Hicham Yezza, a Nottingham university peace activist, was convicted in February on immigration charges - which he is appealing. (See PN 2499-500 for the original smears against him.) Hich spoke to PN after being released from prison in mid-August.
PN What happened after you were given your sentence of nine months in prison?
HY I was led away to a cell downstairs where my details were taken and I had a few minutes to thank my solicitors for the work they did.
I was then led into a security prison van, which took me to Woodhill prison which was about a half an hour drive away.
It was my first realization that I had lost my freedom, because you sit in a cubicle that is very tiny and your hands are cuffed and the windows are heavily tinted, so everything on the outside looks strange and apocalyptic.
Despite this I felt quite calm and composed and I knew that I simply had to just maintain my composure and I would be okay.
PN How did you cope personally, emotionally, with the pressures of being inside for four and a half months?
HY Well I knew that the key thing to being able to cope would be to make sure that there wouldn’t be time for dwelling on the fact that I was in prison.
In other words, to keep myself occupied and keep myself being productive, to get as much work done as possible – and by work I mean reading, writing, doing a lot of my cartooning, sketching, and also editing the magazine I work on, Ceasefire magazine, and of course keeping in touch with my friends and supporters and loved ones via the mail.
In addition, at various times, I worked in the prison as a cleaner, in the food servery, and in the prison gym - when I was in Canterbury [prison].
PN How did you edit a magazine while you were in prison?
HY The editorial team, and my deputy editor Musab Younis in particular, would filter articles coming in and send them to me, and I would go through each article, literally with a red pen, and just go through and amend things and change things round.
Once the articles had been edited and proofread by others, I would discuss with them in letters the arrangement of the contents and the cover design and the layout of the magazine.
It’s an experience which I found quite enlightening, and it had its advantages, and it had a certain charm to it as well.
PN While in prison, you also advised other prisoners?
HY When I was in Canterbury, my first observation was how many of the [foreign] prisoners spoke very little English and yet at the same time were facing quite serious prospects [such as deportation].
I started with people I knew personally, my cellmate and people from my wing. When other prisoners became aware of the fact that I was helping people with their application forms, or with reading letters or drafting their responses to letters, I started to receive more and more requests for help, and I decided to turn it into a semi-formal surgery-style session.
Five evenings a week, I would have my cell door open to prisoners to come in and bring me their queries or their letters or their application forms.
It was very time-consuming, of course, but it was extremely rewarding and I’m very glad I was able to help in however insignificant a way.
It also led me to the immense gap there is between the service provided to those prisoners and the service they need. It is something I want to raise awareness of.
PN How important was the support from the outside?
HY It was crucial and essential. To put it bluntly, I would not have been able to cope with the prison experience if it had not been for the outside support, and this includes receiving hundreds of letters and postcards during the duration of my incarceration, receiving visitors almost on a weekly basis, and receiving gifts including books and CDs from friends and supporters.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the many PN readers who wrote to me and who inspired me with their love and support.
PN What is it like being out of prison?
HY It’s fantastic. The really most important thing is being among the people I love. It’s priceless. It’s been really quite an exhilarating few days for me.
I’m trying to get back into my normal life, especially my involvement in activism, and typing up my diary entries and other pieces of prison writing.