TAMPA – When he’s not in a cell as wide as he is tall, Nabil Mouad uses one of his two free hours a day playing the only sport available in jail, basketball. All the while, he wishes he could play soccer, which was his life, his dream, his goal.
“When I have a problem,” he said, “I play soccer and I feel free.”
But soccer is also in part how Mouad, a 20-year-old Moroccan in the United States illegally, ended up in an orange jail suit, pink plastic slippers and constraining cuffs in a Falkenburg Road Jail interview room, explaining how his passion for the sport, mixed with mental illness, led to a bizarre clash with the University of South Florida soccer coach.
Locked down 22 hours a day with no possessions besides a Koran and a bedsheet to kneel on for prayer, Mouad has been isolated for his own protection. In the minds of other inmates, his Muslim faith and the report that he threatened to “blow up” the coach add up to terrorist – about as popular as a child molester behind bars, jail Capt. Tom Bliss said.
Mental health workers say Mouad’s story is common: A man suffering from schizophrenia has no family support, stops taking his pills and gets entangled in the justice system. But what makes him different, they say, is his racial and religious background in the post-9/11 world, where no threat can afford to be taken lightly. His advocates wonder if jail is really where he belongs.
“It’s just sad that he would be treated as some sort of criminal or terrorist,” said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Tampa branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.