I am spending the most nostalgic days of my life here thinking of old bitter sweet memories. I find myself in roaring waves that are out of my control. From what I hear from other prisoners who have been here for a while; the state in prison is the same as previous years with only minor changes. The only daily changes involve the prison authorities. They come and go quickly and then all is back to normal again.
When I was 19 years old, I met a woman in prison who had a history. She was the oldest prisoner among us; she was wise and kind like all grandmothers. She had somehow managed to escape while she was being transferred to court from prison. The prison used to issue black garbs to female prisoners before her escape; but afterwards they changed it to black with small flowers. She said she had to turn herself in later because she felt guilty as the authorities had taken her family members hostage and were torturing them. Her case was very similar to mine, like numerous other women like: Shahla, Cobra, Layda, Marzeah….the list is rather long.
I came to prison at the start of my youth and I have seen many helpless women here, women without any protection. I live with the nightmares of their lives. Sometimes they just pop into my mind. I go over their lives, lest I forget.
I can see Soheila Ghaderi standing in front me in mind’s eye right now-. She was thin and was intensely obsessed with cleanliness. She was homeless and had literally grown up on the streets. She had had to fight for each and every meal or a place to stay during the rain. She got pregnant. Somehow she managed to survive and give birth on the street. She thought maybe the child will make her life better and help her escape the darkness. But when she gave birth, Soheila felt worse. In a moment of madness mixed with love, she killed her 5 day old infant: Not because she did not love the child but because she could not see a future for that child, she did not want to see all the things that had happened to her to happen to her baby. After that she saw hands with blood on them and washed them ten times a day. After she was arrested, she was happy to have a roof over her head in prison. She did not have anyone. The father of the baby was even unknown and although the authorities tried hard to find out the identity of the father, Soheila refused to reveal his name. She used to say with her distinct accent:” That man was kind to me, he fed me and gave me a place to stay for a few days, why would I bring harm on him?” All the women thought that Soheila would ultimately be pardoned as she was such a classic victim; no one thought anyone would have the heart to hang someone whose life had been so full of misery. But, on a cloudy day, Soheila was hanged ending her suffering on the streets.
I am 26 years old now. I had no idea when I started to listen to the women’s stories that one day it would become so painful for me. Who knew that these beautiful cities are so full of suffering? I wish to unburden myself of their stories. They all had something in common, in that few moments of their lives were filled with hatred, blood or contempt.
It was the end of autumn. We had only two trees in the prison yard which had lost all their leaves. Their bareness only made it gloomier here in the evenings. I tried to imagine beyond these very tall walls; passed the barbed wire.
At the beginning, life outside prison with its entire normalcy was still fresh in my mind. I did not believe I would be in prison too long and would soon return to my studies. I thought everything would be sorted out shortly, so I did not see myself as a prisoner like the others. I did not take part in a lot of activities or gossip. I was more the listener than the talker. I did not want my classmates to know that I was in prison. I was very uncomfortable about being in prison; even when my mother would pass the phone to my aunt during one of our calls; I did not want to speak, I had nothing to say. Slowly, I started thinking that even if I did return home everyone knew that I had been in prison. It would be marked on my forehead…even my soul, heart and dreams would be marked.
Daily nightmares and my shaky hands were constant reminders of my days under interrogation and torture. Even though I was working in the prison shop, trying to tire myself, I could not shake the events of July 7, 2007. As soon as my mind was still, that day would replay in mind…dancing around in my head. My torturers were the constant companions of my thoughts. Although the interrogations were over, the pain those few men caused me, their absolute hatred towards me and the things they said to me, still haunted me. Everyday life could not erase those men from my mind. Those days I saw my prison life as very temporary and focused on my life afterwards.
Evin had new bosses who brought with them new rules. A gang of drug dealers inside prison were identified and sent for questioning and were interrogated for days. I remember they started to return to our ward, one by one, by winter’s first snow fall. They were exhausted from their interrogations and spending the nights in the freezing headquarters. Every one of them, without exception told me that Shamloo had questioned them about me. Whether I had said anything to them about the murder? What I was doing? What I was saying. He also insinuated that now that I was working in the shop, some money may be missing. The fact that there was no exchange of physical money in the store and that all transactions were performed using prison cards which had virtual money on them that the family of the prisoner had paid for, did not stop the accusation. My God! Had I become Shamloo’s obsession? Was he sharpening his crocodile teeth for me?
The new bosses decided that no prisoner should be working in any section involving money. So I was no longer allowed to work in the store. My parents had paid a deposit in order for me to work there. It took months for the authorities to return the money to my parents. They put one of the prison personnel in charge of the store. Of course, inside prison there was a lot of exchange of items going on among prisoners. For example, the women who were arrested at parties for their improper Islamic attire did not stay long. So they needed essentials very quickly. They would often exchange their very expensive scarf with a can of tuna or sheets, clothes or the like. If they smoked, it was a disaster. This was the unofficial sale of goods in Evin. Inside Shahre-Ray prison the currency is phone cards. For example, two boxes of Kleenex are worth one phone card. Those women who were living on the streets before prison those who had no family to buy them prison cards had to work in prison. They cleaned, washed clothes and swept. They would get paid with phone cards. Eventually, they would have a lot of phone cards which they would sell for money. Many women, who had children on the outside would earn money this way and sent it to their children even though the amount was very small. Some earned money with knitting scarves. The system was bartering. Of course, there were those who had been in prison before the card system was enforced who had cash on hand. They would sell their money at high prices for those who were leaving prison and needed money for their families. One could also ask prison personnel to buy some items for them from the outside. For example, due to lack of vitamins and poor nutrition, most prisoners’ hair started falling out; they would ask staff to buy them certain shampoos.
