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An excerpt from

One Woman's Struggle In Iran; A Prison Memoir

Nasrin Parvaz

Love in prison

The loving smile in his eyes
reminds me of the first time he kissed me.

The guard shouts:
‘Five minutes. No touching.’

A table separates us
yet I can hear his breath.
There is so much to say
we say nothing.

He breaks the silence:
‘Listen to me. You will be freed soon.
I want you to forget me
do not think of me anymore.
Find a good man who will
treat our baby as his
live with him and be happy.’

I cannot bear his words.
‘I will never forget you.’
‘No. I’m the past.
Don’t live with our memories.
And don’t make the child live with our memories.
The child needs a future.
Live with the Future.’

‘Times up.’ 

Quickly he arches his body over the table
and kisses my mouth.
Our child in my belly kicks me
as the guard drags my beloved away to be shot.

 The Joint Committee Interrogation Centre

 

The circular complex built for the government of Reza Shah by the Germans in 1932.

 

CHAPTER 9

CHILDREN IN PRISON

Evin Prison, 1983

The children imprisoned with their mothers were heart-breaking to watch, there were boys as well as girls; and in their play they copied what they saw in the prison. Often a little boy took the role of a blindfolded prisoner and another boy would act as the guard taking him to interrogation. He would order the other boy not to move his head or look around. Yet this did normalise prison for them, as when an order came over the loudspeaker, telling us prisoners to put on our chadors, which meant a man was coming into the wing, the children, boys and girls alike would be terrified. As they knew all the interrogators were male and they must have associated even the male electricians or plumbers with the possibility of their mothers being tortured. What memories these children had of a life before, and what scarred lives they would live when they went out again into the ‘normal world’ was beyond comprehension.

Meal-times were the happiest: even though the food was meagre and poor, everyone’s mood lifted, the wing came to life, prisoners shouted: ‘The food has come! Bring your pots! Spread the tablecloth!’ and the children would rush to the main gate and hold onto the bars with anticipation. As the food was ladled into the separate pots for each room, their eyes would be glued to the big pot. They were hungry, we all were hungry, but the hunger of children is terrible to behold. 

There was a little baby boy just at the crawling stage in the next cell. He was called Abas, and his mother was a leftist like us, as soon as the food was on the tablecloth his mother had to hold him tight to restrain him; otherwise in his hunger he just jumped at the food. All sharing, including sharing with somebody else’s child, was forbidden; but once a week when we were each given two eggs and a potato, we secretly gave our eggs to Abas’s mother. If we had been discovered we would have been punished.   

Before I had been imprisoned, I never thought of the physical and psychological effects of constant hunger. Some prisoners talked about what food they missed, and how it tasted. Prisoners reminisced about food.

‘My mother made ghormesabzi with fresh vegetables and lamb.’

‘My favourite is kebab.’

‘What about aubergines? I miss them so much.’

‘I want shirini more than savoury food.’

But the children were the most affected, they openly cried for food, while we adults denied we were hungry, even when our empty stomachs betrayed us by rumbling.

At Evin, whenever a new prisoner came onto the wing after being tortured, with bloody dressings on her swollen feet, the children stood still and stared with eyes filled with a fear and horror that defies description. And although they played, the imprisoned children were pallid, ill looking and always wary.

One day the thin mother with the two little girls beat her three year old for crying out of hunger. Her friends went over and stopped her. Later on I heard that she had just found out her sister had been executed. How strange that in her agony she gave grief to her poor little daughters, whom we all knew she loved with all her heart. A few days later when the thin woman was praying, she collapsed on the floor, her whole body shaking. Her one year old didn’t realise anything was wrong, but the older one, looked at her mother frozen with horror, watching women gathering around her mother, and one putting a spoon in her mouth to prevent her biting her tongue. 

Every six months our parents were allowed to bring us new clothes; the poorer prisoners never had enough, and so secretly they were given clothes by other prisoners. Even so everyone could still see who was rich and who was poor. Yet women from vastly different backgrounds, lived alongside each other. There were women in Evin who had never worked in their lives and others who had worked hard since childhood.

Yet unlike outside, in prison respect was not bestowed to anyone simply because of their money or social class, rather it was given to moral strength, or how different prisoners behaved in prison; whether they compromised or collaborated, or became Penitents to save their lives, or whether they preferred to die rather than recant and confess.