Waves hitting the shores: stories from prison
01 July 2012A book of short stories written by prisoners
Sibel Öz and Sabriye Çiftçi, the writers of the story book “Waves hitting the shores. Stories from F-Type prisons” (Kıyıya Vuran Dalgalar), say that “The '90s generation is starting to write, in a way intertwined with life and beyond the cliché of prison literature. They seek the political respect in the daily life.”
“Waves hitting the shores. Stories from F-Type prisons” is a book of stories quite different from the ordinary ones. Only one, out of the nine writers of the book, is not jailed, the editor of the book. Sibel Öz was held in prison for ten years for political reasons. The short stories in the book were written by some people who were jailed for long years. The stories which were inspired by the photographs sent to these people during their imprisonment are inspired by stories in life, from characters to subjects.
The launch of the book, which is already available for distribution, was held in Istanbul on 2 June and saw the participation of writer Murathan Mungan.
The book editor Sibel Öz is a member of Deli Dalgalar (Crazy Waves) Initiative, a solidarity initiative with prisoners. Another member of the Initiative, Sabriiye Çiftçi, was also held in prison for seven years.
Öz and Çiftçi answered ANF’s questions on the story book “Waves hitting the shores. Stories from F-Type prisons” which has met readers through Notabene publishing house.
-How did you decide to prepare the book?
Sibel Öz: The question ‘how did you come up with this idea’ actually doesn’t have an answer. Something, which corresponds to a necessity, comes into being. Among the members of Deli Dalgalar there are also professional photographers and sometimes we put some of their photographs in the books we send to prisoners. In return for our letters, we receive stories and poems from the prisoners. However, there are very few publishing houses that accept to publish such a book.
As we thought about having the stories of prisoners published, we sent three photographs to each prisoner we exchanged letters with. We therewith started to get different and unpredictable short stories in return for those photographs. Following an exhaustive selection process, we gathered those stories which however couldn’t be published very easily because of the fact that “prison literature”, which is a reality, is not selling because of the cliché published so far. Anything coming from prison could easily be put to one side without even being read and evaluated. The 90’s generation who has been written about by others and even used as meta so far has just started to shoot films and write hale and hearty stories that stay out of the cliché of prison literature and are intertwined with life, consisting of human figures from streets. Readers of the book will easily see that it is quite far from agitation and of a high literary quality.
Sabriye Çiftçi: Our slogan “Either you go out or we inside” defines the essence of this work. There is no reason for our not being arrested at any time and the prisoners have been jailed for ten years at least, besides those who have been held in prison for 18 years.
A letter I have recently received said that “The books you have sent reached me as I was celebrating my 20th year in prison”. The time in prison needs to be spent in a useful way, with books in other words. As we unfortunately don’t have a political ground to take those people out of the prison, this book has aimed to take the outside life into prison through photographs and to bring those people out of prison through their writings. It is of great importance for us to make a change in the life of even a single person in prison. One would wish that we could reach everyone! I don’t know if our faithfulness satisfies the people inside but in this way, we can say that we haven’t forgotten them.
-Did the photographs you chose and sent to prisoners follow a certain criteria? Were they chosen by the photographers?
Sibel Öz: To some extend we left it to the initiative of photographers and to some extend we chose open-ended photographs suitable for writing a story about. While sending the photographs to the prisoners, we asked them to avoid writing about what they see. We asked them to see each photograph as a moment and to place this moment into a story. What we saw in the end were stories more beautiful than we had expected. Although we tried to give place to both urban stories and eastern images in the book, the greater part of the book consists of urban stories.
-There are three woman writers in the book, which actually sounds few to me…
Sibel Öz: We expect to come in for criticism about this matter as the failure actually belongs to us. In an earlier Deli Dalgalar prisoners exhibition, the majority of painters was made up of men who are more likely to draw in comparison to women. However, it is not like that in terms of writing stories. Poem and novels sound mannish but stories sound womanish to me, because of their open-endedness and impishness. The deficiency in terms of having fewer woman writers is a problem related with the restriction we faced with respect to the announcement. The two stories written by women in the book are interesting and the book would no doubt have a different colour if we could include the stories by several more women. We need to make self-criticism in this respect before receiving criticism from others. However, we could also have an opportunity to make a compilation consisting of short stories by women in the future.
