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Sepideh Rashnu
Sarvenaz Ahmadi

This call is from Evin Prison

A letter from Sarvenaz Ahmadi to Sepideh Rashnu- November 2023, Women’s Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison.

Tanide⸻ Dear Sepideh! Your letters and poems are finally here. Today is November 23, and I am here to get fresh air. I am writing this to you believing that my letters will eventually reach you. I just wanted to touch base and share how I feel. What confines this approximately ten-by-twenty room, and the act of getting fresh air into a prison, is repetition. An inmate esteems anything that bears the essence of the “new.” When you send me a letter, it feels like you have sent “new words” to me. It appears as though those tall poplar trees behind the area where we go to get fresh air are now adorned with new coats. At times, one might be petrified of becoming a mundane object, fading into obscurity and being forgotten; particularly, in those innocent eyes…

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

When sending a letter to a prisoner, the essence of the collective “we” materializes within that letter. Sometimes, when someone asks if I need anything, I’d like to request letters, fragments of Arabic poets’ imaginations, and a collection of eloquent pens. Dear Sepideh! It has been seven months now since I have been here, and I must spend five more of these seven months; when I recall Shams Langrodi’s poem, Ghasideye Labkhand-e Chak Chak, especially when he writes that “now I have forgotten life, and I barely remember how children look like” the yearning squeezes my heart. Always, there is a child in your proximity who is enduring suffering and, at the same time, displaying resilience. When I was free outside of the prison, there were Afghan children, children laborers, and those grappling with mental health and cancer. Here, I witness the children of female inmates, as well as those originating from war zones, whose images are broadcast on the prison’s television. It was Vahid outside, and here is Ronika with me. I should convey this information to their mothers, emphasizing the importance of being honest with their children. When a child inquiries about their mother’s return, an educator should speak plainly to them. For instance, the mother should say she will return home in five more birthdays. There are many cement walls between my hands and the war-wounded hands of the seventy-five-year-old children of the Middle East. Imprisonment is indeed an experience of loss, but it is also a rigorous exercise in holding onto what remains in your fist. These days, I am reading a book regarding the social work of children in war. It serves as a valuable resource to teach children in war—those whose noses are filled with odours of burned bodies and gun power— not to collapse or what should they do when they find themselves petrified by a profound sense of fear, dreading to be buried under the ruins once again. Being buried might seem intolerable for any shoulders; let alone those children who even do not know how to write a border; no children are born with their boundaries. I wrote that imprisonment is an experience of loss. Every passage through the prison door is an experience of loss. Being sent to jail results in the loss of your loved ones, and it’s during that period that you come to truly appreciate the depth of your love for them. At this moment, you come to realize that spending time with your friends, standing on Bam-e Amir Abad, eating your sandwich in the middle of winter, and gazing at the highway may seem trivial, yet it was both enjoyable and hilarious. At this juncture, you realize that this act of standing has transformed into your distant, sweet dreams. Those who have been released from prison and have returned share the same sentiment, signifying that upon release…

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

…you will once again experience the loss, recognizing how your fellow inmates in the cell were near and dear to you. Otherwise, when you are free outside of the prison and you want to bum a smoke, there are no fellow inmates to tell you, “Wait for me to join you!” On the very first morning upon your release, when there are not forty people around to respond to your “Good morning,” you may feel forlorn. You have lived with these forty people throughout the day, battling the most exhausting issues with the most unbearable individuals. When you are free, you will not spend as much time with people, as you have to go to work and cannot see them throughout the day. A distinct sense of loss arises when you find yourself still confined in prison while other inmates are released, eliciting a range of conflicting emotions. Sometimes, a prisoner is exiled, and you experience a feeling that I call “the shortening of the heavy prison ceiling.” At times, you find yourself within the confines of the prison while someone outside passes away. Even more demanding is discovering that those comrades have crossed borders not native to them, choosing to leave the country.

Losing things that you cannot cope with is noticeably challenging. Even within the confines of prison, one can attain accomplishments. Some of my most profound friendships have been formed behind bars. I am convinced that sharing challenging experiences solidifies profound friendships. Perhaps it’s because most people here haven’t been indifferent toward others, and I believe it’s precisely for this reason that they are present here in the first place. They are like a book, and I wish I could send each of them to you to read. They are like chants. I wish I could send them to you to sing. Getting fresh air in the evening is similar to strolling in a cypress grove. Cedars stand side by side, walking shoulder to shoulder. Here is the image: one cedar is engrossed in a book, while the other is either knitting, crafting leather, or delicately smoothing a piece of wood with sandpaper. Another cedar, adorned with curly leaves and a presence spanning almost six years, shows genuine concern for our modest garden. She harbours no expectations other than nurturing the growth of daffodils. There is another cedar, seventy years old, with the strongest roots and juniper-like leaves. At roughly specific hours, she always appears. While carrying her lush branches in her pockets and smoking, even though she has been here for almost four years and still has another four to go, she seamlessly declares herself a communist whenever faced with new arrivals. Perhaps, she has another starry sky in her eyes apart from this ten-by-twenty of the sky we have above while getting fresh air. In brief, she bears a striking resemblance to the cover of your book.

