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Evin is not that bad

2/5/01 By: Shirin Ebadi, lawyer
Source: Payam Emrooz, Monthly Review

When I went to visit my friend, colleague and ex-client, Ms. Kar, I told her in a semi-humorous semi-serious tone, 'I requested them to put you in the best cell.' I understood the true meaning of what I had told her when fifteen days later, that is on the seventh day of the fist month of summer1379 (27/5/00), I was transferred to the ward called 209 of Evin Prison. As soon as the two night guards (women) saw the papers, they told me kindly, 'we will give you Ms. Kar's cell.'

I entered the cell, the sight of its small window and its soiled floor mat disturbed me. I frowned. One of those women said, 'if you don't like it, you can have a look at other empty cells. Take any one that you like '- after visiting other cells I realized that they indeed had reserved the best cell for me, that is the one that Ms. Kar lived in.

Quite kind were the guards of Ward 209. There are nearly 30 solitary cells in this ward. When I was there, only half of the cells were occupied. I was not allowed to see anybody. I could use the small airing space only when no other soul was around. However, by what I could hear in the Ward and the conversation I had with the prison guards, I gathered that the overwhelming majority of prisoners there had something to do with drugs and addiction. The woman in the adjacent cell was an addict that had recently quitted her addiction and asked for a cigarette every half an hour. If her request were not immediately gratified, she would scream and cry out loud, 'I used to take 5 grams of Heroine a day and now I desperately need a cigarette.' The prisoners were very aggressive and foulmouthed. The pettiest things would make them scream and curse everything and everybody specially the authorities. The interesting point was that none of these screaming and cursing would affect the w ay the authorities treated the prisoners.

The food was enough, but it was divided in a very calculated and rationed way. Twice a day they distributed tea and if anybody missed the first run for any reasons, she had to wait for the next time. Later when I started to suffer from some digestive disorders I realized that the tap water was not the purified water of the city, but it was supplied by a well nearby. I couldn't sleep at nights because of the screaming of the prisoners who asked for more sleeping pills.

On the third day the guard notified me to observe our hejab (Islamic covering) as the head of the ward was coming for inspection. A few minutes later an angry man stepped into my cell and while inspecting my bag and other objects present in the cell he repeatedly asked: 'to whom did you want to give the telephone number?'- Completely stunned and without knowing what he meant by that, I just said; 'this is another intrigue and excuse to punish me for my activities.' No matter how much I tried, I was unable to answer him like my neighbors, that is to give him the kind of answer that would suit all the accusations and insults they were throwing at me. At the end of his inspection when he failed to find anything in my cell the man told the guards, she is not allowed to go to the airing space until I tell you and he left me with a world of amazement and wonder. One of the two women who was now more affectionate than before, said; 'Damn that law college you studied in. Why the hell couldn't you defend yourself? Why didn't you tell him that when the guards inside the ward have not given them any reports how on earth could he know that you wanted to exchange telephone number? Why is he condemning you so soundlessly?' Foolishly, I looked at her and said, 'there is a new intrigue coming up.' Like a sister she touched my shoulder and said, 'trust in God.'

On the next night, it was at eleven o'clock when two women closed my eyes, took me into a car and transferred me to another building. The interesting point was that the new ward was also called '209.' In other words, there were two wards with exactly the same name only 800 meters apart - it was said in the new ward that this is the ward assigned to political prisoners. In the section allocated to women, there were ten cells, all empty. There were four guards working in two shifts. In the new ward the quality of food was better. They would give me tea whenever I asked for it. It was up to me to choose when to eat and as one of the guards said, 'in fact it seemed that they were my prisoners and not the other way round.' There was nothing to complain about, except the whole place was devoid of life and human spirit. There were no insult or punishment, but the behaviors were quite calculated and the words stereotyped. They took away all my belongings even my spectacles, although there were nothing to read.

Loneliness and silence could drive one crazy. I was missing my ex-neighbors' cursing and swearing. I wish there were somebody banging against the iron door at night asking for a cigarette. I wish...Silence and loneliness was a good opportunity for contemplation and calculation of the victories and failures in life. I realized that although I was imprisoned, but I was relieved to think about the daily chores. I didn't need to worry about the article I had promised to write or a coming trial. In prison, there were no students asking whether I did get a chance to look at their thesis. There was no need to worry about cooking dinner for my husband and children. Surely, somebody would be found to pay for the mortgage. There was surely somebody who would take care of my duty in the society supporting the rights of children and... Therefore, prison was not that bad after all and as the proverb says, 'one had the chance to drink a glass of cool water there.'

As time passes the guards get kinder and come out of their hard solid shell, particularly when they notice that the new prisoner is used to take refugee in the Creator in her loneliness, is quite and does not expect much. Often she sends back half of her food...

But the solitary cell gradually starts to become hallucinating particularly because one is not allowed to write and read. They give you no books to read, no papers to write on. (I was not allowed to read for eighteen days. After that I was could borrow books from the library.)

A few days later all the physical pain that I had been suffering since a few years ago exacerbated. Sciatic, palpitation, dyspnea, hypertension and stuttering. I hate myself for being so weak. I try not to complain. I would just press my teeth against each other and would flex my fingers hard - my nails have turned blue because of the intensity of the pressure - but never would I groan.

I try to remember who said, 'we are not born to suffer'. I can't remember. Wrathfully, with the end of a spoon I try to engrave on the cement wall of the cell, 'we are born to suffer because we are born in the third world - space and time are imposed on us. Therefore, there is nothing to do except to stay patient.'

Rupture and the Decline of National Identity

-- Translated for by Roya Monajem,

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