The last time I was inside a prison was not long after returning from Sudan, from the compound in Darfur. It was a women's prison, one that had been in the news - it was famous. I remember the very high walls, the series of locking doors, the fingerprints, the barbed wire, the last minute changes that were part of prison life, part of the control. I remember the high walls, the barbed wire, the guards, there to keep the war out. The increasing heart rate when we passed through the gate - some little trace of compound life in Geneina. The two places blended a little, somewhere in my gut, even as my brain knew better.
In both places - the compound, the prison - I was the free person, the one who had chosen to be there and could choose to leave, and in both cases I was working with people who didn't have that choice to make. The inmates kept in, the IDPs forced out (and out and out). There is a thickness to the air in these places, stale like the back of a cupboard. I remember that. A tight throat, the flutter of claustrophobia, the urge to burst out, to run, even if it breaks curfew. I remember that too.
I prepare to go now, and these little memories creep up the hairs on my skin in anticipation of my first time behind a high wall since the last, since the desert and what came after. I wonder if the smell will be the same, and my gut will know the difference.