journeys within…

Posted: March 8, 2007 in Uncategorized

desolate places..places we go when we feel like society’s abandoned children. Places that are outside of the norm or common focus. Places not of this earth, but carried in the hearts and minds of women and men.


Allow me to invite you to a journey to some of these places.



Pt. I ‘H’ : Heroin’s Invisible Hold


The light slips further away as you descend into a place many before have journeyed.


Assimilating the soft, comforting bliss that is H into the body belies its savage destructive consequences on self, family, friends and society.

Such are its qualities of inducing instant contentment, self- assuredness and euphoria that withdrawal from prosaic reality can be swift and deep.

To the practitioner, camouflaged in newly found glory, everything is fine.


Of those who return, functioning in normal society can be a difficult task. For some, they may find it to be initially exhilarating, having the perception that the demon has been exorcised and the dark times are over. 


Let us consider the dynamics

A complete H addiction requires commitment: you must raise the funds, keep a job, maintain contacts, and avoid the law. You strive to keep a semblance of control when the drug is unavailable for whatever reason.


Everything is possible on H and indeed unfulfilled plans hatched under its effect are easily forgotten or swamped by new and better ones.

Surely, everything is possible without its sure and comforting hand, which years later may be considered nothing more than a forgotten and worn-out relationship.


It is years later, and unless people are told, most would never guess, never know, of your past relationship. Incidental discussions about drugs may elicit strange responses; lifes problems may or may not be tackled with appropriate vigor and determination and being oneself may have to be a conscious decision where under H it came ever so naturally. 


While for some the constant use of H may last a lifetime, for others a reoccurring theme, and for others a banished past. We all carry the scars of the past, whether sorted and packed away or thrown haphazardly into the recesses of our emotional memory. The desolation associated with hanging out, of being alone without its constant and calming companion may finally become a thing of the past as far as drug intake is concerned. But shadows remain. One may walk away from their silent observation but they are there to welcome back the recidivist visitor, reminding him of why they were created in the first place.


[Note: Heroin (diacetyl-morphine) was marketed from 1898 through to 1910 as a non-addictive cure for morphine addiction and as a cough medicine for children.]


H can be a beguiling and charming lover; much easier to accommodate than the troublesome girlfriend. It employs much of your energy, so more efficiently gathered for fulfillment than the boss and workplace can inspire. Though friends and social occasions may be difficult propositions; H will always offer enjoyment, whether in apparent meaningful communication with others, or alone.


The soft, alluring and warm desolation that H left behind is always there for you. One doesn’tt have to seek it out, it will seek you; invade your memory in times of personal crisis.  It will tap you on the shoulder when confronted with problems- seemingly insurmountable. And ultimately remain a balancing force between lifes vicissitudes and personal calm and composure.


I leave the party in a despairing, contorted anger that grows worse as I make my way home. Friends suggest I stay but what can they know of the distance between them and I? The loneliness!

No one can love me like she did. But its not there to greet me at home and Im glad of that. Its just a cold, grey house that even the lights wont illuminate or soften. It seems so cold and out of place just like me!


One continuously laments that love that so deftly assuaged the disorder and unrest within.


One may re-establish the relationship hands on or merely retreat to the shadow; the dark, desolate place that became Hs constant stand-in: pain, anger, regret and guilt.


Breaking down the barriers to happiness that led to an addiction in the first place is not necessarily relieved by Hs absence. Retreating to what we know is often calming procedure; despite its slow road to ultimate ruin.


As the English essayist Walter Pater put it Failure is to form habits. 




Pt. II Touched in Anger


Desolate places. They invoke images of stretches of desert, earth cracking under a relentless sun, a windswept mountain top devoid of vegetation, a Dutch polder, endlessly flat under a steel-grey sky.


However, these images are somehow soothing, they hold no surprises, no unexpected hardship will befall us there, we can enter devoid of any expectations. It is safe there, maybe mostly so because nothing is alive besides nature itself. And the harshness of nature seldom makes us desolate.


