Reyhaneh’s heartfelt essay and defense – Part 9

Reyhaneh’s heartfelt essay and defense – Part 9

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    I, Reyhaneh Jabbari am 26 years old and have been away from my home for almost 7 years. The prison hall is cold as usual and the heaters are all broken. Last night, I covered my socks with plastic bags and wore another pair of socks on them. The plastic bags kept the heat in and helped me to get warmer to get some sleep. The air I was breathing was freezing cold. I covered my head with the blanket and, in the darkness of the night thought of cold winter days. Winter—the season that has witnessed the execution of many well known women, such as Tayebeh, Shahla and many more. Even though I wanted to tell the events of my life in order, the cold weather caused me to remember all my court sessions. A few months before the trial I finally managed to have an attorney. He was a rather young man, named Mohammad Mostafayee. I vividly remember the first day I was called to meet with him. Mom had told me a lot about him and how he had other murder cases, defending teenagers under18 years of age. At the time of the incident I was only one year older than 18. Since the meeting was in person, I thought of taking some food for him. I found a peach cookie with much difficulty which would have been enough to thank him for defending me. Mostafayee had come with a tall, slender woman who was wearing a grey, striped suite. She was apparently his assistant. I put the cookie on the table. The assistant didn’t want any and he asked me to eat it myself. We talked for about half hour and I signed and finger printed three sheets of paper. He asked me about prison conditions and said I should stay emotionally strong. I laughed silently! I had been in prison for close to a year but had been through several years of hardship.

    I, Reyhaneh Jabbari am 26 years old. At this time, I am not afraid of anything in the world and don’t get surprised by anything. The prospect of death doesn’t scare me anymore, just as the prospect of a dream-like life doesn’t deceive me. I don’t judge anything based on its appearance, as in the past few years I have seen so many things that appeared to be good on the surface but there was evil in their depths. I met many people who had beautiful faces but were ugly monsters inside. However, when I had just turned 20 I feared death, loved life and romanticized it. I wanted my trial to start immediately as I was confident my freedom would come soon. I hated Sarbandi. He wasted one year of my life. I had reviewed the incident in my mind hundreds of times and later described how I had been deceived by his pious appearance. I had a dream about him before my trial started. I was in an old, multi-story building. It looked like the office of a newspaper. I was walking in high heels, carrying a glass of sugared water in my hands and no guards were with me. While going up the stairs, I decided to throw away the glass as I had no use for it. I bent and let go of the glass, but changed my mind and caught it before it touched the floor. I could hear the echo of my heels on the old stones. I entered a room and saw my father and Sarbandi standing there. They both passed out while still standing. I didn’t know what to do with the sugared water. I told my father, Sarbandi would bite me if I ignored him. I gave Sarbandi only a sip of the water and saved my father by giving the rest to him. When I woke up, I didn’t understand what the dream meant. Later, I got to know Kobra Rahmanipour, who was an expert in interpreting dreams. At age 20, she had murdered her old mother-in-law and was dubbed “the black bride”. She was a very nervous woman but was in charge of interpreting the dreams of the inmates.

    I, Reyhaneh Jabbari am 26 years old and I confess that I miss Kobra. She was freed a while ago while she was extremely scared of the streets and the people outside. A few years ago, I told her: “Kobra, you have become very well known. They have named a street after you, in Italy.” She didn’t believe me and with her high pitched voice said: “Get lost! What does Italy have to do with me?!” I told her: “I swear to god, my mom heard your name on TV.” But she did not believe me until others started saying the same thing and she got happy and twirled her hands in the air. And a minute later she went about her business as if nothing had happened. Kobra was a beautiful 20 year old who had married a 50 year old man with a 20,000 Tooman dowry. Her mother-in-law, Farrokh never acknowledged her as her daughter-in-law. She openly disrespected her and called her ugly and an illiterate pauper with no family. These were only a small part of what Farrokh did to her until she finally kicked her out of the house after giving her the 20,000 Tooman dawry ( very low equivalent to 30.00$). Kobra thought of revenge. She may have thought justice and law prevailed in this country, but she was wrong. She confronted Farookh, and Farrokh attacked her with a knife. She took the knife out of her hand and took vengeance for the humiliation of the 20,000 Tooman, the money Farrokh had paid to buy Kobra. Poor Kobra was taken to the gallows three times before the execution was cancelled. She was finally freed after 13 years. After the second time at the gallows, she looked like the walking dead. She walked, talked, ate and even laughed, but it was all fake and devoid of spirit, like a robot. Several times, I heard her saying she preferred death to this life. She preferred dying once to dying every day. She used to say, her crime was not murder, but poverty and illiteracy! When I said goodbye to her, she was confused, and scared of everyone, even her parents whom she loved. She, like me got to know the world in prison. My friend, Kobra, I miss you and your dream interpretations. I wish you could tell me if one can live free after being in prison for a long time! Can one have a normal life?

