Mehrangiz Kar is a professional feminist lawyer and writer and one of the recently officially condemned speakers of Berlin's Conference
In one of the spring evenings of the year of Whale, I was sent to Evin Prison. The officials delivered me to prison's authorities. They collected the receipt and left. Immediately, I was to struggle with the vehicles that were responsible for the transfer of the prisoners inside the prison's yard. Vehicles that look like hearse. By the slightest pressure that the driver's foot exerted on the break or speed pedal, they take off and people like me without any previous experience, are violently thrown up and down. This happens only once. Soon the prisoner acquires enough experience to grab the old seats and rods with all her/his might and learns to protect her/his life with all possible tricks and deceits from any probable earthly calamity. That is the main reason for their great fear of old prisoners. An iron net-like door is installed next to the driver with a soldier standing always beside it. Once the prisoner enters the vehicle, the soldier locks that door from the driver's side. Lest the prisoner would escape. The driver wears the prison's uniform too. Usually, when a woman prisoner is transferred from one section to another, there is always a woman guard escorting her, lest a rumor would start to disseminate. Any way, the band I was transferred to was on the steep side of the hill and after that there was nothing except the barbed wires the boundary of freedom seen on the far distance.
In the prison's office, the necessary procedures were carried out for my entrance. Immediately they took away my own black Chador (a long special top covering the whole body) and replaced it with a not very clean dark blue one decorated with many 'scales of justice.' I was then directed to the band. The conscript soldier rang the bell installed on the entrance door several times. The sound of the bell was really deafening, but it took a long time before the woman guard appeared on threshold of the door. Later I discovered that the resting place of guards is situated at the end of a long corridor therefore, it takes them quite a long time to first put on their Chador, take the keys and walk the whole way to the entrance door. Once I crossed this door, I saw a large garden full of flowers and other plants in front of me. I was delighted. But alas, such a soundless joy it was as I was at once directed to the right side of that beautiful place. I climbed several steps and entered a smaller place that was a part of that larger yard. It was separated from that beautiful yard by a tall wall. The smaller space was the airing place of women prisoners of the solitary band and that larger and more beautiful space belonged to men of the same band. Good God. Even in the prison we have to pay for our sexuality that we have no will or role in determining it. In order to reduce this tremendous oppression, the women prisoners, had planted flowers in that small place to feel that they have a garden too. They sometimes sit beside it and enjoy themselves. But because of this very tiny-planted area, the whole space is now even smaller. There is a rope in the remaining area covered by clothes and blankets, the washed clothes of women prisoners. We cross this airing area and reach another door that is directly connected to the solitary band of women. I was carrying the chador they had given me with a feeling of disgust. Fortunately, the next day there arrived this order that I can use my own chador. A very timely order. We entered a corridor. The cells were aligned on both sides. The small windows located on the cell doors were closed. With the clinking sound of the key that the guard was turning in the key hole, the door of a cell opened. The cell was illuminated with the pale fading light of a lamp hanging from the ceiling. Fortunately, there is no mirror in prisons and one can not see one's stunned face. The floor of the cell was covered like a carpet by dirty pieces that carried the sign of the dried vomiting of the previous prisoners. There were two dirty blankets decorated by many scales of justice. I wrapped myself with my chador. Feeling cold, I then crawled underneath the 'scales of justice'. It seems that the angel of justice has found nowhere better than the prisoners clothes and those blue blankets that even if clean, they constantly produce fuzz, for her business. The metallic toilet with its large opening and small base and a moveable lid was indeed infectious. Dried dirt was stuck to its inner walls. It clearly showed that there was no such thing as cleaning and disinfecting toilets after a prisoner leaves the cell. Whenever I felt really nauseated of crawling all over the dirty surface of the cell, I would close the lid of that toilet and sit on it and massage my feet. What flowed from the water tap on top of the sink situated on the right side of the cell, is apparently the water from a well. During the first four weeks that I was spending a totally solitary term, I didn't know that the water is not drinkable. I drank it without having the slightest idea about its origin. Later I learnt that due to the costly price of plumbing, it is only the solitary band of men situated right on the top of that of women's that enjoys the clean water of the city. I discovered that when I had taken in enough bacteria and parasites. Of course for the personnel they brought clean water in plastic vessels from upstairs.
