Five years ago, I was living in a box. Not literally a box, but an extremely small room. When I lived inside this box, I lived like an animal in a cage. My life was controlled by other people.
There were eighty people in this small box, all so close together that we were almost one. We spent our days in lines, squatting with each man’s legs folded and straddling the man in front of him and his body straddled by the man behind him. We lived without clothes, drank dirty water, ate only small pieces of potatoes and bread, and never slept. It was winter, but the room was hot, heated by the breathing of eighty people. The walls and floors were dripping with sweat. Some people went crazy. We knew that when these people did not calm down, they would die within the next few days. Their soul would leave, but their body would stay in the box for four more days. Then, finally, someone would come to write a number on their forehead and drag them away.
Three months went by just like this.
One day, I heard my name outside the box. It had been three months before I last heard my own name so I wasn’t sure I actually had heard it. It took me five minutes to understand that they were calling for me. I was happy because I finally understood what was going on, but I was also scared because I knew that I might die soon.
Before I left, they wrapped a rag around my eyes. I knew I had left the box when the cold air hit me. I could see the soldier’s shoes and yellow lights and I heard the voices from the other boxes. After three months of sitting, I was unable to walk and the soldiers had to support my arms on either side. We only walked one hundred meters, but I had forgotten how to walk so it took me a long time to get down the corridor.
Finally, we arrived and I heard a man say, “Yes, his name is Khaled. Get down.” My knees hit the floor and the man began asking me my name, my age, my political views, and if I had spoken against the Syrian government. “Have you spoken against Bashar al Assad?” No. Hit. A whip cracked my shoulder. “Have you organized a journalist strike?” No. Hit. “Were you helping people cross between the rebel territories?” No. Hit. I can’t remember every question, but every answer was, “No.” Each “No” was responded with the man’s whip. When the questions were finished, I was told I needed to learn the right answers to his questions. In another room, a soldier tied my hands behind my back and raised me to the ceiling so that only my toes could touch the floor. Five hours passed. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I was eventually cut down and handed papers to sign. Then, slowly, I went back to the box.
In the fifteen months I lived in the prison, this was my worst day. Today, I try not to remember everything from this day because I think it’s best to move forward with my life. Although this experience showed me some of the worst things in this world, I realized that we need to fight for the rights of others because there are a lot of people who cannot fight for themselves. In this prison, I understood the ways in which Syrians suffers and the ways in which we need to help them. In this prison, I realized that I need to help. I have worked with numerous nonprofit organizations since I have been in Rome, but I know that the way to make the biggest difference is through education. I have lived as a refugee in Rome for a year and a half, and I am ready to move on. From the prison, from the war, from the refugee camp. Now I live in a new box. I cannot get a professional job or live as a Roman citizen. I need to attend university so that I can break free. When I finally escape this box, I will be able to make a difference in the world.