    When I, Reyhaneh Jabbari was 20 years old, I was gradually learning trial techniques. I was learning that a defendant is guilty even before trial and sentencing. I was learning that anyone who comes into contact with the legal system is guilty unless the opposite is proven. In the harsh winter days of 2008, after the second inspection, I realized that Inspector Shamloo had developed an indictment that his boss, Safar Khaki considered incomplete. Therefore, the new inspection started with going to the home goods store. A few days later, I found out that they had summoned Ehsan A. He was the person with whom I wanted to marry and share my life and build a future. Confused and scared, he had gone to the court with my mother. Shamloo had interrogated him. When Shamloo had noticed he had not gone there alone, he had threatened to arrest him. I thought that was so funny. I imagined Ehsan being incarcerated and upon his entrance to the prison he had to fill out a form and the reason for sentencing would be: “My future mother-in-law accompanying me to the criminal court.” Shamloo had tried his best to scare Ehsan and accuse him of being an accessory to murder. Ehsan had denied everything. As a result, the event had been recorded as a simple interrogation. One year later, I asked Mostafayee [Reyhaneh’s original lawyer] to bring me the report. He did and I read it. Ehsan who had been his family’s beloved and only son, had become depressed by the time our relationship had been severed. All the insecurities and fears had taken their toll in the long distance love. Occasionally, we talked about past memories on the phone and would end the call while we were both crying. His hand writing on the interrogation report showed he had been scared. Ah, many years have passed since I had his love in my heart and now, I have nothing but a memory. I remember the day I put an end to that love. I wrote on a piece of paper: “This was the best thing that happened to me because I am not attached to anyone anymore and therefore, am able to fight for myself.” Shamloo was gradually losing his mind. Some newspapers published interviews they had with him. He always talked about my arrest as a big victory, as if a hero had captured a powerful enemy in a fierce war. These interviews continued for a few years and each time a new detail was added. The miserable Shamloo even hated the boy I loved and wanted to treat him the worst possible way. He had reported that in his opinion my case was flawless. However, Khaki – the assistant prosecutor – had objected to some minor issues to make a stronger case so that it would not be rejected by the court. The poor man didn’t know that Judge Kooh-Kamarei would reject the case, asking to make it stronger. Shamloo, who had lost all his authority to two interrogators from the Ministry of Information and constantly talked about the opinions of someone named Shabani, had become delusional. One of his interesting delusions was this: We haven’t been able to find Sheykhi. We found someone named, Akhoundi in your phone directory. Is this the same person? Sheykh, Akhound? They had summoned and interrogated the poor guy. In several other occasions, I was forced to identify other people with the hope of finding Sheykhi. Shamloo had found few men with the name “sheykhi” recorded at the Registrar’s Office. One of the last ones was a man from the south of Iran. When I claimed not to know him, he man was overjoyed and said he was delighted not to know me but happy to be acquainted with me. He left as fast as he could. In his delusions, the miserable Shamloo developed a new theory. He said: “Reyhaneh, you have a creative mind. Sheykhi was possibly a creation of your delusions and imagination.” He was deceiving himself. By this time, I knew where Sarbandi worked and where their dreadful organization was connected to. Even during my horrific interrogation and when I was writing what was dictated to me, I could tell a strange story was being created. Starting that day, I repeatedly demanded to know how many stab wounds had Sarbandi received. When I didn’t get any replies I insistently said, I stabbed him once on the right side of his body. By then, I tried to make sure nothing more than what I had really done would be recorded in my file.