The birds frequently arriving at this prison often experience foot problems. It might be caused by the barbed wires surrounding the prison. Their chicks sometimes tumble into the prison’s yard, perishing well before two days… 

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

These cedars, however, have steadfastly embraced their social commitments for years on end. In moments of fear, they have consistently pressed forward with unwavering determination. They have extracted life out of each hideous brick of the prison’s walls. Birds boast about their freedom to soar through the skies, while cedars, on the contrary, take pride in their roots and resilience. Another cedar sleeps on the upper bed above mine every night, having not eaten anything for a few days. Each time, instead of saying ‘Goodnight,’ I tell it, ‘my comrade neighbour! Goodbye until tomorrow night,’ and we laugh together, shedding a few tears. Prison is loaded with paradoxical emotions.

Dear Sepideh, you who kindle the red flames of our morning breathe! How even in some hours we transformed into readers of each other’s letters. Deep down, I know that I found the holiness of words in you, well before I knew you were a poet. To be honest, discovering that you’ve endured Tehran’s crowded seven in the morning subway commute to reach work by eight o’clock deepened my feelings for you. Working claims many hours of our time outside the confines of the prison. I did not work many days in my life. Yet, I cannot possess my days here until the evening unfolds its four hours. The discipline of school and university years, followed by the routine of work, has accustomed me to alienate myself from morning until evening, yet I am changing it. I have attempted to paint a picture of life beyond these walls for myself. I finished translating a book and it needs a revision now. I have learned to make leather bags, and I could sell some of them. I teach English, and eventually, I am supposed to learn Arabic. I still do not dare to read those books on the art of fiction writing. I mostly read poems. When the smoking room is empty, I go there and immerse myself in reading poems. When I read out loud, my voice reverberates. Echoing my voice fills me with an overwhelming delight and this is what I do in my me-time. When I was free outside here, I used to go to the cinema, often alone or occasionally with one or two others in the afternoon Showtime. I would either go to the theatre alone or treat myself to the French Confectionery, trying to gradually discover myself. However, once I found the entirety of myself all of a sudden. It was a revolutionary time, and I sensed that I was no longer an alien to myself. In those few moments, I found myself in an ocean of people where I was unable to see the end. These people came to chant their lives. It was only in those few moments that I thought for a while it was over… 

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

I said to myself that I had lived what I desired. It was the last Monday of the month. You are a drop of that ocean, Sepideh! I have written your piece of poem here on this board:

When branches in the weaves of wind

Had lost birds and nest

Tree said to itself

It is only one feather; I wish there was just one feather left…

You are that left feather from any soar, You Sepideh Rashnu! The blaze of the sincere morning.


November 2023, Women’s Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison

Writing about Painting, Prison, and Lived Experience

Nazanin Mohammadnejad, an independent leftist activist and feminist, answered these questions in a conversation with Tanideh: Where did the idea of your paintings come to your mind, and what is the relationship between paintings, memories, places, and feelings in prison and outside of it?

Tanide’s Introduction⸻ The idea and experience of “being” in places are different from each other. It is possible to imagine a “place” without being present; conversely, one can be in a “place” whose image and objectivity are not identified. A constellation of senses, emotions, experiences, and even previous narratives of a place always create existing and subsequent images. Our subject-bodies are moved from one place to another by images and people’s narrations. Within this circulation and displacement, something of the kind of non-lived experience, but felt experience, is constructed. It is as if our feelings, which are immaterial and not visible, attach to the materiality of a place or transform from what we had mistakenly felt before. Through this combination of immaterial emotions, images, and narratives, one can move to a place like a prison and imagine its atmosphere. An “experienced” place for some people, and an “imagined” place for others. Probably the first images for those who have not experienced it should be something like this: A place surrounded by chains and fences… with iron doors… and high cold walls. A scary and complicated space with a feeling of constant anxiety and fragility. Later, while those images occupy one’s mind, other questions arise. For example, you might ask about the quality of the experience of being confined in a certain space for different people. How do they turn a day into a night? How do they separate work hours and leisure, or time at all? Or whether this separation is all about labour as defined by the neo-liberal marketplaces outside the prison? How does it feel to be trapped and incarcerated in a place for a long time? How do you feel this time is passing? The answer to these questions will be possible only through imagining and then through conversations with those who have experienced it. One has to be either in a place and experience it or have heard the experiences of “others.” 

