Cuma Özkan, a 55-year-old prisoner, has spent 37 years in prison. His daughter is still waiting for her jailed father to come home.
Adil Okay’s book, ‘Don’t grow up until I’m freed,’ presents stories about children whose mothers and/or fathers have been imprisoned. He interviewed the children of political prisoners and highlights, in the pages of his book, the trauma that so many spouses and children have experienced from these ordeals of separation, MA reports.
Cuma Özkan was first arrested at the age of fourteen. He was tortured in detention for three months and tried at Adana Military Court in 1980. Özkan was initially given a death sentence. Then, it was reduced to 20 years because of his age. After he was released in 1989, he was rearrested and convicted of violating ‘the state’s unity and integrity.’ He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1993.
Şehirban Özkan, the daughter of Cuma Özkan, was born when her father was in prison. She first met her father behind bars.
Adil Okay describes, in his book, how Cuma Özkan first met his daughter in prison as follows: “I saw my daughter in prison. They brought her to visit me when she first started walking.”
”In closed views, the prisoner’s children were brought to the convicts’ section. All the children met with their paternal relatives. But there was a child crying around and sat alone near the wall. There were a lot of tears of joy of children in the room. Later, I learned that my daughter was among the children. I went to the crying child and tried to calm her down, but in vain. Finally, I took her to the visiting room, and I asked my wife, ‘Is this girl Şehriban?’ I didn’t know what to do when I got the answer ‘yes.’ As a father, for the first time, I hugged my child and kissed her.”
Adil notes that Cuma did not wash the handkerchief which his daughter used to wipe her tears that day. For 19 years, he carried it with him. When his daughter got engaged in 2017, Özkan sent her the handkerchief. The book also examines the problems Şehirban Özkan experienced during her childhood and her father’s long detention period.
Describing how she has carried the handkerchief with her for four years, she said, ”I can hardly remember the first day I saw him. But my father gave me the handkerchief, after 19 years, in which he wiped my tears when he first saw me in prison.”
The book describes how long years of imprisonment can have devastating consequences for both parents and children. Both father and daughter can still recall the pain of loss of outside relationships and hardly being able to get to know each other due to the circumstances.
Şehriban visits her father in prison on every occasion she can, despite the economic difficulties. ”Father’s missing all these milestones,” she said.
”I wish I could get to know him. I grew up without my father. This caused me to lack self-confidence. I don’t know how a father behaves towards his daughter. I would love to talk, travel, and eat something with him. I wanted so much to hug him and talk to him. These are feelings that I have never really experienced in my life. With my mother, we have spent time on the road, going to the prison.”
Stating that her father spent 37 years of his life in prison, she said, ”It is not fair for a person to be kept in prison for 37 years. It is an inhumane action to deprive a person of his liberty for 37 years. I really want my dad to be outside. I started primary school, he wasn’t with me. I went to high school, university and he was not there again. There would be graduations, everyone would have families, and I wouldn’t have a father. Maybe if he was with me, I would have my my self-confidence.”
Şehriban noted that even as thousands of prisoners were released because of the pandemic last year, political prisoners who were sentenced because of their political thoughts were not released. On the contrary, they were punished. ”For many years, these people have already died in prison, most of them away from their children and families. This injustice must be ended as soon as possible,” she said.
She continued: ”There are thousands of detainees held in prison for their thoughts: they do not deserve these conditions. Those people who were arrested for their political views should be released. I want my father back and other political prisoners like him to be released.”