Detainment In Ladies’ Jail

Gotta get this narrative wrapped up, cause the new chapter starts on Thursday. (Very excited to share that with you.)

On Monday morning I was let out of my cell to talk with my lawyer. She bummed me a few cigarettes, and then we went in to take my statement about my visa.

Some background for otherlanders:

People in my position are allowed to stay in Turkey on Residents’ Permits. (Or perhaps Residence Permits. I never could decide.) They are renewed every year, at the cost of one day of your life that you will spend in a (technically) torture-free day in Brazil, the Gilliam cult film not the country, and about 200 bucks in fees all told. These appointments must be made before your visa runs out, but generally are made for a few months in the future, and if your visa expires for a day or week or month before your visa expires, no one much cares, cause they just get more fees from you, and an appointment number is generally considered about as valid as a valid visa- you just can’t travel abroad til it’s sorted.

Agent L had a visa number, but not a valid visa, (itself a long fraught story she’ll tell you another time when she’s feeling more secure in her reentry to Turkey, and isn’t so keen to tell you about ladies’ jail.) and that’s the technicality they pitched her out on her ear for.

But everyone knows she was pitched out cause she smelled like gaz.

Anyway, there’s her official statement, very little of which, is apparently what she actually said. Make of it what you will.

fotoğraf 1

That done, the lawyer left, and I felt a bit bereft at losing a new friend. She was awesome and patient, and kind. She went out of her way for me. She was my rock in the shitstorm.

I did lazy figure 8’s in the courtyard for a bit, as no one hustled me back to my cell, and then suddenly- bam! We were leaving! I begged five minutes to rearrange my suitcases, and changed into a clean frock, and ran out. My guard was humorless and completely unhelpful.  He was a stout man with small eyes and a shaved head, perfect-picture cast by some Hollywood agency, watched me struggle with my two suitcases and lifted not a finger as I loaded them into the van.

“Thank you,” I said, far too mildly to cause offense, “you are a gentleman.”

I got in and found myself next to my crazy cell mate, who apparently had forgotten all about the times he screamed that I was a whore and wanted to make chitchat. Chitchat of the kind that actually, while I’m out of Turkey, I won’t mind.

“America! Great! I want to go to Miami!”

“I hear it’s wonderful.”

“have you been to New York?”


“What do you think about the Lakers?”

“I don’t.”

Ad nauseum, literally.

Turned out, though, he was Algerian and had been picked up for theft. He’d only been in the country for two weeks.

“I hate Tırkey,” he said vehemently. “I hate it. I’m glad to be leaving.”

I looked at him from across a great divide, said nothing, and continued looking out the window at my last beloved glimpses.

Our first stop was to a hospital to have our blood drawn. My lawyer had told me I could refuse this- it isn’t legal without a court order, but then neither is tearing down Gezi Park, which got us into this whole mess. The detainment facility demanded it, legal or not, because there were so many people living squashed together.

“So it’s illegal but unavoidable?” I had finally said, wearily.

“Yes,” she said, far more wearily. “But you can still refuse.”

“Why bother?”

So we went to Hydarpasha and I got a vial of blood drawn.

Then we were herded out and taken to another hospital to pick up more paperwork, and then to the detention facility, which was somewhere in or near Fatih. The worst part of this was that we took a ferry there. I longed to get out and have my last look at Turkey from a ferry be from the deck of a much beloved ferry, but the cops in the front propped their feet on the dashboard and it was impossible.

There are so many opportunities for kindness that go ungrasped in this world, it could break your heart if you let it. Two guards, two prisoners. Wouldn’t everyone like some fresh air? But no. 

In the back of a police van with tinted windows, sandwiched between a truck and a line of SUV’s, I craned and savored every hint of blue Bosporus, every seagull’s wing that dipped into view, every minaret.

“My cousin lives in New Jersey.”

“That must be very nice.”

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

Why didn’t I take more walks by the sea?

Would that have made leaving harder or easier?

“I want to go to USA one day.”

“I hope you do.”

“You must be very happy.”


From the ferry, through the tortured streets of Fatih (I think) where I reflected that this looked like a truly awesome neighborhood that I would now never have the chance to explore, maybe.

We pulled up in front of what looked like, but for the bars, an old fashioned primary school. There was even a playground in the yard. We were ushered into a room, and paperwork for all the inmates was issued.