​Encountering the prisoners’ artwork, recorded memories or narratives can bring the atmosphere and feelings experienced in prison from unconsciousness to language and significance. The works resulting from these conditions knot the body of the imprisoned person to what she has seen and/or felt and then to the imagination of her audience. With this in mind, Tanide interviewed Nazanin Mohammad -Neghad about her paintings, released on her personal Instagram page. These paintings opened the conversation, which are Nazanin’s experience from the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison between January 2021 and February 2022. Nazanin is a women’s rights activist. At the age of 19, she migrated from the south of Iran to Tehran to continue her education, which is when she got to know feminist groups and leftist activists. She studied social sciences at Tehran University. In 2019, Nazanin was detained for two months due to her activities in the field of women’s rights, and she was then imprisoned in the Women’s Ward between January 2021 and February 2022. The paintings are the result of her imprisonment and are unique in terms of their special relationship with the environment, other prisoners, the prison itself, and time. In them, there is a loud silence and a kind of heavy lightness. A contradiction woven into the texture of simple forms but strongly affected by the space draws the audience’s gaze outside the frame of the paintings. Dense emotions go beyond the image and throw one into the experience of Nazanin and others from prison. The entanglement of anxiety, resilience, hope/despair, small and momentary joys, silence and isolation simultaneously create a unique atmosphere yet one that is heavy and dull. Nazanin first published the paintings on her Instagram page. We asked her to tell us about the initial ideas of these paintings, sharing her experiences about time and place in the jail with us.

Following you will read Nazanin’s answer to one of the long interview questions, the full version of which will also be available on Tanide’s website in the future.

​Nazanin Mohammad Neghad⸻ No matter how hard you have striven to gain knowledge about prison or imagine it, you will eventually conclude that most of the things you have seen and understood have been new and unpredictable. You asked me where the idea of prison paintings came from. I would say that female prisoners have been creating artworks and doing sports activities in a form of tradition over the years of their imprisonments in the Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward, to overcome their challenges and for the sake of their sanity. I was sent to Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward at beginning of winter 2021. Upon that entry, I saw many women knitting colourful yarn to make clothes for their loved ones. It simply seemed sheer beauty to me. They were creating something out of their incarceration that might be inherited from other female inmates’ generations. Those generations had understood how to tackle their lives in jail, yet be survived and also be alive. They used to teach each other how to knit different patterns. It also happened that they were knitting while listening to the news outside. There were those fabulous frames of life in prison. Should you look at this frame from afar, you will see how spectacular the scene is. Well! You say “yes” to life, and this is an affirmative way of living.

​Knitting was the first artistic activity I learned in prison. I made relentless efforts to learn it and even turn it into permanent entertainment. And eventually, I gave up on crafts, realizing that I love watching them more than doing them. I was seeking an artistic activity that I could relate to more. Other handicrafts such as mosaic, rug and carpet weaving, and leather embroidery were among the popular activities of the Women’s Ward, which did not attract my attention. Prisoners would make creative artwork with these activities. However, I would like to point out that there was usually a direct relationship between the creativity of the works and the cost of their production. The wealthier prisoners are, the more they were able to produce. After all, prison is part of a bigger society where class issues exist. Among the artistic activities that existed in prison, painting and drawing were not of the prisoner’s interest. But, between two women who were in charge of handicrafts, one had some experience in drawing. Once I learned she knew how to draw, I proposed that she teach us it. She delightfully accepted, and thus, we start drawing with charcoal. Of course, there was already a carpet design class, but few people participated in it. The drawing class with charcoal continued for several sessions and three prisoners, including me, participated until it was stopped when COVID-19 hit the prison again. It didn’t continue since we lost our appetite for it after that.

You are a real person, I painted you in the prison yard. I was at your proximate distance and drew your sketch while you were in a world of your own. I don’t like to reveal your real name. I am now sure that you were each of us when, without any intention, we took refuge in a secluded corner, which was difficult to find. I saw myself in you when you took pills to escape reality and slipped down the ladder and burst out laughing; and now, I see myself in you more than ever. When you had the anxiety of not being liked and being forgotten and you heard completely reasonable answers from us, I saw the cause of my anxiety in your face, and I removed it from my face to know myself in another way; and about that night when under the light of the moon, in a confused and drunken state, you insisted on telling the story of your sleeping from the time before marriage, and we were struggling to make you remain silent because of your serious mental and physical condition. Did your desire to tell that story have anything to do with the time you showed your roommates a family photo and one of us pointed at your husband’s picture and asked, “Is that your father?” And you said with a thin and conciliatory bitterness, no, this is my husband, and later you reminded us of the dull memory of that mistake with indifference. Maybe the difference between you and me was that you didn’t want to dig an inner cave towards other caves from your circumstances and you only desired to talk more about your situation in that spot. My heart becomes heavy, and my pulse beats faster, when I feel that a person whose feelings are moved significantly within a certain place and in the light of the passage of time will never forget the magical memory of that place. It is bizarre, isn’t it? That despite emotional and physical intimacy in prison, the individual anxieties of a person, there, as a volcano erupts, from the depths toward visible edges; and now other faces, like yours, can fit in the width of my empty head.