It is the harshness of human nature that creates the desolate places inside us, they are with us on the journey we undertake despite ourselves. And sometimes even despite them.




She does not look in my eyes as we talk, she seems to need this small sense of detachment as she shares her story. Her voice is soft, shaking at times but determined as she opens the door to a long kept secret.


It happened when I was 14 years old, I had only just become aware of being a girl and I could feel that there was this part of me that was as yet empty and new but held an exciting promise.


Then there was that night. I had liked him for a while and this night he seemed to be aware of me in a different way than before.


I can hear the shame in her voice as she confesses having had a few schoolgirls’ fantasies about him.

When fantasy met reality it turned out to be a harsh place.


The first blow came out of nowhere and I was not really sure what had just happened. Before the pain could register the next one hit the side of my head and I became suddenly aware of both his rapid breath and the excitement in his eyes. As the pain exploded in my consciousness he hit me again and I tasted blood on my lips. Instinct kicked in and I frantically tried to cover my head and get away from him but he grabbed my arms and pulled me on the backseat, tying my wrists together and securing them to the handle above the car door.


The fear she had felt at that moment shows through her carefully controlled voice, the simple choice of words emphasizing the cruelty of what was to come.


I got scared now, not really understanding what was happening and never before had anyone touched me in anger and I had a hard time believing it was real. I said no over and over again, my voice sounded small, my breath uneven as his fingers bruised my small breasts. The sound of my shirt ripping tore through the silence of the car. It was of many things that would tear that night.


He was so much stronger than I was, my fear paralyzed me and helped him to strip me, my tears seemed to enhance the moment for him. I tried to keep my legs closed, but a well aimed blow with a closed fist against my head distracted me enough for him to force himself between them, on me and then roughly in me.


I remember screaming then, it hurt when he tore in me, I did not know anything could hurt this way. I stopped struggling, it hurt in so many places at once and he terrified me, the pain terrified me. I could still hear myself whisper no, softly but over and over again. But no-one was listening.


She falls silent for a moment and when she continues her voice is even softer than before.


He turned back to me and forced himself in my mouth, pushing himself further and further until I could not breathe anymore. I tasted my own blood and even as my body struggled for air my mind grew still. Peace felt just beyond my reach, I thought if I waited just a little longer it might just take over and all this pain would stop.


The condensation of my breath leaving my nostrils caught my eye and despite my yearning for emptiness I started to concentrate on breathing in and out through my nose, surviving nearly against my will, his actions as far from my mind as I could muster.


The stillness this evoked in me did not leave me again, anything that came after that seemed to have happened to someone else.


I did not attack him when he freed me, it was as if I was not really there anymore. I got dressed as best as I could in my broken clothes and went home, I felt that as I dropped pieces of material I dropped parts of myself as I walked through the darkness.


It would be a journey that would prove years to complete. Physically she healed after a few weeks, the places that got broken in her mind that night would take years to remember, acknowledge and understand.



Our desolate places show in our eyes if you look at the right angle and small glints of recognition are sometimes exchanged and then quickly overlooked. Not something any of us like sharing, it is where we keep our secrets and guard them jealously. In their emptiness is a comfort, a place that holds us captive and immobilizes us. The cages that are created in us have an open door that we can walk through at any time we may choose even if we often turn the back of the chair to the gaping opening.


Just as she did today, we have the choice to walk through that door and continue on our path, stronger than we were before not despite of, but because of our experiences.




Pt.III Gaol


Jail is not some concrete riddled with iron bars- jail is a state of mind. Some people never leave their cages even if they’ve never been to jail.

A lucid moment when I wasn’t locked up where I should have been- enjoying the wire-free sky in an almost haunted prison pitched against a beautiful desert sunset…


Everyone had been locked up since 3. I was standing inside the cage of our ward enjoying the peace; the swaying unkept grass on the make-believe football pitch, shadows and hues on metal and concrete, clouds rolling in and out of the sunset. The extreme pleasure of it was, that for a privileged moment, I had this moment in time for myself. No other was visible- until I noticed the cat..


