly married and we were still trying to get to know each other so it was hard when I saw that our relationship was affected. I had a feeling, I hoped our relationship wouldn’t collapse. When I came out, I was just trying to adjust to the lifestyle on the outside but this baby had been born and I had never been a parent before. I used to comfort eat a lot so I put on a lot of weight at that time, a lot subhanAllah. It affected my wife a lot you know, even my moods were all over the place and I could see she wasn’t happy in the situation she was in.My wife, may Allah bless her, she was going through a type of depression and I think that was due to me to be honest – I used to be very argumentative, I was just living in a bubble for a very long time and it was hard, it had a lot of psychological effects on me.”
Whilst Musa struggled at home, he faced a harsh reality outside, experiencing rejection from his local community on the one hand and on the other, turned away by potential employers. After being isolated in prison, Musa felt paranoid and couldn’t bring himself to start integrating again. At the same time, Musa had to sign on three times a day at the police station and face license conditions which added endless barriers to his attempts at financial independence. When Musa would finally find work, the police would turn up at his work place to speak to his employers and give them details about his conviction. His financial situation meant that he was constantly asking others to lend him money, making him feel disabled in front of his family who looked to him as the breadwinner.
“I was living in an egg shell for a very long time. I couldn’t even have a normal conversation with anyone, I felt really betrayed by people - there are genuine people who care but I just felt like everyone wants to demonise me. I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder which affected me a lot and made me paranoid. I didn’t even want to go to the mosque for taraweeh. I had to keep asking others for money, when you do that it’s hard because as a man, you don’t feel that sense of manhood. ”
After his release, HHUGS established contact with Musa. A member of staff would regularly call and visit him. Musa began apprehensively at first, but the kindness and persistence caseworker showed him meant he eventually began to open up about his situation. One day, when his caseworker was checking up on Musa, he spoke to him about his debt for furniture. He offloaded about how he had to sell all the electronics in the house to pay for his next installment. Immediately, his caseworker began to complete the HHUGS financial assistance form with Musa and processed his application. Over the years, HHUGS supported Musa’s family in a number of ways; starting, with financial support:
“He put in a request just to see, I will never forget that time. They started helping us financially. They sent us food vouchers and it was such a big help at the time. They helped us with car repairs, insurance and when I was starting a business, they gave me a loan. I did a CELTA teaching course which HHUGS helped fund. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. From there, I managed to get a teaching job.”
More than the financial help, Musa appreciated the emotional support from his caseworker --- “just having that one to one of someone visiting you, he was reassuring, he was encouraging.” It was a challenge, adjusting to parenting post release, psychologically and even with the financial responsibility. As his children grew, Musa struggled to pay for their uniform, but as part of their Education Fund HHUGS provided for them, and further sponsored their learning at their local weekend Qur’an school, increasing the children’s love for their faith, strengthening their identity and boosting their confidence and esteem. For some relief and normalcy, they arranged for the children to participate in HHUGS outings and trips.
“My daughter she loves it and my son. It has helped them and you can see their confidence is there. My daughter as you can see becomes bubbly when it’s time to go to their school.”
HHUGS could see the impact the arrest had had on Musa’s wife, so they assigned her a keyworker who would regularly keep in contact. His wife continues to attend HHUGS coffee mornings and the entire family look forward to the Eid parties. Although Musa is now working, HHUGS continue to send their family a reduced food voucher to supplement his meagre wage and prevent them from falling into debt. Musa and his wife are now settled, happy and looking forward into a brighter future with their children.
“They have helped so much. I always say you can’t explain or describe it. It’s like a backbone for people who go through this experience. Let’s be realistic, no one is doing what HHUGS is doing. HHUGS is stepping up to do this stuff when it’s just you to fend for yourself. HHUGS don’t judge; they just go in and support. The dedication has HHUGS put in, Wallahi it only humbles you, you don’t feel like you’re alone and you know there is no support. Whatever situation you have been through the severity, HHUGs would ease the emotions, whatever you’re going through.”