I didn’t intend to learn technical drawing. I simply did not have any motivation, and to be honest, I did not have enough confidence in doing it. I wouldn’t draw that much so I did not have experience.  I rather desired to work solely. I was also looking for a way to overcome my inevitable introversion in prison. Those dull evenings in addition to my strong desire for writing history, narrating and recording everyday life — which were the underlying reason why I didn’t like other artistic activities — encouraged me to follow drawing in my own style. To borrow my sister’s description, I should say my drawings are primitive and deformed. Yet, each one of them is a combination of my ability level in design, the personal world from which I was looking outside, and the information I had about my subjects in advance. Sometimes, these three features could be found in my paintings. I was not supposed to be a professional painter. But, I just wanted to illustrate the emotions circulated among us. My interest in this style of drawing derived from documenting the personal small world that I was living in. It was a world where narrating and disseminating your real thoughts and moods were already prohibited. It was also a place in which protecting my diary from those monitoring it was obsessive and grueling. These paintings were the result of a subtle personal struggle to show that I can go beyond the limits of my existing abilities even in such a complicated situation. A long time later, when all the pages of my small design notebook were scribbled, I felt that once a person is deprived of their personal phone, even in the global information era, they can record their times and places with the simplest tools as it is a need. These recordings might seem primitive, but still, they could respond to my needs. This need was the personal beginning of the process of my imprisonment, and I conceived it intuitively. Later, I changed those thoughts, effects, and motivations into words.

​There is a door in the middle of a wall which is approximately one meter and a half above the floor. This door belongs to the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison; a door which is never opened. Inmates use the windowsill to dry green paper and vegetables in the summertime as depicted in the painting. The scorching hot summer sun always blazes down on this side. Prisoners often take their chairs, sitting next to this direct sunshine and absorbing its vitamins into their bodies.
Despite this effective background, my paintings were subjectively drawn in such mundane and tedious ambiance. For me, this work was the product of being drawn into silence and introspection, which was created by the environmental and public pressures of the prison and the frequent wear and tear of the mind of a seeker of solitude on the reality of collective life (which was sometimes desirable and attractive). The atmosphere of life in prison is very tight and dense. One of the resistances is to discover its less imposing or non-imposing layers and make a cocoon around yourself and plant the seed of meaning. Maybe later outside the prison, they will carry greater meanings. Maybe even these new meanings will become a part of your life history, keeping your life outside the prison connected to the starting time and place by continuing to do that work. But pulling a cocoon around yourself and engaging in individual work or producing personal meaning in prison, where collectivism prevails, is not an easy task. Individual activities such as drawing and painting are both the product of loneliness and strengthen it. Maybe that’s why my drawings unconsciously absorbed subjects in such situations. They are the selective reflection of prison, and therefore, they are incomplete to describe the prison’s entire ambiance. Yet, these paintings are one aspect of real life in prison.

​Life in prison is more primitive than that of the outside world. Everything seems more precarious and dangerous. Every tool and device that a prisoner has can make her calmer, and losing it causes a lot of anxiety and confusion. Compared to life outside prison, prisoners have a more urgent relationship with things. Therefore, the objects inside the prison reflect the mood and the ambiance of the prison. There is a certain longing in them that belongs to the prisoner, or there is a real power in them with which the prisoner adjusts her daily activities. Among my drawings, those that portray people’s inward feelings and states are simpler than those images depicting people in relation to objects. This is one of the key aspects of daily life in prison. The prisoners’ competition, while being friends with each other, over the acquisition of more things — facilities and services — is an integral part of every prisoner’s life. This competition can be transparently seen in their relations. For example, when meat, as a good source of protein, is being distributed on their plates, you will see how they compete with each other to possess as much as possible. Another example is when they lodge a complaint against each other for getting fresh air, which is a fixed time given to the prisoners with an array of activities to do. These are examples of the relationship between objects and people in prison, which can reflect the life of prisoners in the form of drawings or paintings. My drawings of doors, walls, and bricks reflect an atmosphere of confinement and captivity, which the prisoner is shocked by every now and then.