Our eyes met across the wire, and clearly I had intruded on her moment as she had done on mine. As she turned away you could almost hear her think ‘Shit.. another one of those fools in a cage’..


But I wasn‘t the only fool in the picture. 

Our cat couldn’t see, that though she was free to slip and slide between the cages, she was still contained within a larger prison wall. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to our feline friend and her playful taunting, teasing ways towards my incarceration. I must admit it got me wondering of when  I would truly be free.

Freedom is not simply the incarceration of the body.. that’s not the sole effect of prison. And countering the argument, when my body was finally allowed to walk free, which cages would I willingly walk into. Will my existence outside these walls remain just another illusion of freedom, as our cat had clearly demonstrated?


What I expected it to be and what it is, is a constant day-to-day struggle, conscious and committed. It’s the true meaning of jihad, the journey to conquer oneself and ones fears. In hopes of becoming a richer person- one that enriches the lives of those around.


– personal journals, John D.



How far do you need to push someone to see the most weathered criminals old and young, clinging like babies to their blankets, refusing their release to the world outside these walls, begging for the safety of what they know as opposed to the pain of birth to a world that does not want them.


It’s not easy to choose the comforting arms of a prison over the warmth and nearness of family and loved ones. Uprooting yourself can be a very difficult decision to make. Sometimes even the darkness can be made to feel like home. It’s a mental survival tactic to achieve equilibrium through a probably undesirable but undeniable status quo. And then you’re expected to flip a switch as you’re waltzing out of these walls, and it’s all ok again. Doesn’t work that way


Re-integrating into society is a goal that may never be truly realized, yet one well worth achieving even in part. We all hope to feel that we belong, and would like to think that we can be part of a bigger happy family that nourishes its members- one that is not rooted in self-pity, guilt and low self-worth- simply for being branded as a non-conformist.


In a bid to become positive elements in life as we know it, though brewing with insecurities, we attempt to learn to walk again, to think and talk again, to appreciate the simple things in life, to sing and dance again. Tippy-toeing our way through situations which others take in stride. Hopefully to slay enough of our demons to be able to get a momentum going in a positive direction.


In jail you are mahkuum, [{lit. sentenced} yet also lends meaning to controlled, cornered, ruled]. Thus you are limited in who you are able to talk to, associate with, limited in space, resources, rights, and you have heaps of moments like these to live. In the world we know, if you don’t like a particular vibe, you are privileged to be able to flip the channel or turn and walk, not so clean-cut if you are mahkuum.

Every word, thought and action is accountable. People have lost lives and dignity for saying ‘yes’ or ‘no‘, and it’s a tricky question which would be the right answer at any given time.


Yet this sense of instant-accountability creates the fertile ground for a certain set of codes that constitute the doctrine of the revered and respected. The immediate effect of all you do or say lends life a tinge of ‘ultra-reality’. how else can one perpetuate their survival in a jungle if they confuse meanings and values of what is happening around them.


Yet to some degree the sectioning effect of prison is comfortably ‘controlled’ , with the limiting of available choices also comes the limiting of possible threats. Thus you have a ‘controlled’ number of variables in your personal equation for survival.

One can imagine how difficult it would be for someone who got so used to going about their life in a certain way to suddenly take on all the unlimited possibilities of the mahkuum-less outside world, where words don’t mean nothing but talk, and actions are dictated by circumstance rather than principle.


But like any journey, your way back is a discovery of yourself and your true potential- you never know what joys it shall hold until you start on your way. And more often than not, it holds promise of life, in ways which you thought you would never live again.



Concept and Presentation– Islam Mohamed


Heroin– Peter Piper

Rape– Adelheid Heine

Gaol– Islam Mohamed


photography courtesy of H.Mansour


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