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ESCAPE FROM SUDAN / Prison, hunger and friends: Junior and his newfound hope

JUNIOR is a refugee from Sudan. He recounts his escape to Italy, his suffering to near death, and the encounter with a group of friends who took him back to life and hope

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Dear Editor,

I am from Sudan. In my country, there has been war for years. In 2005, after being the victim of an armed attack near a church--I received a gunshot wound in my side--I decided that I had to leave to not risk my life and to hope for a better future.  

From Libya, I arrived in Lampedusa, where I asked for political asylum from Italy, but the situation was very confusing. I stayed for some time in the refugee camp; then, one morning, we were literally all chased away. I did not know anyone, and I was not allowed to stay.

I decided to leave for Padua. Arriving at the station, someone told me that there was nearby a ghetto for blacks, like me, where I would find help. In fact, after a few days that I was in the area, someone came up to me, and I was staying in his house. I had a house.

But after a month, this person told me I had to pay rent. I had nothing with me. He said that to earn something, I have to do what he does. To hustle. I did not want to, and I never had, but I could not refuse. After only a month I was arrested. Once I got out, I went back to prison unjustly because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and had a criminal record. But I did not know Italian, and I could not offer an explanation.

In 2010, at the end of my incarceration, I tried every way to get a residence permit, but once again I stumbled into the nets of Italian bureaucracy. And I was arrested for hiding. I decided to start a hunger strike in protest and after being unjustly and violently mistreated, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for thirty days, during which my mental health was assessed.

I thought I had paid all my debt to justice, but one day, while I was at work--I'm a mechanic-- some plain-clothes police officers arrested me again because it seems that my punishment was not entirely completed.

Prison is hard. And it is almost unbearable to pay the price for something you did not do, or for a residence permit that you asked for but no one has given you. During the last period of detention, I decided, with great resolution, to go on a hunger and thirst strike, to denounce the injustice and abuse that I was subjected to.

Refusing food and water forced me to alternate prison with hospital. I wanted to die. It was not worth the trouble to live under those conditions. At my last check, I weighed 95 kg. I came to weigh 40 kg. I could no longer walk. I was in a wheelchair. I refused any kind of treatment or nourishment, and after the final injustice, I started to cry in front of the commander. I was transferred to Opera, and later, to the intensive care unit of the San Paolo Hospital in Milan.

After 120 days of a hunger and thirst strike, almost dying, I came before the supervisory judge to whom I had been assigned, a strange thing because I never heard of a judge who leaves his office to find an inmate, especially outside of prison. He had been warned by the head of the hospital that I was dying, and that I had only a few days of life left.