We can talk about the relationship between paintings/drawings, memories of places, prisons’ particular temporalities, feelings, and prison for a decade or so. I will talk about how I perceive it now. We do not experience prisons every day in the cities. A prison is a specific place. The combination of the feeling of being oppressed, deprived of many rights, and simultaneously, making new friendships, along with the fact that the prisoners personally consider it a temporary experience, make them want to have mementos from this special experience. Once the prisoner is released, the incarceration experience is literally over. However, there is something like a hammer hitting your head and reminding you that this experience was far stronger than other social experiences. The prisoner has long been living her imprisonment, striving to meet her desire and address her issues. This means that she has been constantly relating to her surrounding environment so that she could find a way to survive. The psychological and personal effects of imprisonment do not disappear once the prisoner is released. They linger in the person’s mind, and she knows that she no longer has access to those experiences to readdress those memories etched on her mind. When those experiences are not accessible anymore, the person has to embody them in a way. She has to revive and animate them. We, as prisoners, are aware that our imprisonment would finish, yet its pieces of memory, our relationships with that place, and those affects would not. They will remain in a cycle of oppression and deprivation. We know this matter in prison, so we try to have a memento for the release time. These are precious mementos that we care about, and we want to collect and pass them on to others.

​When we are released and time gradually passes, you can see the trace of time in our cumulative experiences. This is a state that we have a sense of while we are spending our incarceration, yet there is no response to how we cannot accumulate them, avoid transforming them into pieces of memory, or stop pondering about the cycle of oppression and deprivation of those people you have left in prison. It takes time for these experiences to become normal so that, like our other social experiences, they lose their significance over time in relation to newer experiences. I believe that it will not happen soon, as there is no experience with the same weight that “imprisonment” has in our daily lives. That is why the memory of prison will be etched on our minds forever and become something unique, abstract, and even sacred. But the more we tend towards this sacredness and/or abstract state in expressing these experiences, the more we stop recognizing its reality. This is a matter of misrepresentation, especially in social media. It can be seen as such in those media representations of prisoners and what happens inside the prison that emphasizes the reflection of individual or collective models of resistance or friendship, which are romanticized to a large extent and ignore other forms of resistance. I would love to end this interview with this: each prisoner has her own memory and memento from prison and my drawings are a part of those pieces of memory and memento. I hope that I could answer your question.

​A lot of real movies are broadcast in the prison. Prison guards and inmates are accomplished, inexhaustible, and talented actors in these movies. The ending scene of each movie is similar to those scenes where boxers come back from the court. They come back exhausted of each other or collectively from dealing with “Other ones.” They see around in the room, turning on the DVD player every day, week, and month. They sit at a table and watch the same movie year in and year out.  

Nazanin Mohammadnejad
Drawing No. 1: I love you. I know you are still sitting here, In front of the monitor. And me, I am far away from you. I love you I love you You won't be free very soon, so I would like to say give her several balls؛ She likes playing with balls.
Drawing No. 2
Drawing No. 3
Drawing No. 4:Drawing No. 4 Prison's High Wall 
Drawing No. 5 This is Evin’s Women’s Ward’s yar
Drawing No. 7: Thinking of her daughter #ثمین_احسانی #ثمین_احسانی_را_آزاد_کنید.
Drawing No. 8

A Report from Ward 209 of Iran’s Evin Prison

Translated from Farsi into English Retrieved from Harrasswatch

The Washroom

​Harraswatch⸻We could take a shower three times a week. During those first days, when we took a shower, the bathroom was a place for non-stop crying without fear of worrying and upsetting our cellmates. We could find solace in it for a few minutes. Those moments gradually became meaningful for us. When one lives in absolute ignorance and outside of temporal life, one must constantly look for “meaning.”  In those moments, time lasts slowly, and sometimes it is frozen and torturous.

​Similarly, the space, the coldness of the floor, and its cruelty constantly whisper in your ears that you will be kept there forever. In this captivity that tries its best to knock you down, you have to find something [a meaning] to grab hold of to help pull your restless legs out of the swamp of despair. That is why you felt alive under the shower. After hours of interrogation and on blankets you didn’t trust to be clean, you were still alive and experiencing the pleasure of taking a shower under cold water. Sadness, despair, and anger had infected you, but you were not rotten. Water and pleasant smells promised you that life was going on and that poor conditions could not turn you into a corpse. You were alive! We did not have towels, a razor, or a mirror while taking showers. We had a small bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, a basin, and a little detergent for washing our clothes. The high water pressure and wearing clothes that smelled fresh were even better.

​We would sweat from sleeping in a poorly ventilated room. Plus, the level of anxiety, once our cellmates were taken for interrogation, could result in too much sweating. The nylon fabric of our clothes made our bodies even more sweaty, adding to being strongly smelled. Those days when we couldn’t shower, we would wash our armpits with a bar of soap. But our noses were filled with the rank smell as if our bodies and that sharp smell meshed, which is why we found our “bath days” so good. While taking a shower, we sang to cheer up our cellmates. Once, one of us desired cleanness so badly that she emptied a basin of water and detergent over her body. It made us mad, and we widely criticized her for that. We thought later we shouldn’t criticize her as she required that fresh smell.

