Fear has a way of locking your emotions inside, making it impossible to fully relate to those around you.
This is the way it had been for Ron Emmons. Ten years of his life had been locked up. Since those nightmarish four years he had spent in Turkish prisons, the horror had been locked within him. He had been unable to speak of it to even his closest friends.
But as he sat in a darkened movie theater watching a film called "Midnight Express" Ron Emmons was being purged of all the fear, all the regret.
"Midnight Express," which is fast becoming a cult film for the young, tells the story of a young American, Billy Hayes, who was held prisoner in a Turkish prison for five years. It reveals the unspeakable conditions, the beatings, the torture.
Ron Emmons was a cellmate of Hayes for more than a year. Although he is not portrayed in the film, Emmons sat there alone in that theater with beads of perspiration on his forehead.
"It was like watching my life being played over again before my eyes," Emmons said. He was sitting in a coffee shop on the Far North Side of Chicago. He was tense.
"It all began for me just 10 years ago in Istanbul. I was barely 20 years old. I had graduated from Hyde Park High School and finished a year at Northern Illinois (University). I was restless. So I decided to tour Europe. I went all over. Then I ran out of money. I decided the way to get enough money to make it was to sell some hashish."
Emmons' face broke into a wan smile.
"I picked the worst possible time to be in the hashish business. That same week, a dude from California had been caught with drugs and decided to shoot it out. He killed four Turkish policemen before they killed him. But it made them crazy. They came down on every tourist drug suspect hard.
"They caught me in my hotel room with more than a kilo of hash in my suitcase. First they beat me and then they threw me into their prison in Istanbul called Sagmalcilar."
Emmons moved his right hand across his forehead. Then he picked up his cup of tea and took a sip. Now he was ready.
"What you've got to realize is that the Turkish mind seems to move in an absolutely different circle than the Western mind. For this reason none of us foreign prisoners could understand what they were thinking.
"Just for no reason at all they'd come storming into your cell. They'd drag you out into the corridor and start beating you with something called a falaka stick.
"That was just for nothing. If you really did something they'd haul you down into the basement, which was really nothing more than a torture chamber. Then they'd take your shoes off, suspend you by your feet, and club you across the soles of your feet until you'd wish you were dead."
While Emmons sat there in the dark watching Billy Hayes and the other prisoners being beaten bloody time after time, he recalled other facets of life in Sagmalcilar.
"It wasn't just a matter of the beatings. They wouldn't feed you. There was no way to stay clean. During the cold weather there was no way to stay warm. And then there were the relationships with the other prisoners. Most of them were Turks, of course, and they hated us for being what they called 'turistes.'"
Emmons doesn't speak from bitterness. He has turned his life completely around. Since being released from prison after serving more than three years, he has completed his work for a degree at Roosevelt University and has even earned a master's degree in literature from the University of Chicago.
"You see, for more than a year, I had the possibility of a life sentence hanging over me. When they finally approved my sentence and I realized I'd be getting out in less than four years my whole attitude changed. I realized they wouldn't kill me.
"I knew that with all the beatings there was a possibility I might be maimed. I knew I might leave prison in a wheelchair. But I knew I'd be getting out and I wanted to be ready.
"I concentrated on it every waking minute. I got up early. I exercised. I did yoga. I prayed. I read three hours each day. I wrote three hours.
"And I concentrated on finding one beautiful thing in every single day. Sometimes it would just be a beautiful sunset. Other times it would just be a beautiful thought of home."
Emmons now teaches literature classes here at the uptown extension of Shimer College. He has just finished a collection of poems describing his prison experiences that he has titled "Cold Stone on a Warm Stone." He is working on a collection of short stories describing prison life.
He is still friendly with Hayes, who through his book and movie has earned an estimated $200,000 from his experience in the same prison.
Emmons laughed as he recalled Hayes and their friendship. "Billy always was more flamboyant than the rest of us," Emmons said. "But despite all the horrible things in the book and movie, Billy wasn't even at the Sagmalcilar prison for the worst time of all."
What came next was infinitely painful for Emmons. He was stalking deep into the inner recesses of his mind for a period of terror that will never leave him.
"What you can't imagine about that prison was that, at first, everyone inside had weapons and everyone had drugs. The guards were just as brutal on the Turkish gangsters as they were on us, and one of them decided to get revenge. He did it by shooting a guard to death with a pistol that was smuggled to him.
"That set off a week of rioting. The Turkish army came. They surrounded the jail. For a full day they made no effort to get in. They just set up a perimeter with machine guns and began firing in at us.
"Some of the guards were shot during this time. Some had already been stabbed to death."
Emmons halted. He looked down at the cup of tea in front of him. He reached for it and then apparently changed his mind.
"On the third day, they took the hoses that were hooked up to the gas tanks, which lit the fires for the heating of the water. They turned them into portable flame throwers and went up and down the cell blocks with them. It was like being in hell, only I was still alive."
The riot ended after four days. The Turkish army won the battle in hand-to-hand combat that raged from cellblock to cellblock. But Emmons recalled what happened later as being even worse than the riots.
"The day after the riots ended they called in the goon squads. They were the toughest guards they had in all the prisons in Turkey and they transferred them in to Sagmalcilar.
"They walked in the first day and you could tell they were sadists. They all carried clubs. The first thing they did was walk through the cellblocks and pull every single prisoner out of his cell. They beat every damned one of us in the jail.
"From then on it was truly a nightmare. For the next month they'd come into the cellblock around 2 or 3 in the morning. It happened every single night. They'd drag one prisoner out. They'd beat him with their clubs.
"I can still hear the screams. You know something? You've never really heard a scream until you've heard one in the middle of the night in a Turkish prison when you're so far away from home and they've convinced you that you're nothing better than an animal."
It was shortly after this that Emmons had a conversation with another prisoner that turned his life around.
"We were looking out a prison window," Emmons said quietly. "We could see past the machine guns and past the prison walls topped by barbed wire.
"We could see the squalid buildings where the people surrounding the prison lived in the most horrible slum imaginable."
Emmons paused. He took a sip from the now-cooled cup of tea.
"'Look over there,' my friend said. 'Look at those slums. Those people are the real prisoners, all over the world. Because they're in a prison from which they can never escape.
"'We'll serve our sentence and get another chance. They have never even had a first chance.'"