I, Reynaeh Jabbari, am 26 years old. What I have learnt is that prison makes you old and withered when you are in the apex of your youth and efflorescence. The tragedy begins when you try to find the guilty party after the event that has put you in prison. You start reviewing the past and remember the details of your life. Remembering freedom makes you desire it and you lose patience and tolerance.
I remember the evenings in spring of 2007 when, I Reyhaneh Jabbari returned home from the office or university and sat in front of the computer and searched the worldwide web. I always loved technology. I enjoyed the fact that the internet had made the world smaller and finding answers to questions easier. I liked to know the world, the people, the nature, the past and the future. There was a site called “360 Degrees” where you could find new friends and chat with old classmates who were far away now. You would see the latest jokes, pop music, new songs by foreign artists and chats that were appealing to careless and happy years of youth. I sometimes laughed hard reading the group chats and the messages we left for each other.
One depressing afternoon, I called home [from prison]. My sister said that Maryam had commented on 360 that she missed me and felt my presence every moment. Maryam was my childhood friend who was my mother’s favorite before I was born. She was two years older than me. We were each other’s playmate, companion and confidant. Maryam, her brother Mohammad whom my mother had nursed and we considered as our brother, my two sisters and I had formed a group who all my friends knew of, before my prison term. It was called the “Five Kids”. My childhood and early youth memories are filled with the presence of the “Five Kids”. I remember the long games we had that sometimes messed up the entire house and my mother had to clean up our mess the next day. I was sad and jealous when I heard Mayam had left me a message. I was angry to have been thrown to a prison corner. I wished that everyone would be prevented from doing what they did. I wished the time would stop and start again when I returned home. But my wishes never came true and the world turned as before. Every day, some people were freed and others incarcerated. Routine life continued in prison. I hated myself. A hatred was growing in my heart which I didn’t like but felt its presence more every moment. I started recognizing this inner feeling on the day Fariba – an inmate of the “mothers with children” ward – brought me a little spaghetti. I ate it with a strange joy and voracity. I never thought I would crave so much for food, but that damned food made me recognize the new “me”. I had always been proud and hated gluttony. I had never asked my friends for food. I always received less than I gave to others. I followed rules that had been instilled in me since childhood. But I didn’t share any of that damned spaghetti with anyone. I chewed every little bite repeatedly. I didn’t want it to be finished. Many hours after eating it, there was still an intense struggle in my mind, a struggle between me and myself! I kept thinking: “how was everything ruined? How did I turn my back to everything that was important to me?” My internal search made me realize that the cause of all the emptiness and futility was the event that had brought me to prison, and the trust I had bestowed on a pious face. That realization was a sudden and strange jolt, just as if you are sleeping and electricity goes through your body. You wake up but are confused. I was awake and saw myself, but was totally lost and confused. I had been dumb-struck and crushed under the debris of my own image. All the images in my mind had been ruined. I could not observe and believe the destruction of my spirit.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, am 26 years old and cannot continue remembering how I came to know myself. I still feel sad and hurt when I think about the confusion and vagrancy of my mind and spirit in the summer of 2008. I may look back at this old world again if I get a chance and stay alive. With the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, I started thinking about restoration of my messy and confused thoughts. I started making strange plans that seemed impossible at the time, i.e. continuing my education. At the time, I worked at the Counseling Office. In a way, I was Mrs. R’s assistant. Her real name was Mansooreh ….o. All the prison staff had pseudonyms but that was not important. Mrs. R liked me and I liked her. I could clearly see the surprise in her eyes, when I first told her I wanted to continue my education. She opposed the idea immediately. I had just finished the first stage of my own struggle and was therefore more persistent than her. I reiterated my desire everyday and she came up with a new excuse to discourage me. She would say: we can’t allow professors in prison and I would say: I don’t need to have professors here; I would get the study material and study by myself. She would say: we don’t have anyone to administer the exams and take them to your university, and I would say: my father would carry them to the university. She would say: it is not possible to have computers in prison and I would reply: I will send a request to the general manager of Prisons Affairs. She would then say: The Prison Affairs doesn’t have a budget for purchasing computers and I would reply: I will have my own computer brought from home. She would reply: That is not possible because the prison officials would not accept any equipment you can hide something in. I would say: I will pay the prison officials to buy me a computer. He won’t hide something inside. Whatever she said, I would come up with a different solution but I could not find any way to continue my education. I thought to myself, the only way to continue life in face of the idle and routine life in prison was studying. I even thought of repeating high school education if I could not continue my college studies. I said, I would like to earn another high school diploma. She laughed and asked: What major do you want to study? I said: Humanities. There was practically no book in the prison library that I had not read, ranging from cheap popular novels to literary masterpieces, religion and spirituality to history and geography. That same week, sent a request for new books to the director of Evin prison. Contrary to Shahr-Rey Prison that received only two newspapers – Ettela’at and Hemaayat – there were several different newspapers in Evin, newspapers that would inform the inmates of the latest events. The political prisoners, who associated with one another, sometimes analyzed the contents of the newspapers. Many of their analyses seemed funny to me. It was as if they were drowned in their visions and did not observe the reality, an example of which was the women prisoners, their lives, dreams and lifestyle. Among all the different newspapers, I read Ham-Shahri, Etemad and Jame-Jam more than others and cover to cover. Sometimes, the louder inmates disturbed my solitude. They started fooling around by treating the classified ads as games. They picked ads for sales of homes or cars and pretended they were the buyer or the seller. These were small excuses to remember their freedom and their lives. After all the fooling around, they gradually became quiet and started talking about being homesick and depressed. But I never showed my depression and homesickness. I always listened. To get away from depressing thoughts, I had become more