- What would you say about the imagination and creativity of those who have written these stories?
Sibel Öz: We thought about naming the book “Something missing”, the name of Sami Özbil’s story, but we decided to name it “Waves hitting the shores. Stories from F-Type prisons” to give it a more general meaning. The title “Something missing” actually summarized the content of the stories in the book because of the fact that we, the 90’s generation, lack in many things in life. Starting from ourselves, me and Sabriye are from this generation, we can say that we lack in literature as well, as we conflicted with literature, the local literature in particular. We read only the Soviet literature for many years. Our local literature did not reflect what happened after the military coup in 1980. It didn’t reflect the house raids, executions and disappearances in custody, nor the deadly attacks on revolutionaries who were trying to break the environment of fear and suppression. However, it is only now that we can clearly see the fact that our literature was also subjected to the same hard repression. We were quite angry in our twenties. Neither the literature saw us, nor did we write or read it. Moreover, we used to underestimate the act of writing in 90’s.
-What kind of a change did you experience in your personal life?
Sibel Öz: Our friends in prison started to write in the early years of 2000’s, in both Turkish and Kurdish. The act of writing means taking refuge and a scream for us now. We had to write in the early 2000’s when F Type prison system was put into effect and forced prisoners in isolation. Writing therefore became a way to express yourself and a direct instrument to question everything. What else could we do but to write? Like a writer say “I would get mad if I didn’t write”. This generation had to write when the time came. On the other hand, the films about the 90’s generation were dominated by an environment and literature of defeat and intimidation. You used to have a lump in the throat while watching them. However, this was not us. In a struggle there is always a defeat and a brave side. We therewith started to write, to say that “We are here, in prison and we still resist.”
-Sadness was the prominent feeling of Sami Özbil’s and other stories in the book. What kind of a feeling do you see in these stories?
Sibel Öz: I am of the opinion that F type prisons have a remarkable share in the feeling of sadness. When you look at our letter exchange with dozens of prisoners, we could say that sadness emerges when the released prisoners forget those left behind. There are some prisoners who have been jailed for 18 years and detached from life. They have contact only with very few of the hundreds of the people released. However, all these people suffered from the same difficulties, troubles, operations and they passed the same cycle of death. These people all lived a trauma in F type prisons and this is a reality which may not sound good when looking at the situation from a political respect.
-What kind of a difference is there between the ‘prison literature’ and the literature of the 90’s generation?
Sibel Öz: We grew up reading about the torture lived by the people of 68’s and 78’s generation. It wouldn’t be right to compare sufferings but the physical torture imposed on an intellectual of 90’s generation is pale in comparison to what the revolutionaries went through after the 1980 military coup. Those people enlightened our view by writing despite the torture they had to live. When compared with them, we were a more unconscious generation as we grew up in an apolitical environment and needed their writings to become conscious. When we now look at that period, we see that not many things were written down, despite great events that would have shaken the world if experienced in another country. Tortured people used to feel ashamed of telling what they were subjected to. We did not react against torture as we used to believe we were supposed to live all those things and we had risked everything by becoming to be a revolutionary. We did not elaborate much on torture and brutality as we had prepared very well to experience this kind of things. The people who wrote in that period should be considered separate in terms of the prison literature because they come through that environment and sought the political respect in life itself, not in the past or in memories.
-Let’s talk about Deli Dalgalar. How did you find this original name?
Sabriye Çiftçi: It emerged from a poem of Sabahattin Ali which said that “The mad waves outside brush the walls”. We used to sing this song very often when we were in prison. A letter sent to us read: “Please stay mad and never become sensible.” This is what we are trying to do.
Sibel Öz: We found the reflection and echo of that song outside the prison. We are determined to be the wave brushing prison walls. This is an irony, something introduced by the fact that we know the spirit inside. We will be the mad waves of those in prison, to look at the sky and to take the sky into other dreams.
What we refer to with the crazyness of waves is our trust that we can break the routine and go beyond the ordinary with an open ending. To give an example, we sent around ten thousand books to ten thousand political prisoners several months ago. This is what we achieved with man power.
Sabriye Çiftçi: Deli Dalgalar should always be a good surprise. We are trying to do things that we used to wish and hope when we were in prison.
ANF / NEWS DESK
ANF NEWS AGENCY