    I, Reyhaneh Jabbari am 26 years old and am recording what has happened to me in winter of 2014. I am now distracted by the laughter of a few women who are in the middle of their daily interactions. Now-Rooz is getting close and everyone is preparing something to the best of her ability. When I was waiting for Now-Rooz in 2008, I realized the long new year holidays were a time for group celebrations and that you have to create some means for these celebrations. I learnt how to make playing cards. The first few years, I used X-Ray film but later I learned to use old phone cards to make playing cards. These cards all look alike and can be stacked up. The inmates never stay idle and always find a way to party and get together, both for happy and sad occasions. Certain game that we all loved in childhood, were very popular among the inmates.

    I, Reyhaneh Jabbari met Shirin Alam-Holi while playing that particular game. I registered her when she was transferred from ward 209 to the public ward. I worked in the prison office then, and because Mrs. R was very busy I acted as her assistant. Mrs. R was a middle aged woman who had worked at the Evin Prison since 1980s and had seen and heard many things. I will dedicate a future section to this lady, what I learnt from her and the stories she told me about that particular decade. She deserves a section dedicated just to her. Shirin was a young Kurdish girl whose crime was security related. She took the upper bunk of a bed in ward number 2. She was very quiet. I don’t know whether she was quiet due to her political leanings or because she didn’t speak Farsi well. My knowledge of her was limited to observing her when she played this popular game. It was just a few days before her execution that I recognized her amazingly serene spirit. The day after her execution, the prison staff members told me she was executed together with some other people. While the others were arguing with the officers and the supervising judge, Shirin spoke up and said: “Why are you arguing so much? We are going to be executed. So, calm down and don’t delay it. Let’s get it over with.” Apparently, they executed her first, and the four other men later. As far as I know, her family still doesn’t know where she has been buried. Shirin didn’t tell me much about her family. In the women prison, there isn’t much interaction between the political and ordinary inmates. I will later explain why there is such a gap between these two groups, if I have a chance. My young uncle passed away in a foreign country close to Now-Rooz 2009. Even though he was far away, I loved him and his death was a big shock for me. I learnt then, that you can plan a memorial service in prison. A staff member brought me candles and black ribbon and we could get dates and halva. Everyone attended my uncle’s memorial, dressed in black but I wore a navy blue outfit. Sholeh refused to bring me a black dress no matter how much I insisted. She didn’t want me to wear black and her reasoning was I had enough sorrow and danger in my life. Conducting a memorial service in prison has a different set of rituals. As we all know, memorial services last a few hours. In the outside world, friends and particularly neighbors are very considerate of the grieving family and don’t have joyous celebrations for a while. However, everyone is your neighbor in prison. So, even though all the inmates visit the grieving person, the next day they are free to celebrate a happy occasion. I attended many memorial services, including one for Shahla’s father who got sick a short while before Shahla’s execution and with much hardship, her family got permission for her to go and visit her dying father. I even attended the memorial service for Soheila P, a 19 year old woman who committed suicide in prison. She had been married at age 15 and even had a baby. However, this child-mother didn’t have the capacity for life responsibilities and had killed her baby. She moved to the Council Ward when it was formed. Life was different in the Council Ward. Everyone was silent and took heavy doses of medication every night. They all had bad headaches, so always wore scarves on their heads. The only advantage of this new ward was that you could cook your own meals. I moved there for a while just to be able to cook. It may be due to the variety of food I had there, that I don’t have any cravings now. I cooked any meals I had seen or eaten at home. I saw Soheila right after she had jumped from the second floor of that ward. The floor was covered with blood and Soheila’s head had been cut open. Everyone was restless and screaming. A few staff members were sitting on the stairs and didn’t have the strength to stand up. The sound of screams in the confined area alerted the officials. Soheila was still alive. She didn’t move but was breathing. A few hours later, there was no sign of the accident. She was announced brain dead and her organs were donated to others, and as told by her mother, her lifeless body was put to rest in the section reserved for the warriors. Her mother sent me a letter through Sholeh to find out if someone had pushed Soheila. I asked around and realized that she alone was responsible for her death. She may have gotten weary before her time or may have slipped. However, no one else was responsible for her death. A little after my uncle’s passing, Now-Rooz arrived. Even though I never liked Sholeh’s spring cleanings, I learnt the value of cleanliness in prison. The outdoors walking area was filled with washed sheets and clothes. It was so busy that we had to sit and wait for our belongings to dry, so that we wouldn’t lose them. If we left, you would lose an outfit and would see someone else wearing it a few days later. Everything, including the walls, hallways, staircases, beds, carpets and rugs were washed. The prison store sold sweets and every day, long lines were formed in front of it. The joy and excitement of Now-Rooz was completed with a Haft-Seen spread that we created, each item of which we had found from a different place. The only missing item was a gold fish, of which we were happy to have a picture. Mrs. R brought me some flower seeds which I planted in a tin can. I bought some decorative items from prisoners who had just entered from the outside world and received the new dresses that Sholeh had bought and delivered to prison. Everything was ready. However, when the New Year arrived except for a few, all of us cried and sobbed as if a disaster had happened. When our tears ran out, we gradually became our normal selves. Some started dancing and playing imaginary musical instruments. Their joy and laughter was contagious. An hour later, we were all happy as if we had never cried. That was when I experienced joy and sorrow simultaneously. And that was how I started experiencing depression. My restless soul was happy for a moment and filled with nightmares a minute later. I started showing trivial behavioral changes. I talked loudly, started developing ticks, talked aggressively and….. Sholeh noticed these changes during our in person visits. A little before the anniversary of that ominous incident – with my mom’s insistence – everyday, I started calling one of her friends who was a psychoanalyst. Our conversations tortured me and drove me crazy. Sholeh’s persistence for making these calls frustrated me. If I didn’t make the call one day, she would use her mother power on me and begged, yelled or made me promise: Reyhan, swear to my life that you would call. And I would say: Ok, Mom! And she would repeat: Don’t forget. You swore to my life. All the clothes she sent me in the summer of 2009, were orange or had orange in them. She even sent me a bright orange shawl and asked me to install it on the roof of my bunk bed. The shawl created a beautiful atmosphere around my bed. I didn’t understand her persistence in talking to the psychoanalyst and did it only to make her happy. However, I realized the significance of it later. When I was in charge of giving out the prisoners’ anti depressant medication, I noticed some who became restless because of small issues and took tons of medication. Some even needed more than they were given and bought them from others. In the fall of 2009 I realized that the same orange color and the seemingly unimportant phone calls saved me from depression.