“What’s she here for?” One of the guards asked.

Small eyes: “Çapulling.” I gritted my teeth. I had actually been found innocent in the court of law of çapulling, thank you very much. Of course, that might be described as a miscarriage of justice, but still, why don’t we deal with stated facts and say, “her expired visa smells like gas and we’re still sorting through video footage but we know we’re gonna find her”?

Small eyes flicked through my papers and then grew alarmed and flicked through them again. He turned to me, angrily.

“Where is your bloodwork?” he demanded.

“I never touched it,” I said. He flicked through my dossier several more times in the vain hope that it would appear. It apparently didn’t and he had a rather wheedling conversation with the men behind the desk. One of the men was handsome and clearly vain and my best thought was that he would respond well to a little flirtation.

“Hello, you speak English?”

“A little.”

“I have a flight, tomorrow.” I fumbled and produced my flight number. “I leave at 13:30.” I said the number in Turkish to avoid all confusion.

“Okay. We will take you.”

“What time?”


I looked alarmed. My worst fear at this moment was missing that flight.

“What’s wrong?”

“Time, short?”

“We are police!” he grinned. “We will help you!”

Yes, but will there be enough time for duty free? Cause I’m living for the small bottle of whiskey I’m gonna buy there.

I waited in a room full of men, mostly African, and a small girl who may have been in her late teens or early twenties. It was obviously terrifying to her that she was about to be separated from whatever men she was with, and equally clear she spoke no English, so I winked at her broadly, several times. When we were finally called to be taken upstairs, I held her hand for a brief moment and smiled reassuringly.

“Stick by me and we’ll be okay,” I said, though I knew she couldn’t understand. I tried again in high school french. She smiled weakly.

We left the Algerian thief on the first floor, and the girls relatives or whoever on the second. In all I had to struggle up four flights of stairs with my suitcases. Though it would have been easy for my guards to hoist one up, they did nothing but get impatient at me for dawdling.

We went to an office. I was told to put my suitcases in a holding facility full of cheap metal lockers. I thought it would be like jail, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to bring anything in, so I left them meekly behind. Since I was staying fewer than 24 hours, I didn’t need to sign them in. My purse and computer bag stayed in the office.

I walked into- well, heaven.

I don’t regret my stay in jail. My stay in jail allowed me to get two bags of stuff out of Turkey, and to say goddbye to Rach and Cari and Heather.

However, had I known about Ladies’ Detention, I might’ve been weak and reconsidered.

I ran back to the office after a moment and breathlessly asked the attendant, “Can I get some stuff out of my suitcase? Clothes?” She looked at me like I was mentally deficient and nodded, rather slowly and sarcastically. “Can I have a book?” She didn’t even nod this time. She just stared and every cell in her body was screaming at me, “Stop asking stupid questions and get on with it.”

I grabbed a plastic bags worth of pyjamas and toiletries and the Agatha Christie and tried to show them to the attendant to show that there were no weapons or illicit materials but she didn’t even look, just waved me on impassively.

I get to have stuff here! From there the glories mounted- There was a whole room full of toilets and showers, and apparently we were allowed to shower whenever we wanted! The water was cold, but you can’t have everything. There was a canteen, and you could smoke there! There were dishes of food out that included vegetables and not a scrap of Tavuk Döner, (which I will never, ever eat again.) Women were doing each others hair and watching really atrocious pop music videos ON TV!!!! There was exercise equipment!

My Africn friend was quickly enveloped by another group of African girls, and I saw her once more. I wandered the halls in a liberated haze. There were four good sized dormitories full of bunks, but I couldn’t tell which were taken and which not.

There was a blonde haired, blue eyed Iraqi lady who spoke English, who insisted on taking me to meet the other “American” on the ward, who turned out to be Uzbeki but studying in DC, and was about 20. Her story, and I quickly learned the meaning of “everyone is innocent in jail,” (self included) was that she’d lost her passport, and had gone to the police and they had brought her here.

“Next time go to the embassy first,” I said.