​Outside the cell, it was necessary to wear a blindfold to take a few steps and go to the washroom. It was as if the prison guards knew that our eyes were vital witnesses. The washroom did not have any handles like the doors inside the ward, so we were not able to close the door. It might not be a severe matter for everyone, and they might not suffer the same. However, going to the washroom in a relatively public place with an unlocked door was traumatic for someone whose body tenses up with the slightest external stimulus. It causes tense muscles when there is no privacy, the door is open, and one constantly worries about outside travelers who might deliberately knock on the door to make you uncomfortable. One’s body disobeys and does not function well.

As the number of detainees increased, it became more challenging to go to the washroom. The prison guards could not cope with this primary task. They could not organize prisoners. The rule was that no one should have contact with people in other rooms in the corridor. Sometimes, all prisoners in the five corridor rooms turned on their washroom warning lights. God forbid if someone had an upset stomach and stayed in the washroom longer than usual!! It was a mess, and everyone used to complain. It seems gross to describe, but in those conditions, the prison guards used to ask people how urgent it was for them to “do their business” to prioritize who should go to the washroom first. Sometimes they told us that an older woman was in the next room, and she couldn’t wait and had to go to the washroom. As a result, we stayed behind the closed door with slippers in our hands and blindfolds on our foreheads. It is not simple at all. This would mean a painful and torturous experience for those with lousy bowel and bladder.

​Once, they told us that someone else gave their turn to us and had our backs. We loudly said: “Way to go! It is only us who could have each other’s back!” Our loud applause and sonorous voices passed the cement walls and echoed. It also happened that we asked for a washroom, and nobody responded to us. There was a deathly silence in the corridor to the extent that we supposed the prison guards were on strike. This silence was sometimes so deep that we imagined there were no prison guards, and that the wards’ doors would be opened by revolutionary forces soon.

In such conditions, menstruation deteriorated the detainees’ situations. We must ask for a menstrual pad every time. The guards were not allowed to allocate a whole package to a group of prisoners in a room. Stress and unhealthy washrooms made periods more painful and unbearable, increasing many infections. Within twenty days, some of my friends got two periods, some had heavy bleeding for nearly ten days, and others didn’t get their periods and felt hot flashes and restlessness. It was as if feminine sensitivities had become the prison and the prison guards’ accomplices.

Getting Fresh Air

​The first time we went to get some fresh air was the gloomiest. Three days a week, we had half an hour to walk and get fresh air. Inmates usually went to get air cell by cell and in turn. We would go there while wearing chadors and covered eyes and took off the blindfold in the yard. We were not allowed to take off the chadors, but we disobeyed. We let our bodies get plenty of sunshine without wearing a chador or a scarf, though seeing the sky after a day was sad. The whole sky was a space of about forty square meters, jailed by stony walls. Security cameras monitored us. A black chair was in the corner of the spot, and our ceiling was full of crossed iron bars. Everything seemed extremely cold and soulless. Once one stood and looked at the sky and the surrounding mountains, the strangest feeling ever felt might be flared up inside them, a roller coaster of rage, grief, and perhaps pride.

In the middle of the hills, a flagpole was reaching the sky. The national flag was far and giant. Watching it from afar was like watching a slow-motion movie. The flag was dancing in the wind, and we watched it from behind the rusted iron bars, a flag that did and did not belong to us. We were captives while that tricolor[1] was proudly dancing [outside.] For this free dance, we were in the cage and, at the same time, angry with that piece of fabric. Our hearts should have been proud upon seeing that flag, but our shortness of breath tasted more like anger.

​The second time we went to get fresh air was better. Our eyes were still teary, but we found much solace in our gathering. We would play “Walnut- Crack.[2]” We rolled up our sleeves to get vitamin D from the hazy autumn sun. We stretched our bodies and walked fast. We sang for the most part. Singing was one of those glorious mystical moments. Our voices echoed, flew, and soared. This forbidden voice came out of the banned body and could pass through the forbidden walls. Singing was life itself for us. We witnessed how these illegal bodies and voices tear the fetters of prejudice and entrenchment and live freely. It was such great theatre, power, and joy! As the audience, we applauded ourselves. We posed for the security cameras and laughed loudly while cuddling each other. We were armed by singing and being alive as opposed to them,[3] who were dead and silent.


