A Letter of Hope, Courage and Love from Evin to Rajai Shahr Prison
By: Jila Baniyaghoob, Imprisoned Journalist and Women’s Rights Activist
Wednesday 17 October 2012
Change for Equality: Jila Baniyaghoob, women’s rights activist and journalist who is currently serving her one year prison term in Evin prison, has written a letter to her journalist husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amouie, who is serving a 5 year prison term in Rajaee Shahr prison. The following is the translation of Jila’s letter to Bahman.
My dearest Bahman,
It has been two months since I last saw you; two months since that last visit at Rajai Shahr prison when I looked at you from behind those iron bars and double pane windows. I forgot to tell you how hesitant and skeptical I was about attending that last visitation. I had even planned to turn myself over at Evin prison a few days earlier in order to avoid the arrival of Thursday, the visitation day at Rajai Shahr. Perhaps as you read my letter you may find what I just wrote surprising, so let me explain why that farewell visitation was so difficult for me. I knew then that we would have to wait at least another year to see each other. Can you believe that? An entire year! I was afraid that I would not have the courage to say goodbye for an entire year. I was afraid that I would break down and cry, tears rolling down my face and that image would haunt you for an entire year. In the end I overcame my fear and forced myself to come to see you.
The prosecutor’s office and prison officials refused to allow even a woman who was about to go to prison the right to see her incarcerated husband, face to face, one last time. There was a time when this type of restrictions would shock me, but these days nothing surprises me anymore. Does it surprise you? Alas this last visit also took place while you sat behind those two pane, opaque windows and iron bars at Rajai Shahr prison. Like so many other of our visitations, you were wearing your green T-Shirt. The color green suites you. You would always say: "Jila, since I know you really like the color green, I’ll wear this T-shirt on visitation days!" We had only twenty minutes and we were both speaking very quickly as if to fit all that needed to be said in the next 20 months into the twenty minutes that lay ahead of us. It was so hard! Of course because you have more experience with life behind bars, you kept giving me advise on what to do in order to make my upcoming prison sentence more bearable. You spoke of the importance of exercise, the need to read and study and to try and get some fresh air every day. You even recommended a few books you thought I should read; books that were as you put it, particularly enjoyable if read behind bars. I kept saying: "Bahman don’t worry so much about me and this one year I will be spending behind bars, for this too shall pass." God only knows how nervous I was on that day; nervous that one of us would break down and cry, our tears rolling down our faces. The twenty minutes went by and neither of us cried. In the end, I placed my hand on those damned, double pane windows and you placed yours on the other side, a gesture that rather than an embrace or a kiss was supposed to demonstrated the depth of our feelings for each other. Our visitation time came to an end. You stood up and walked away and as I watched you walking away from me from behind those windows and iron bars, reassured that you could no longer see me, I finally let loose, quietly sobbing, tears rolling down my face. I don’t know how you must have felt during those moments when you were walking away from me...
On that first day at Evin prison while passing by the general ward 350 on my way to the women’s ward, I was filled with a sense of joy. It was the place you had spent three years of your life. I had always wanted to see it at least once in my life, even if from a far. Now I live next to the same ward where you were being held until a few weeks ago. As you know the women’s ward is right next to ward 350 where male political prisoners are detained. At times we hear the loud voices of your former cell mates from the other side of the wall. Each time I am reminded of the letter you wrote to me in which you talked about hearing the voices of the female prisoners and how you envisioned me amongst them, knowing that soon I would be one of them too- and now I am here but you are no longer on the other side of this wall.
The images, walls and incidents here are all familiar to me. They are familiar because in the past three years you repeatedly wrote about them to me in your letters or described them to me during those prison visits from behind a telephone booth. Today I am personally experiencing your descriptions. You had even told me about the moon in the skies above Evin prison. Last night I was sitting in the ward when Shabnam Madadzadeh cried out "Come out everyone and see how beautiful the moon is tonight." It was at that moment that I remembered how you and your friends would sit in the yard at Evin’s ward 350 staring at the moon. I followed Shabnam to the small area designated for fresh air at the women’s ward and I stared at the moon; the moon that was at times looked as though it was embracing a grey cloud but would become bright and clear only a few moments later.
"I loved the moon from the time I was a little girl! You see, the moon is so beautiful. When I was at Rajai Shahr prison I wasn’t able to see the moon. I remember how much I missed it, then suddenly one day from between several doors and iron bars I saw a glimpse of the moon. It was such a fulfilling feeling!" Shabnam explained.
I am trying to write a short account of my days here at Evin so that you can see that just as you had said, my days here are actually not that bad. Our days are calm. Most people are involved in rigorous study programs, sports, crafts, or teaching a foreign language. Most female prisoners are in good spirits. Their high spirits energize me. I am filled with hope when I see Bahareh Hedayat’s energy, vitality and determination despite her heavy prison sentence. I am energized by the presence of women such as Mahvash Shahryari and Fariba Kamal Abadi both serving 20 year prison sentences behind bars; women who have been denied furlough for the past few years and yet remain calm and patient. I am motivated by the presence of Nasrin Sotoudeh who has spent almost three years in prison without a day of furlough. Given that we are relative newcomers to Evin, Shiva, Mahsa and I have no right to be impatient or lack vitality or energy. We too read like they do. We also exercise and remain patient while behind bars.
The women’s ward at Evin currently houses 33 political prisoners. They transferred Faezeh at around 12:30am. At 12 midnight the lights are turned off. We were all in bed, either asleep or reading. The transfer of a new prisoner so late into the night is not an ordinary event, for most prisoners are transferred to the general ward during business hours. When Faezeh arrived we all got out of our beds. Everyone was wondering what had happened and why Hashemi Rafsanjani’s daughter would be transferred to Evin at this time of night. Faezeh described with great excitement how she had been arrested and transferred to Evin. Nazanin Deyhimi was transferred to Evin at around 3:00pm. She is the daughter of the famous writer and translator Derakhshan Deyhimi.
There is little difference between day and night behind bars. As such the arrival of a new prisoner is considered an important event, leading to much commotion inside the ward.Those who arrive provide a glimpse of life outside prison. The veteran prisoners first ask the newcomers to talk about the reasons behind their arrest. The questioning usually ends with "so what else is new? How is everything out there? Tell me about the latest developments and analysis."
We are 33 women with a variety of opinions and at times opposing points of views at Evin’s women’s ward. Some prisoners are supporters of the Green movement, others are Baha’i , Born Again Christians or members of the Mojahedin Khalgh. My dearest Bahman what I find most attractive about this prison is that individuals with a variety of backgrounds and apposing points of view are coexisting peacefully. We sit together, share meals, have discussions and arguments. I find this peaceful coexistence extremely gratifying. My experience here behind bars has made me hopeful that I may someday witness a similar model implemented across our society at large. I look forward to the day when men and women with a variety of political and religious beliefs live together without the need to eliminate one another, or become enemies as a result of their differences of opinion, religion or political ideologies.
If such a coexistence is possible behind bars, why should it not be possible across our beloved land? I am hopeful that some day we will witness such a society in Iran and know that better days lie ahead.
I miss you and love you more than ever.
The Women’s Ward at Evin Prison
P.S. I don’t mean to imply that we never run into problems living together here at Evin. It goes without saying that we too experience our share of disagreements and disputes. What is important however, is that they are ultimately resolved through discussion and dialogue.
Translated by: Banooye Sabz