    I, Reyhaneh Jabbari am 26 years old and have overcome many obstacles and dangers in the past few years. They have ranged from struggling against a man, to struggling against the interrogators, the inspectors and the environment. However, the toughest struggle was the one I had with myself. After the first anniversary of Sarbandi’s death which had happened with a knife I pushed into his arm, I performed a surgery on my heart and soul using an invisible knife. There was turmoil inside me while I looked silent, and controlled my tears. I was unfolding the hidden corners of my soul. I had a fragmented picture of myself. To retrieve a clear and smooth picture of myself I had to scream in silence, repeatedly. I reduced my work hours for a while. Mrs. R was aware of the commotion within me. She realized that my body could not bear my soul anymore. However, I personally didn’t realize that I was going through a transformation, was observing my bare soul and was getting to know myself again. The hardest days of my inner journey started in summer of 2009, right when I went deep into my cocoon and became quieter than before. My family recognized this change and thought I was still depressed. My unfocused mind tortured me and I was exhausted from associating with others. I felt a thousand years old and my essence was filled with death. I felt my face was wrinkled and my back hunched over, unaware that my aged soul had influenced my entire life. I had deep regrets for the lost life, the happiness that I possessed and abandoned in an instant. I longed for flying in the limitless sky. I surrounded myself with a wall within the prison walls of Evin and practiced dying. In my imaginations, I died over and over again. I cried repeatedly without shedding a tear drop. There were seeds growing within my soul and under my skin. No one but me knew that I was about to be reborn.

    End of Part 9