​It may seem that saying this sentence only wants to gain the reader’s pity, but it is not so: we used to go to bed hungry almost every night. One may ask, how so? Didn’t they feed you? They did, but it was a morsel of bread. Some of our friends would eat less in their regular lives. But even they would go to bed famished. We were not given snacks either. Boiling water for breakfast was distributed at 6:00 am. The vacuum flasks were old and useless, and the water was cold by the time we got up. About five days a week, we had a two-knuckle moldy cheese with a packet of lavash[4] bread cut into palm-sized squares. We might have given a tomato or a cucumber that came with the cheese once a week.

We had no cutlery and had to cut everything with disposal spoons. We cut our tomatoes and cucumber with these spoons, though we bit them for the most part. We were given a bar of hotel-size butter with jam or honey weekly. Lunch was served between 2:00 and 3:00 pm. Our twenty-spoon rice was in single-use plastic containers. We had salad or yogurt twice or third times a week. We were never given any beverages. Instead, we could drink tea bags with sugar cubes after lunch, well before supper, which was served at 9:00 pm. Our dinner always came with bread, a small bowl of lentils, or potato salad.

After dinner, we had nothing but pills for those on medication. One of the prison guards, who was kinder, would sometimes bring us cheese in response to our calling and declaring hunger. This didn’t always work, however, and as a result, we would go to bed starving. I called once when I couldn’t sleep due to hunger and respectfully said: “excuse me, I’m starving!” The female guard replied, “ bear it!” and hung up the phone. Heartbreak and amazement at the level of cruelty were the spice of most of our moments. We hadn’t eaten any fruit for twenty days. Those who are still in prison must not have eaten fruit yet. One day they came and gave us a shopping list. We could have ordered some fruits, dates, and biscuits, which we did, but ten days passed, and nothing arrived. They also took our bank account passwords yet said, “nothing has arrived,” in response to our questions following our orders. Thus, food was served, but we were guilt-tripped for having it as they believed we were not in the Evin prison but in the Evin Hotel.[5]


[1] The author’s meaning is the colour of Iran’s flag which are green, white, and red.

[2] Walnut-Crack is a game where two players stand in front of each other at a distance. The first player takes a step and says walnut, and the second player says I broke. The steps of players follow the path, and finally, the game ends with the success of the nutcracker in breaking the walnut; otherwise, the walnut wins.

[3] Them means those prison guards and authorities.

[4] A traditional Iranian bread

[5] A condition which has excellent service is humorously considered a hotel.

Singing Was Life Itself For Us

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by: Tanide 

A Report from Ward 209 of Iran’s Evin Prison

Translated from Farsi into English Retrieved from Harrasswatch

Harasswatch⸻ Evin’s entry door slid open. The sky was emerging out of the darkness at the crack of dawn. “Cover your eyes with your scarf, and keep your head on the driver’s seat,” commanded the man. Some names such as Morteza, Asghar, and the cars’ features were exchanged like passwords, and we entered. It was uphill, and the clapped-out car didn’t run well. Haj Khanoum[1] got out of the car, and then it was my turn. The man commanded again to keep my eyes covered with my scarf. He opened the car’s door, and I disembarked. Another Haj Khanum oversaw my delivery. She put a blindfold over my eyes, and we got moving. She was familiar with the journey and its surroundings, constantly pointing out stairs, chairs, and walls on our way. She stopped and told me to face the wall. A few minutes later, a woman came and accompanied me the rest of the way. I do not remember well, but my hunch tells me that we were at an infirmary. Back at home, one of the men had promised me that he would hand over my phone later. I sat on an armchair and filled out a form about my health. “And this right here is your phone,” said the same man while putting the phone on the chair. I put my phone on airplane mode. Then I stopped, and a camera took a picture of me. I went on the scale, and my blood pressure was measured. The doctor asked whether I was on any specific medication or needed a pill. “A sedative or painkiller,” I replied. He proceeded to inquire about my request, to which I obliged and told him that I had trouble sleeping for days and had a headache. He was a young doctor with an unkempt black beard and wore a scruffy crimson shirt over his pants buttoned up to his neck. Donning a sinister smile, he said, “while you were rioting in the streets, you couldn’t sleep, right?” I looked at him and didn’t respond. I took the pill and, with blindfolded eyes, followed the woman.

We entered a corridor and then a room. We later called the woman Lavender. Her lavender perfume filled the corridor, and we, who were deprived of cleanliness and any kind of perfume, smelled the whim of this woman greedily. She had a thin and penetrating voice. Eyes alone visible, she wore an Arabic chador and covered most of her face with a mask. I took off my clothes. She ordered me to sit and stand twice in the nude with my back facing her. She had to ensure that I hid nothing between my legs. I handed over my phone, ID, and bank cards and signed the receipt. She said there were no more Maqnāe[2], so I had to keep my scarf with me. She gave me light gray and dark-blue sets in addition to a floral chador. I put on that gray dress with dark-blue slippers and followed her to another corridor while I was handling my chador with my eyes blindfolded. The woman held three black and brown blankets. She opened the room’s door and left once she handed over the blankets. Four women were sleeping in a six-meter room. One of them, however, sat upright and, with a vexed expression, prepared to comfort me. Two other women also woke up. We got to know each other and talked a bit about our situation on the inside and our lives on the outside. This friendship was the most beautiful achievement of this period…


