On the day that I walked into the police station [Editor’s note: on February 18, 2008] for questioning about the riots, I had no clue that I would be coming out in handcuffs. I was in police custody for 96 hours, during which I continuously proclaimed my innocence. Up until then, I had never had any dealings with the police or the legal system. I was 20 years old and had only one goal in life: to become a professional football player. In just a single day, my dream shattered into pieces.
The first few weeks were a nightmare. I was immediately placed in solitary confinement. For the next eleven months, I was not allowed access to schooling, sports, or any training or other type of “rehabilitation” activity. Thankfully, my family visited me and tried to comfort me.
“My experience could easily be turned into an edge-of-your-seat film”
I went through every single emotional stage, but never contemplated taking my life. I experienced moments of overwhelming doubt, anxiety, and fear, but I stayed strong in my head. I kept telling myself, “I am innocent, the truth will have to come out eventually”.
Cover of the book “Presumed Guilty”. Picture posted on Mara Kanté’s Facebook page.
In an attempt to stave off gloomy thoughts, I started to write everything that went through my head. I became completely addicted to this, and scribbled in notebooks for hours on end. It was hugely therapeutic, a way to stay alive. I also did it for my future wife and my future children, so they will know the ordeal I have been through. My experience has become the subject of a book, but it could just as easily have been turned into an edge-of-your-seat film: a young minority man from a disadvantaged neighborhood inadvertently becomes an ideal suspect, combined with news-making riots, government involvement, and a prison stint, with an acquittal as the twist ending.
“Today, I am a devout Muslim”
I also began to read a lot to fill up the hours. Before, I used to think reading was useless. But in prison, I read many books about society and religion. These works brought me closer to God. Today, I am a devout Muslim. I frequently attend mosque and perform my prayers.
It may sound strange, but I harbor no feelings of hate. I do not resent the police, or the justice system that ended up acquitting me. I am only bitter. I am frustrated that over two years of my life were wasted. At the time, they needed culprits. The government got involved, started turning up the pressure… They needed to quickly sentence some people, and impose heavy prison sentences on them to serve as an example. I’m the one who paid the price for their haste.