The Visit – A Weekly Experience That Never Gets Easier (2007)
Dr. Tariq Abdelhaleem is the father of Shareef Abdelhaleem who is currently serving a life sentence for his alleged participation in a plot to bomb key sites in Canada as part of the ‘Toronto 18’. Dr Abdelhaleem is a civil engineer by training and a lecturer at the Dar Al-Arqam Islamic Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. Until recently, the 67-year-old worked on a contract basis for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that oversees the country’s nuclear reactors. The following was written 12 December of 2007:
Saturday, for most people, is a great day. They sleep in and start the day after a late breakfast, and then plan for the rest of it. They look forward to: shopping, visiting, eating out – all kinds of nice moments to look forward to. Except for me, it isn’t such a great day. It is, in the matter of fact, a day of pain and desperation. It is the day of my scheduled visit to my son, Shareef, in Maplehurst Correctional Center; where he is detained awaiting the trial.
I go to sleep the day before with the sad expectations of the next day. I wake up thinking of the visit. I didn’t see my son for a week. I want to make sure he is still holding himself together, and that he did not collapse or get a nervous breakdown.
I schedule my day around this event. No matter what other matters I must attend to, it is paramount to break it at exactly 1:15pm and head to Milton.
I take the drive thinking of what happened. How did we get to this point; why do I have to drive to a jail every week? Is it possible to retract the events and reverse the time to start all over? Why my son? Why me? How my life would be without such a crisis? How long this will take to go away? When can his life go back to normal? Is he going to go out while I am still alive? Or, will I just spend the last few hours of my life lying on my bed longing to see him standing in front of me holding my hand and helping in such a time where we need our kids most?
Many questions come to my mind in that half-hour trip, every week. They just go without answer. They stop when I take the turn to the facility, facing the aluminium doors of the front gate. I step out of the car, take off my jacket, check my pockets for metal stuff, go through the doors, and head to the front desk. Behind thick glass, two workers sit in a uniform to register the visitors and take cafeteria cash for the inmates.
It is interesting to watch the faces in that medium size hall, with rows of iron seats. Parents, young wives with kids, friends, and girl friends! are waiting their turn to go in. Some look concerned about the visit, and some act as if they are visiting the loved one in the comfort of his place! Some carry bags for clothes exchange. Some have interesting looking.
After registration and signing in, I sit with my eyes on the wall clock watching for every moment going, and waiting for one of the desk workers to wave me in.
Time goes by very slowly. My mind wanders back to the same thoughts. Many times my eyes get wet. Again, what am I doing here in this room? How come my son, Shareef, the decent, funny, good hearted, professional person ended up in such a mess? Why they picked him up for such a faked case? I know he is very naïve, and oh, I finally get the wave from the desk worker to go in.
The door clicks and I go in to a search room, where I empty my pockets and go through a metal detecting frame. After this ritual, I go to a smaller room to wait for a guard to guide me and others through a corridor between two automatic sliding doors, leading to a hall where I take the steps up to the unit K visiting room.
I wait again for a click to go through a door that leads to a room with eight steel seats facing a double glassed partition which looks over a matching room where, normally I see my son sitting on a seat, wearing this awful orange jumper. My heart breaks, every time I see him this way, I wish I could disappear from the face of Earth. I sit and pick up the phone and start talking.
When the time comes to leave, I feel my life is worthless. I can’t help my own son. No one can, except Allah سبحانه وتعالى. I know this is his fate and mine. We can’t escape it. I know we have to accept it, as this is a test from Allah. No matter what we do, things have to take their course, and end as was meant. But, the hardest test is the one that involves our own children. Only those who went through it know what I mean. Others only guess.
I go back to my car, driving back to the house. It takes the rest of the day to recover from the pinch I have in my heart. And I start worrying about the next visit!
By the way, I went through this one-hundred-and-twelve times so far…
Shareef Abdelhaleem is currently being held in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines Super Max Prison in Quebec where he is serving a life sentence under often inhuman conditions, you can let him know you are aware of his the suffering and situation and that he has your support and that he and his family are in your dua’ and thoughts by writing to him at:
247 Montee Gagnon
Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines QC J0N 1H0