What Happens to You When

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ICORN 2016
The following are Felix Kaputu’s remarks to the ICORN assembly in Paris on March 31, 2016.

What happens to you when, on a given morning, you are sent to the most horrible prison of your country—a prison reserved for criminals—automatically making you a member of the criminal teams?

What happens to you when you manage to live with these criminals in jail and face death at every minute of your life? What happens when, despite your survival, you only end up facing your country institutions treating you as the most dangerous criminal of all time just because throughout your life you lived by ethical standards, stood by the youth, and wanted to show them the ways for their social growth and true success?

  1. Felix Kaputu
  2. Felix Kaputu
  3. Felix Kaputu is an academic, Fulbright scholar, and social activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He specializes in African studies, art, and philosophy. In 2006, he was arrested without a warrant and accused of participating in a separatist group and violating national security. He was held in prison without formal charges filed against him. After his release, Kaputu left the DRC through international pressure from Scholars at Risk, and has since lectured in the United States, Japan, and Belgium. He has written six books on issues that include HIV/AIDS and women’s rights in Africa. Felix Kaputu is now the current ICORN writer-in-residence at Krakow City of Refuge, Poland.

What happens to you when, after spending months in prison, international pressure opens the prison doors but all internal, national doors automatically close to you? All your friends close their doors too. All your family members are afraid to show up. Everybody in your country is afraid that coming close to you could mean prison or death.

What happens to you when you notice that your brain is sent to an everlasting prison? You cannot think; you cannot use your brain to produce anything personal or intelligent. You cannot think anything worthy of the training of your entire life.

You become disillusioned as you lose all your landmarks. The world becomes meaningless because you cannot count on it. You do not know it. You think it is too dangerous to learn, and must necessarily contain people similar to those you have met in your country and in prison. They will contribute to making your life a hell where migraines, nightmares, and high blood pressure become your only daily activities.

Teaching, writing, and thinking have become equally dangerous and the open doors to prison if not to death. Psychologically, you cannot develop anything besides frustration, and you experience the quick death of all the mental faculties that once made you an intellectual, an academic, a writer, and an artist. If only you could order your brain to stop functioning.

What happens when you cannot rely on any colleague in your country? When darkness means danger is close by? When spending nights in a house becomes dangerous, and you prefer to spend a couple of nights in a safe cemetery with phantoms? Many people, including security agents, are afraid of graveyards, especially when they know that innocent people have been forced to “rest in peace” there! Indeed, the place is peaceful.

Such was my situation when I was suddenly arrested on false accusations and sent to prison for months, condemned for an attempt on national security. Apart from criminals, I had to spend time with big rats with glaring eyes at night coming to check on me while waiting for the minute I would be dead, when they could happily feast on my corpse.

I spent months in a concrete box with a leaking roof filling the cell with brackish water. In that cell, it was impossible to sit down, impossible to stand up. The walking corpse was incapacitated. The only visible light could be perceived at night through the glaring eyes of the big rats.

When food came from the outside, it disappeared as soon as it had reached the door of the prison. It was given another direction, as the jail security needed food and never had enough.

Quickly, fleas infested the clothes that had become dirty beyond any imagination and engaged in sucking blood, holding a conversation of a specific kind with the body. In these conditions, life and death became one and the same. In these circumstances, despair was soon to invade me and to cancel hope.

For writers under such circumstances, ICORN becomes a shining star that shows the right direction and brings brings the resurrection of all mental capacities. This story could take long minutes, and could even have different episodes for telling it in those past nights in Africa around a fire. Here we are, with a shortened version. Horror can be summed up, but gratitude and hope rebuilt will still have opportunities to be repeated and addressed to exceptional people like you. You are ICORN, and ICORN means life for many.

Read remarks by ICORN writer Jude Dibia.

Read remarks by ICORN writer Sonali Samarasinghe.

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