Gradually I got used to the environment. I found a half-opened window near the ceiling that brought in the fresh air of that garden to the stinking solitary cells. I quickly got used to the putrid smell of the cell. So much so that it really astonished me to see the guard covering her nose with her scarf each time that she majestically opened the small window on the door to check me. I was warned on the very first night not to talk to people in other cells. I felt like laughing, as it was difficult to believe that such a thing is at all possible. But, on that very first night, my co-prisoners who were mostly drug-addicts or condemned to drug distribution, prostitution and pocket-picking and...made me realize that everything is possible even in the solitary cells. It is just enough to be a veteran prisoner and inspire fear in everybody even in the guards. A woman prisoner sang with a beautiful voice every night at four o'clock in the morning and in this way scattered the fragrance of life all over the band. She always communicated with the inhabitants of the band by singing an old song:
In a stony wall/two windows are imprisoned/two tired, two lonely/one is you and the other is me/I wish that wall would break down/to kill me and you/to hold hands in another world...
My next discovery was that the prisoners sometimes talked to those upstairs that is men through the hole of the public toilet and in this way they emptied their chest of that very heavy feeling of loneliness. They could very well be punished for that, but they have enough experience not to fear it.
Anyhow, they immediately provided me with washing powder and soap. But I had to pay for tissue papers. During the night, the small window on the door that could only be opened and closed from outside would be banged several times, each time making me to jump fearfully. Finally, the guard said, why do you jump, we would check you constantly up to the daybreak. I was ashamed to say that this is the first time that I was imprisoned and hopefully I will perform better next time.
At daybreak, I found that half-opened window near the ceiling so dirty that its glass was totally brown. Later when I mentioned that, I was told that the glasses should not be transparent as it is possible that women prisoners would talk to the men passing outside. I got used to the culture of the prison more as time passed and adapted myself to the accessible facilities. The pipes installed on the surface of the walls around the cell changed into my wardrobe. I got used to the doctors visiting us at night too. Kindly they would count our heartbeats, would take our blood pressure, prescribe tranquilizers so that my heart that was beating like the heart of a sparrow would calm down. They were scared of heart attacks, in that case this or that person could be blamed for it. They didn't know that cancerous cells were developing and spreading in the body of this new prisoner and the tumor was growing rapidly due to psychological pressures.
I was allowed to go outside for 20 minutes eveyday. However, all alone, lest to make contact with other prisoners. It was the guard that could decide when I should go outside. I would walk around the place alone and would keep hitting that rope. I spent the nights with the sound of the women prisoners singing songs, the screams of the rebelling women and the sound of crying of the children that were with their mother in the solitary cells. The worst part was the ceaseless sound that was produced by the veteran prisoners striking a tube against the toilet lids. In this way they expressed their anger and rage, but all that would keep me awake the whole night.
The band had the number 209 engraved on all its furniture and utensils, as though it has a twin with the same number somewhere else in Evin prison entertaining the prisoners. I never found out what may be the appropriateness of this similarity in name. I forget that only the kings know what is appropriate for their land! I heard that the band is also called sanatorium. I don't know how the conditions of that band can be similar to a sanatorium. Perhaps, I would understand the meanings of all these terms better next time. Although I am used to the repugnant air of my cell, but the nocturnal insomnia is still unbearable. Particularly on the days of my trial when a car from the revolution court would be waiting for me at six o'clock in the morning in front of the main entrance door and I would join them staggering due to the insomnia.
One of my discoveries was that the baneful evil women that were spending their term of imprisonment in the public band of women prison were sent to this band as punishment whenever they committed any unlawful act. They were kept here until they were punished and regretful and would thereby surrender to the prison regulations. That is why there were always some of these evil guests around. They were transferred to this band usually in the middle of the night and with a lot of boisterous banging and hitting. It took hours to make them give in to enter the cell. One day while taking one of these evil guests back to the public band, I heard her say, I am sorry to leave this band, as there is mobile phone here. The other individual that I don't know who she could be, asked her what do you mean? The prisoner said, I mean the hole in the public toilet, it is possible to talk to upstairs through it like a mobile phone.
Anyway, it was impossible to sleep while these people were around, they would break the windows, curse and swear, would keep on hitting and hurting themselves until morning and often when the morning personnel took over, they would give them sleeping pills in order to calm down the atmosphere. With their 'tranquility' my 'tension' would start simultaneously as I would have to get prepared to go to the Revolution Court for a trial. In fact the person that was punished was not them, but me. Their presence was an added torture to that of being in a solitary cell. A torture with the same nature as insomnia and all its known secondary effects. Sometimes it occurred to me that perhaps there is a deliberate intention in punishing the rebellious prisoners exactly at the nights before my trial and there is an innovative hand to make my suffering and insomnia to appear natural. But immediately, I would regret it and swallow down my wrath.
