The Experience of Mohammad, 11-year-old in US Prison

During the day Friday, the words of 11-year-old Mohammad Hazahza have filled him up and weighed him down. On Friday night, he pours the words back out, as if wanting to be lifted back up.

“Mohammad is so protective of his mother,” says Ralph Isenberg in a weary and reverent voice, recalling the day’s visits to Dallas reporters. “I watched as he got her chair and made her comfortable. And that’s what he did in jail. He protected her from forced labor. When she was ordered to clean the common area, he did that work for her. He really understands family and duty.”

For mother Juma, jail was a very difficult time. Because of her food allergies, she has come to rely on some foods. Tomatoes for example. Family supporter Riad Hamad of the Palestine Children’s Welfare Fund says Juma asked her jailers for tomatoes, but they never gave her any. Not one tomato in a hundred days. She lost 12 pounds.

“I was shocked at what the jail has done to her physically,” says Isenberg. “There were times when I thought she would pass out. They are both very traumatized. And all I can say is we’re cranking up real hard for the release of the rest of the Hazahza family.”

Like two other families of Palestinian heritage who were abducted by USA immigration authorities in early November, the Hazahza family had been split up. Juma and Mohammad were jailed at T. Don Hutto prison in Taylor, Texas, while father Radi was locked up at Haskell, Texas along with his four adult children.

The mother and son recall a hard knock at the door and then a crash as men with guns filled their apartment in a pre-dawn raid on November 2. Mohammad describes the guns as AK-47s. If that’s not the model number, he was definitely looking down barrels of semi-automatic assault rifles. The family of seven were ordered out of the house. No time to change out of bed clothes.

For Juma, memories of America are mixed with memories of life in Palestine, where she could never stop thinking about the missiles that flew over the house. She knows what it is like to live in fearful conditions. But even in Palestine, she had never been thrown into jail.

On their second day out of jail, memories are difficult enough that Juma and Mohammad might cry once or twice, but Juma is angry and determined. She will see the rest of her family free as soon as possible. Then they will get their things out of storage and start their lives all over again. On to the next reporter, if that’s what it must take. She wants her life back.

Inside the jail, Mohammad was ever the bright and curious kid. He was certainly not impressed with the school lessons they gave him. Math was like adding one plus one. Last week he noticed his jailers making all kinds of sudden improvements to the jail. There was simple math in that, too. A media tour was coming up. By the time the cameras got there, Mohammad and his mother would be gone.

In jail, Mohammad wondered about things like where does the electricity come from and are the windows bullet proof? He would ask these questions to guards who carried little black books, and they would write his questions down. A few days later the guards would return with questions of their own. Was anyone planning to bomb Hutto jail?

Hideous is the word Isenberg uses to describe the situation of the Hazahzas, the jail, and the prejudicial paranoia that surrounds a curious boy from Palestine and his family. Juma has not been allowed to talk to her husband for 100 days.

Owing to poor construction and design of toilets and bathrooms, the smell of raw sewage is a nightly trauma at Hutto prison. Who can sleep with such a smell in the air? The temperature is never right. Either it’s too warm or too cold, except for the water, which is always too cold. And the sanitation of the cold-water shower room was very suspect to Juma as herds of men were exchanged for herds of women in bathing conditions that made her feel very humiliated.

Confirming complaints made weeks ago by the Ibrahim family — who have since been released — Mohammad and Juma talked about prisoners being made to stand still for cell counts that always lasted too long because guards could not get the count right.

“They are so hurt, so hurt,” says Isenberg as Mohammad’s words spill out. “It’s clear that the Hutto facility has the ability to destroy people, to break their will to want to live. It’s also clear that it will be shut down shortly.”

Saturday will be “legal day” for the movement as Isenberg confers with attorneys about how to get the Hazahzas released. Once again the New York attorneys Joshua Bardavid and Ted Cox are standing by if a federal habeas corpus motion is required.

“I’m not used to meeting people who have been in jail for 100 days and who are perfectly innocent. I’m ashamed to be an American right now. But the more I see people start to care, the more I have hope.”

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at

Related Links

  • Faith of Ibrahim Redeemed: Texas Family Released from Hutto Prison, Greg Moses (3 February 2007)
  • Children without a Country: Maryam Remains in Texas Jail, Greg Moses (28 January 2007)
  • Protest scheduled for 2007: The continuing story of Ibrahim’s faith in America, Greg Moses (29 December 2006)
  • Uncle and a 3-Year-Old Will Lead Protests over Palestinian Immigrant Jailing, Greg Moses (28 December 2006)
  • Palestinian Refugees and Children Held in Hutto, Texas Jail, Greg Moses (19 December 2006)