persistent about continuing my education. The more I insisted, the more Mrs. R ignored me. At least she pretended to ignore my request, while without my knowledge she had talked to her managers about them. Finally on a rainy afternoon, before leaving her office, she called me and said: you have a chance to continue your education if you change your major and take the university entrance exam again. My heart was filled with excitement. One week later, I had the necessary study material that my mom had purchased in my hands. Four other inmates joined me in this effort. The plan was to register at “Payam-E-Nour” University. The new goal of continuing education, not being idle and building a bridge to the future was making me feel closer to the world outside. Even though none of us passed the entrance exam, we spent some time competing in our studies and preparing for the exam. At the height of our struggles in prison, we learnt to spend a big part of our energies for higher purposes. Solving problems, asking questions from others, reviewing common lessons and memorizing poetry and historical events taught me that the planning process for achieving a goal is more important than the goal itself. One thing I learned in this period of my life was that, nothing becomes completely and wholly available to you. You have to achieve your goals by taking one step at a time. My mother had told me about a man who had learnt English in prison. He had found a dictionary and learnt a new word everyday and after many years in prison had leant to talk in that language. The man was Jamaleddin Assad-Abadi. I wanted to tell myself after leaving prison, that my life had not passed in idleness and vanity. I wanted to study Industrial Engineering, what a sweet dream! When I am free, no one will say my life was wasted, no one will pity me, no one will think: Poor soul, her youth was lost. What is she going to do now, completely idle? I hated the sympathy and pity of others. But I had to pass through the courts to gain my freedom. I was waiting impatiently. My repeated phone calls to my father and Mostafayee resulted in my request for an early court proceeding to be presented and accepted. The date was set for November of 2008. My mother was against that date. She felt a later court date would psychologically prepare me better. She knew better than anyone that my internal struggles had not ended and felt an early court date would cause me more emotional turmoil. I celebrated my birthday to escape from my anxiety. I turned 21 on November 5th, 2008. It was the second year that my mom was celebrating my birthday alone, without me. My grandparents and aunt had gotten permission from the Evin Court to visit me. The eight of us had a quiet celebration. I had made a cake and in lieu of gifts they had all deposited money in my prison account. But my dad bought me a pendant with the picture of a scale, which he slipped into my hand. He mentioned the scale was a metaphor for hope for justice. I had it around my neck for a while. A few months later, a prison guard found it and returned it to my mother. She still wears it, hoping for justice. I arranged a big party at my ward. I ordered a cake which I paid too much for, but enjoyed it nevertheless.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, at age 21 spent one of the best days of my life among the most down-trodden, distressed women, women who had spent all their lives either in prison or in card board boxes on the streets. These were women who remembered finding a refrigerator card board box as great luck in their lives because it protected their bodies from the rough bridges and railways they slept at. There were people at my birthday who were either executed later (which made me very sad) or felt they were treated like human beings for the first time, people who had been invited to a celebration for the first time. These same people who never had visitors and never had a good meal to eat, brought me gifts, ranging from phone cards to greeting cards to self made dolls. They gave me scarves, a blouse, pictures and handmade bags, hair clips, hair bands, stockings, hats and hand woven sweaters. Mrs. R had allowed us to borrow a tape player from the office to have a fun afternoon and had told the evening guard to let us stay up till midnight. Words cannot describe the happiness in our ward. There were all styles of dancing, fooling around, endless laughter and momentary joy. We used the office tape player till 10 pm. After that, we used spoons, plates, pots, buckets and anything that could make noise and played them till a little after midnight. Sharing the large cake created a good story of that evening. With that birthday celebration, I repaid what I owed and was freed from the heavy guilt of eating that damned spaghetti that I had not shared with anyone. I was free to focus on my studies and court proceedings. I wanted to be free. I didn’t want to owe anything to myself when I was freed from prison and my lungs were filled the air of freedom. And I was counting the days for my court to start. The news of my court date was given on December 12, 2008 in Etemad newspaper. Tomorrow was my assigned court date. But I wasn’t feeling good. I was afraid and worried. I was sorry and wished the date had not arrived. I wished I had not requested an early court date. My doubt and hesitation indicated that I didn’t have the required mental stability yet and my internal struggle had not ended. That night my father comforted me: Dearest, go to bed earlier tonight. Don’t think about anything. Everything will turn out fine. God is great. My mother was bringing me food that evening. I asked her to bring me my favorite dish from my free days. I had tasted it many times with the “Five Kids”. I had repeatedly talked to Shahla, Tayebeh, Azam and many others about my trial. Shahla had told me that during her court proceedings and interrogation her teeth were broken but when she reported it to court, the judge had not believed her and she had been forced to repeat what she had said during the interrogation. Another person showed me a part of her head that still had no hair and mentioned that part of her hair was pulled out from the roots and bled when the interrogator was pulling it. But again, when she reported that to the judge, he did not accept it. Tayebeh mentioned she had been severely beaten but no one believed her. She was nervous and took anti-depressants. She complained of nervous pains and said she would never forgive Judge Hemmatyar. But Azam mentioned: Before you were here, they severely beat up a woman to confess to a murder. All her bones were broken. I don’t know how she managed to get the evidence from the Forensics Office and proved that she was beaten. She wrote to Shahroodi and he followed it up. She is free now and is filing a complaint with the officials. Shahla and some others said: there is no use. You have to repeat whatever you have confessed before; otherwise you will put yourself in deeper trouble. They may take you to the Police Department again. I however, had decided to expose all the people who had harassed me. As soon as I was in front of the judge, I was going to tell him to accept everything I had said up to the third day. I was going to explain everything completely. I was going to have Kamali summoned so that he could say everything the agents had done. I was going to personally explain the contradictions in my confessions. The judge could not stand up to my logic. Good days were waiting for me.
End of Part 10