#21901-045: Story of my hero

Shakir Hamoodi is currently incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, pictured above.Photo courtesy of Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Kafi

Shakir Hamoodi is currently incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, pictured above.
Photo courtesy of Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Kafi

In front of our destination, I see big, hunchbacked brown buffalo roaming freely in the bare grassland between them and the outer road. We take the slightly curved exit and then make a right turn; I see a sign saying, “All persons entering this Federal property are subject to a search of their person and/or property.” We continue to drive down the short, one-way, gravel road because, sadly, we have a reason to be there.

After exiting the small, gravel road, we turn right near a red building, entering into a white, stone-like gravel parking lot. We start looking for a parking spot, and we find one near a big fence with holes in it. Behind it are the buffalo, lingering, minding their own business. Looming in the distance is a huge, marble dome-topped building with a vast backyard surrounded by a tall, red brick fence. Thank God that is not our destination.

We leave our red Toyota Camry and walk to our left, where we finally arrive at a small, one-story building with a flat roof. In the front, it has two doors, with a red octagon sign in-between them saying, “cell phones are contraband.” Below the sign is a blue mat that says, “United States Federal Prison.”

Taking short steps inside, we notice many pine wood tables surrounded by similarly cushioned chairs. We also hear lots of noise. It is coming from other enthusiastic families that are in a position similar to ours.  The noise is of happiness, some is of sadness, and here and there, some are crying. In an area labeled Kids Corner, pictures showing cartoon animals hang on the wall. Many children seem entertained, all playing with small toys and crayons lying around. None are paying attention to their surroundings and all appear to be successfully distracted by the toys.

As for us, we stand at long, beautiful mahogany counter near the doors where we came in. My mother picks up two sheets of ink-covered paper and hands one to my brother-in-law and keeps one for herself. They fill them out with all the required information regarding what we are carrying, who in our party is under 16 and who we are visiting. As for the first two, the answers are simple: we have nothing on us, and Abdul-Rahman is under 16. We hand the papers to the guard, and he calls to the other building, also located in the vicinity of the Federal Prison Camp in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

We wait for about five minutes and then see a man walking from the camp building, through the small courtyard and into the building we are in. We eagerly walk toward him and say hello, along with big hugs from him and from us. Then we sit for four hours and talk about the world without him. But who is he? The man we are visiting is called #21901-045. To the guard, that number is all he is.  To us, he is the center of our family: my father, my three brothers’ father, my sister’s father, my mother’s husband, my brother-in-law’s father-in-law. To them he is only a number. To us, he is the person who makes us smile. To them, he is just like all the other prisoners. To us, he is the man who saved hundreds of people from starving and from losing their education. To them, he is a criminal and a law breaker. To us, he is a savior. To us, he is Shakir Hamoodi.

My father has a complicated story. During the time between 1991 and 2002, there was a sanction, or a penalty on a country for the leader’s act of disobeying a certain law, on his home country, Iraq. This sanction was enforced to force Saddam Hussein to resign because he was the brutal dictator of Iraq. The whole idea of sanctions doesn’t make sense because they simply starve the people, which somehow is supposed to make the corrupt leader resign. In the past, this never worked. It didn’t work for Iraq, and it is not going to work for Iran either because the leaders are swimming so deep in their stolen money that they can’t see the poor man walking by who is begging for just one dollar.

In the case of Iraq, after about 11 years, the United States started to see that the sanction was not making Hussein give up power, so their troops invaded in 2003. The U.S. invasion ended up with the capture and killing of Saddam Hussein and the total replacement of the government by the United States. During the devastating sanctions, more than 500,000 children and hundreds of thousands of adults were starved to death because of the horrible living conditions. In reality, they did not just starve. They were killed when they could have grown up and become successful if there had not been any sanctions. But because of the U.S. sanction, there wasn’t enough food, and they were killed by hunger. I do not see any fairness in the idea of killing more than 500,000 innocent Iraqis because they have a corrupt leader.

Going back to my father’s case, he sent money to a relative in Jordan, whose company bought food in Jordan. It was sent across the Iraqi border and was sold in Iraq. The local Iraqi money received went to my father’s mother, who divided it up according to my father’s instructions, with every penny going to a starving relative in need. During these 11 years, many letters were sent between my father and his cousin, who worked in that food company on the Iraqi side. My father told him where each penny should go and that he should send an acknowledgement that the money went to those who were supposed to receive it.

In 2006, our house was raided by the FBI because my father was helping people survive in his home country. The agents took three trucks full of boxes from our house that day and among them were each of those letters in their original envelopes. The government saw these letters and started their investigation of my father. They sent people to Iraq and asked every single person mentioned in every single one of those letters. Everyone questioned replied with the same response, “Yes, I received the money, and I did not give it to the Iraqi government, but I gave it to my family so we could eat.” After a six-year investigation, and more than $5 million dollars spent, the prosecution date was set.

May 16, 2012 was the date that changed our family’s life forever. We went into the Jefferson City federal court with high hopes of probation and left with these words resounding in our ears: “Thirty-six months of prison and two years of probation afterwards.” The reason behind this sentence was that the letters, confirmed by the government to be 100 percent accurate, were described as “feathers in the wind” which could not be traced, and there was no way of telling what happened to the money.

Seven months later, I find myself, my mother and my brother-in-law sitting in that one-story building in the camp called Fort Leavenworth Prison Camp. I learn today that total justice in one single country can never exist, and I am hoping for some words from President Barack Obama to fix this unjust situation. In order for this case to come to his attention, you need to send a letter to the White House telling the government that this injustice must be fixed because we live in a country with “Liberty and Justice for All.”

By Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Kafi

This opinion piece is labeled as such on the desktop version.

Want to help? Sign the petition asking President Barack Obama to commute the 36-month sentence of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi.

3 Responses to #21901-045: Story of my hero

  1. Maria Kalaitzandonakes January 27, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I am proud that you wrote this. Your father was a great community leader, and I was appalled at the way this country treated him.

    Reply
  2. Duha Shebib January 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Very powerful.

    Reply
  3. Daphne Yu January 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    When I read it the first time, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Very moving.

    Reply

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