In 2008, I was a 22-year-old boy. I finished my last exam for the Sudan High School Certificate. I was supposed to start my national service, which was compulsory in the Sudan, in two months.
About 1,500 fellow students and I were receiving national service training when we were ordered to go to fight the so-called “rebels.” I came from a tribe which the government considered as belonging to such “rebels.” I was one of the five students who refused to fight against the “rebels.” We were thrown into prison.
The prison was located in the Nyala Military Base, southern Darfur. Over 100 people were squeezed into the only room, which was 4-meter-square in size, in that prison. The room was without ventilation or light. There was a small door, to which we all gathered around to breath. When evening fell and darkness shaded us, I always wondered how I could spend another night there. The floor was broken asphalt with coarse sand. There was no way to hit the ground to sleep on that floor. We sat like crammed sardines until morning. I always heard people’s screams of hallucination throughout the night; sometimes fights even broke out between those who were hallucinating. The terrifying stories that happened in the prison were the causes of the screams and fights. For example, Al-Nazeer, a guy who had a similar story as mine, told me that a day ago, three people were executed. On such nights, nobody could fall asleep. Worse still, the prison guards, when hearing us screaming or fighting, would randomly pick us out of the room and beat us until the next morning. Therefore, we always tried to stop any scream or fight before it drew the attention of the guards.
However, somebody could ask why we refused to go to fight? Well, I would say that we knew we would be fighting our families and innocent civilians. I would rather go to prison than kill innocent women and children.
I didn’t know where my four friends were. A month passed by in that prison. As for me, I asked myself over and over again: “Why am I here? When will I be killed, or perhaps be released?” Another month passed. I was waiting for my accusation. Look, to be killed was often the first thing coming to mind in those situations. Two days later the head of guards, the commander of the prison, called me. On my way to him, I thought that I would be sentenced to either death or life imprisonment. I walked to the commander and the first question from him was: “Do you know why you are here? And where your friends are?” He laughed at me, and said, “You are the last person still alive.” Fear and anxiety overwhelmed me. My hands and legs were totally frozen. But I didn’t say anything. He said to the guards: “Get him back to wait for his last breeze.” That was scary, wasn’t it? I was taken back to the room. Days became even longer now. The only thing I thought about was when I would rest in peace. It was a very devastating time for me, mentally and emotionally. Imagine, waiting for the last breeze, what that felt like? Those days were the hardest ones in my life.
In my third month in the prison, there was going to be a visit by a senior military leader to the military base. Soldiers were busy preparing for the visit. They were looking for extra help from the prisoners to finish the preparation early. So they came to pick some of us to help them. It happened that I was close to the fence door on that night. I was lucky to be picked. We started to arrange things in the offices.
As we moved tables and bullet boxes around for an hour or so, I was thinking how to escape. But I knew either way I would die, either in prison or from escaping. However, magic happened that day. It was around two o’clock in the morning, and it was so quiet. I asked to go to the toilet. I was taken by a soldier to one nearby. I managed to jump from the back side of the toilet. The sound of me hitting ground was heard by other soldiers. I started running immediately and gunshots were ordered. Firearms lit from all areas around as I was running. I saw bullets hit the ground ahead of me and between my feet. I didn’t realize I was injured until I arrived in my old friend’s home in Al-Jeer. Everyone at home was shocked. I spent two month lying on the bed. No hospital, or otherwise I would be caught, so instead I used traditional remedies only. Believe it or not, that was how I escaped and saved myself from death.
In the end, I want to share one thing I learned from my grandmother: “Do whatever you see is worth doing; don’t hesitate, even if the outcome is bad. It will be an experience for your future. But if you don’t do it, you will have remorse your entire life.” I have been in prison seven times, including two times here in Israel. None of those times I was guilty.