Once the solitary term was over, I was transferred to another cell in the same band with Mrs. Shahla Lahiji sharing it. To a cell twice as large as a solitary one, or a cell for two 'solitaries.' At this stage I could freely go to the airing area. It was then that I really found out that all the prisoners of that band were either drug addict or drug dealer or thief or smuggler or... The addicts that were apparently going through the withdrawal period, would swear at authorities and would not stop cursing until they were given the pills they were asking for. Where in the world would they put addicts in a solitary cell in order to quit?particularly together with their children? There was no security for the guards and nobody could guess what can happen if they are attacked by one of these wild rebels. Who could save these poor guards?
There was always a tub in the middle of the airing space with a prisoner washing her blanket or clothes in it. In addition, if the guard were obsessive, she would bring her own rope, hanging it on another side of that small airing space. As the result there was not much room left for walking. There were also the huge pans and pots of food, both for the prisoners and the personnel. Those pots holding the prisoners' food had no lid, therefore, they were under the attack of mosquitoes before they were delivered next day. One night as the personnel responsible for the supper (potatoes and boiled eggs) left the pot behind the door and went on their own way, before the guards managed to transfer it inside, hungry crows ate all the eggs.
After ten days, the clothes that my family had brought me were finally delivered to me and I finally could take a shower and change. Once I entered the shower area, I was appalled. All the showers were broken and dry. There was only one from which a small current of water as small as a mouse's tail was pouring. While washing my hair, I was carefully watching the ceiling to make sure lest a beetle or aother animal might fall down.
Under these conditions, I found amazing cases of social damages and got familiar with the different ways that the personnel treated the prisoners. Some of the guards (they were all women) represented pure manifestations of humanity with their patient manner of behavior. One of the prison deputies would visit me often and while staring at the floor she would ask me to tell her what I may need so that she would satisfy them as much as possible. It was the same person who ordered to cover my cell with floor mats and to give me new blankets. It was she who put the book of Koran with her own hand in my cell. And when I started to share cell with Mrs. Lahiji, they equipped the new cell as much as the limited potentialities of the prison organization allowed. I will never forget the respectful behavior of the conscript soldiers who accompanied me from the band to the exit door and vice versa. As though these young men were my own children that each time that I returned from the court, they would restlessly ask me:
'Haven't they changed the arrangements of your arrest? Why?'
I will not forget the compassionate look of certain women of my band, those very addicted women who were quitting their addiction, and the kisses they sent me whenever the small windows on the door of their cells were opened. When one of them asked me: 'how long is it that you are quitting drugs?' I was happy to hear that as it proved I haven't said anything wrong. She was right, I was quitting an addiction too. I was to be punished so that I would never say that there is something wrong with this or than legal article and clause. It is true that quitting addiction is a hard work. For both those addicted to drugs and those inquisitors that only criticize and do not pay attention to those active in the war of power. Those who do not even dream of becoming a minister or ...
My withdrawal took 53 days. Four weeks in the solitary cell of the solitary band and then another few weeks in the same cell as Mrs. Lahiji. But did it really work? Like those women living adjacent to me now, as soon as I got away from the prison, I went back to my close circle of friends and craved for my own type of drugs that is some words or remarks that could satiate my thirst. It is quite clear that putting political or press prisoners in the same band as criminals, prostitutes, addicts... is quite questionable and it is not in accordance with any international criteria. But what can be done about it? Where is that place to appeal? After all 'every word has its own place and every remark has its own relevance!'
On the whole, what happened to me is worth the price paid. It was there that I realized that the women guards have even no can-opener and they have to open the can with a knife that can cut a vessel any time.
The male prisoners, when transferred from the solitary band to the public one, would find their own kind quickly. Particularly those settled in the band assigned to the state personnel. We are deprived of this right because of our sexuality. Even if we were sent to the public band there would be no empathic space for us. Women in the public band are all condemned to the above few sins. Therefore, their condemnation has nothing to do with ours. So in addition to the ordinary deprivations of prisons, we have to carry the heavy burden of solitude.
On the basis of these findings, when I was temporally released by leaving a security equivalent to 50 millions toumans, I nearly burst out crying when I heard that some of the men in the public band assigned to the state personnel had asked for their swimming custom. I remembered how I kept asking my fifteen years old daughter to bring me black thick chador and dark maghnaeh (Islamic scarf) and black thick stockings while male prisoners can have other aspirations once they are definitely condemned to prison terms.
Despite all that, our era is a good era. The taboos are breaking one after the other. Do you remember the days when they said 'prison is the place of men?' Do you remember the time when men turned the hair of their moustache and talked proudly about their prison remembrances? Now people like me, although we have no moustache or beard to boast, have hidden an ocean of mental findings in our chest, in just a short period of imprisonment. This is a drop of that ocean put on the paper.
-- Translated for payvand.com by Roya Monajem, firstname.lastname@example.org
... Payvand News - 2/2/01 ... --