After I was not allowed to work in the shop anymore, I had no idea how to pass the time. I started to read books; I did not care which book. In the winter they called me for court. A staff member secretly told me that they were taking me for interrogation. So I packed myself a few items; some thick socks and sweaters since I knew how cold that detention center was from experience; it was always freezing. I took a few cookies/crackers with me too.
The streets were very busy and just like a person riding in a car for the first time, I had motion sickness. All traffic noises, the fast speed of the cars, new cars, new fashions, mothers holding their children’s hands…I could hear the sounds of freedom and life. We arrived at the Shahpour Headquarters where I had spent the worse days of my life. We went up the stairs. I had to sit in that cold and frightening corridor facing the wall- awaiting those men; my interrogators. I tightened all my muscles in case they come and hit me from behind really hard, so I would be prepared so my teeth would not break. Nothing happened. I waited for hours without food, water or being allowed to go the bathroom. It was now in the afternoon when I saw a young, thin man enter with my father. They took away my watch as well as my food and gave it to my father who was sitting and speaking to the young man; but my father’s gaze was frozen on me. We were startled by a man’s screams that was running as he was being chased and beaten on his back by an interrogator’s belt. “Run, faster, faster…do not stop…” the interrogator kept on screaming. My father turned pale. This scene was not strange to me, but he had not seen such a thing ever before.
They told my father to leave. I looked at him with fear in my eyes, asking him silently not to leave me there with those people; that I was horrified, that they were all dragons and monsters who spewed out fire. I began to cry, I always hated to cry but I could not stop my tears. He started walking away from me when suddenly he turned around, walked towards me and hugged me. My hands were handcuffed so I could not hug him back. He whispered in my ears: “may God protect you my dear. I wish I could be here instead of you.” My throat was so dry that I could not get out any words. The young man ordered my father to leave. My father’s tears dripped onto my cheek. As he was leaving, my father, while crying, told the young man:” I leave my child in your care….do not beat her.” The young man said:” Beat her…why would we beat her. Who told you we were going to beat her?” I was horrified.
“Daddy, they brought me here to see that scene…” I said.
“Reyhaneh my dear, from now until they let you go, your mother and I are with you….these people want to tare you apart…into pieces. But we will continue to follow up on your case. My dear, try and endure for now. You are a Kurdish girl…Kurds are strong and fear nothing. Like a lion stay brave….” My father was saying loudly as they were pushing him out the door.
The young man, without a trace of emotion in his face, started to question me about where I had bought the knife. It seems that my old tormenters were no longer in charge, but their presence still lingered in those halls. He kept asking which store I had bought the knife, on what street. [Note: Reyhaneh had never purchased a knife and did not have it on her person at the time of the incident. She found it at the scene.] His only interest was that knife.
I spent a few nights at that freezing, cold headquarters. It was very cold there but the extra clothes I had packed for myself helped keep me warm. Every day, I was forced to sit facing the wall in that corridor. I wore many layers of clothes in case they decided to burn me on my back again; I would have a bit of protection and it would hurt a bit less. But there was no sign of beatings or torture. Every day I was returned to sit in that corridor, every one that would pass me would threaten me. There was a very thin officer that swore and threatened to hurt me all the time. One day he was extremely angry; he held a hot flask of tea over my head and told me he was going to pour it over my head if I did not say things properly. I moved my head back, he moved his flask back to my head again and threatened to burn me. The week I was there I was threatened over and over again. But each time they actually wanted to go through with it, something would happen to distract them and the deed was not done. Every day from 8:00 A.M to 5:00 or 6:00 P.M I was waiting to be tortured. The true torture was the waiting.
Then one day they took me in the car. I could see life again; stores, people walking, buildings, houses….all the things I missed terribly. The smell of baked bread and sweets wafted through the air.
They took me into a store that sold kitchen stuff. They asked the staff if they sold the type of knife I had used. Then they asked the manager if he recognized me. He said he did not and that they did not sell that type of Swiss knife in his store. The officer gave the store manager his card and told him to call if he remembered anything. The manager said he doubts he would remember anything else. I realized that the authorities did not know what to say about the knife.
We left in the car again where I could see life continuing to exist on the streets. It was a Tuesday when I returned to Evin. Everyone was waiting for me. Many greeted me in tears because the rumor was that I had been transferred or “exiled” to another prison. One prisoner immediately gave me her phone card so I could call my family to let them know I am fine. They told me that my family had come to visit me and were very upset that I was not there. They had seen my mother crying. Everyone knew my mother by now. Sholeh, my mother, was well known for bringing items for the prisoners; clothes for those who had children in prison with them, their favorite foods and things like that. She would bring foods for them that they had not tasted for years.
I called my mother who started crying. She was so worried they had tortured me. She could not believe that I had not even been slapped. I realized that she had come to the headquarters everyday form the afternoon until evening. Praying and meditating. She said she would imagine protection all around me and would concentrate on it. She also said she had turned off the heat in the house so she would be as cold as I was in theheadquarters. In support with me she had refused to heat the house. Ever since she had found out in 2007 that prison food had no meat, she had stopped eating meat altogether. Our loving conversation lasted only 5 minutes but it gave me warmth.
Time was passing by very fast. It could be seen on the two trees in the yard. A new year was arriving and with some money I had managed to buy from an Arab prisoner I managed to get some sweets. Life went on even behind bars.
End of Part 8