I quickly wearied of her, though she attached herself like a limpet to me. The first rule of dealing with this kind of situations is outward detachment. There’s so much sadness in a place like Ladies’ Detainment facility, that one dominoe tumbling can fill everyone with despair. Being young, and, as her stories continued, clearly privileged, this was probably the worst that had ever happened to her. I did not have the resources to guide her, to tell her to put one foot in front of the other because no one single event will (probably) be the end of life as she knew it. I was too busy putting on foot in front of the other myself and maintaining some semblance of calm when some part of my soul that I had banished to the nether regions of my consciousness for the time being for the crime of counter-productivity was throwing itself on the floor and kicking and screaming  and howling for all it was worth.

I had to lose her. She was too self pitying.

To the rescue! Four Iranians with differing levels of English who loved me immediately. We chatted about this and that and they were amazed that, as n American, I was there.

“Didn’t you call the Embassy?”


“Didn’t they do anything?”

“They can’t, really. They’re bound by Turkish law.”

Puzzled, uncomprehending looks. Like I’d just told them up was down.

“They couldn’t do anything?”

The sun rises in the West and sets in the East.

“It’s not like the movies, ladies.”


Their stories were sad too, and in hearing them I ran out of cigarettes.

“Where does everyone get cigarettes?” I asked.

“A man comes every night at 5 or six and sells them to us.”

Whaaaaaaat?! I died when the police hit me in the head. I’m now in heaven.

Sure enough, at around 5:30 – I’m completely making up the hour, by this point I had no idea how the passage of time worked- women started lining up by the front gate. I joined them and crouched on the floor with my book. Soon after three men showed up on the landing at the top of the stairs and set up an impromptu shop with everything from leg wax to fresh fruit to bottles of water to cigarettes.

There was a lot of shoving, and I’m more patient than I m shovey, so it took me twenty minutes to get the attention of the one dude who was actively selling things to thirty odd ladies, (the others were standing around, loafing) who seemed to enjoy a lady who wasn’t actively screaming at him.

And then- oh glory!- a pack of cigarettes all to myself. And a bottle of water. For far under market prices. (How the hell-? Never mind. Three lira cigarettes it is!)

The evening passed in moderate comfort. On of my Iranian friends broke down in tears in front of me. Her husband was the next floor down and dealing with the court-appointed lawyer. She couldn’t talk to him until between ten and ten thirty at night. She was scared because they hadn’t had official permission to leave Iran and if they were deported back there- she shuddered and began silently weeping.

This I can handle better than “THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED TO ME AND I’M 20!” sulky histrionics. I held her hand until she calmed down, and then I said,

“I’m sorry. I want the best for you.” And she smiled and said,

“Thank you. You make me feel better.”

Compassion, friends, is more about inaction than action. More about handholding and admittance to powerlessness than anything else.

By the evening the charm of freedom wore off.

I ws in a huge dorm filled with women and screaming children. I was toast, but one of my Persian friends whom I did not want to offend was demanding English lessons. I said I didn’t feel well and wanted to go to bed and there was a general movement to get me to the pharmacist. No, I didn’t want the pharmacist. I wanted to sleep.

By ‘I want to sleep’ I meant ‘I want to smoke another cigarette quietly in my bed, read for half an hour and then drift off.’ (In Ladies’ Jail you can smoke in bed! Even if there’s  toddler sleeping next to you! In fact, heavily pregnant ladies will ask you for cigs!) Not allowed.

The worst of Eastern Culture was unleashed upon me.

“Why aren’t you sleeping? Is something wrong? Do you need anything? Are you okay?”

Okay, skip the reading, I’ll probably drift off if I play dead long enough. But no. A posse of middle aged Former Soviet Bloc of Somekind ladies who had the bunks next to me commenced in some loud argument for an indeterminate time.

I gave up and started reading.

“Why aren’t you sleeping? Is something wrong? Have you tried closing your eyes?”

Suddenly I missed solitary confinement and obscenity spewing Algerians.

This entry was posted in Deportation, Gezi Park, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkish Jail, Turkish Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Detainment In Ladies’ Jail

  1. Sounds like a surreal experience! I bet you enjoyed those precious cigarettes at least. 🙂

  2. mom says:

    So well written – you are a survivor with an amazing perspective.

  3. Alan says:

    Oh! for a world without countries and borders – no detention centres, no deportation, no immigration, no – lots of things that are mostly dehumanising crap!

  4. An amazing post but all the more amazing for it being real life

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