From time to time you hear a story about someone in prison who tugs at your heartstrings. Maybe. After all, most of us assume that if you’re in prison, you probably deserve to be there, as a general rule.
But 11-year-old Meena doesn’t deserve to be there.
Meena was born in a prison in Afghanistan and has lived there her whole life.
Her mother is Shirin Gul, a name that’s meaningless in this country, but would probably be a household name here if she’d committed her crimes on American soil. She’s a convicted serial killer who admitted to murdering 27 men in cold blood, making her one of the most prolific female serial killers in the world.
Meanwhile, her daughter Meena sleeps in the same cell, despite being the one family member of Gul’s who wasn’t implicated in the murders. Her 18-year-old brother reportedly assisted in luring victims into the mother’s lair along with Gul’s lover, who did the same.
While Meena’s situation sounds unique, it’s really not. The only unusual thing is the timeframe involved.
In Afghanistan, it’s apparently normal for mothers to keep their children with them in prison, caring for them in their cells. However, in most cases, the sentences are shorter than Shirin Gul’s.
Child welfare advocates claim that there are hundreds of girls like Meena. In some parts of the country, there are orphanages that will take in children in Meena’s predicament, but it’s not required and there are none in Jalalabad where she’s located. As a result, she remains in prison with her mother because there are no other close family members who can take care of the girl. So Meena remains with her mother who is serving a life sentence.
When asked why she wouldn’t let her daughter leave, Gul blew up at the reporter. “You, Mr. America, tell that blind man Ashraf Ghani, your puppet, your slave, tell him to get me out of here,” she argued. “I didn’t commit any crime. My only fault is that I cooked food for my husband who committed a crime.”
However, in 2005 the chief investigator of the allegations against Gul, Gen. Mohammed Zahir Nahem, argued otherwise. “She has admitted she killed them,” he told the Telegraph at the time. “These people were professional killers; their houses were places of terror.”
Regardless, Gul keeps Meena close, and that means she’s in prison.
While the prison is probably about as child-friendly as one can be — the cells are arranged around a courtyard where children are allowed to play and there’s a schoolroom where the kids are educated — it still doesn’t change the fact that there’s a child in prison.