Zehra Dogan- All rights are deserved by the artist

The Cell

The room was a strange heptagon with cement walls painted white. The wall facing the door had two perforated metal hatches in the right and left corners close to the ground. Through these hatches, one could hear muffled voices from other corridors. There was a toilet in the right corner of the room. My first impression was that we were supposed to be exposed to each other while relieving ourselves. However, first impressions are usually wrong. Next to the toilet was a small, suspended basin with triangular faucets. The room had two doors, but only one of them was the passage. The doors were all walls from the inside. After all, a door without a handle, and when no one can open and close it, is not a door at all. It was rather a metal rectangle with a narrow hatch for air passage at its bottom. For us, however, it was mostly a way of eavesdropping on outside traffic and sounds. The upper part of the door had a perforated access door. The holes were stuffed with some plastic spoons. My cellmates said that they use these spoons for hanging their underwear and towels to dry. There was also a peephole under the hatch. Installed on the wall was a metal rectangle with lights on it next to the entry door. A two-way communication tool, maybe! We had to press the button on this device to go to the bathroom. Once it was pressed, a black hole-like sound echoed throughout the room, and then we heard someone’s disembodied and authoritative voice saying, “Hello!” or sometimes “Yes!” The responses were sometimes angry and other times tired or moaning. In the first few days, we politely told them that we wanted to go to the bathroom. We found no reason for showing this courtesy later. We would call them without care and in a manner so pithy, tell them, “Washroom!” The further we went, and the more crowded the rooms became, the less we could bear to avoid going to the washroom. We became so frank in telling them that we needed to go tinkle. Sometimes, we would drum the door, singing about our overflowing bladders.

This act of disobedience could become a punishment lever at the prison’s disposal to summon us for interrogation. It never became normal for us. [They used to turn a light on and call our names.] Each time the light was turned on, and we heard that woman’s voice calling our cellmates’ names, we were petrified. By calling our names and hearing that hell sentence “Ma’am, get ready,” our bodies froze, and the face of the person summoned went deathly pale. All we had was a couple of minutes to calm them down and ready them for interrogation. God knows how agitated we were until our cellmates come back!!!

Next to that so-called door buzzer[3], a piece of paper was pasted, and the defendant’s rights–including their right to call and meet their families–were written in several paragraphs. Those rights drafted on the white paper were nothing, and we couldn’t simply claim them. There was a hotel refrigerator between two doors. It was like a closet rather than a fridge as nourishment was nowhere to be found. Only a few disposable glasses of water were scattered in it.

We had two metal hatches close to the ceiling for the passage of light and air. We once climbed up the fridge to see what’s going on outside these hatches and where we are in the world. The only thing we could see was a sloping roof covered by tar. Each person had three blankets. We could use them as mattresses, or pillows, or wrap ourselves in them. There was a row of LED lights on the ceiling which never were turned off. We wished for darkness in those few weeks. The room didn’t have any clocks as well. When we asked what time it was, we didn’t receive a response from the prison guards. We could see the wristwatch flashing on their hands, yet they refused to tell us the exact time. We didn’t even know why we asked for the exact time. Nonetheless, the prison guards’ muted responses made us create a sundial. Once we saw the first ray of sunshine on the wall, we called the staff and told them that we had to go to the washroom. When the woman came, we asked the time and wrote eleven on the wall with toothpaste. That was how our sundial worked and we started our day at eleven. The sunset was at five. We just had a sense of time between eleven and five, and the rest didn’t matter. After all, knowing time was nonsense for many of us.

The damn room, washroom, and bathroom didn’t have a mirror either. For nearly 25 days, we had seen only one other. We sometimes asked each other to describe our faces. We shouldn’t forget ourselves. By despising our beliefs and characters, they desperately wanted us to lose our identities and entirely forget our own faces. I was trying to find my eyes on the faucet as I used the toilet. My face’s image was obscure and comically distorted on the faucet. Inside the room, we bent our heads and could hardly see ourselves on the steel body of the toilet[4]. There was enough room to sleep until the cell was heavily populated by eight more prisoners. It was tight and cramped. Upon waking up in the morning, we used to make jokes about the pile of arms, legs, and hips thrown on our bodies. We were utterly staggered once the prison’s guard brought the eighth person to join us in the room, asking how on earth we could accommodate her in such a cramped room. When we complained about the room’s cramped condition, we received an answer that they used to accommodate a lot more than fifteen people in this room in 2009[5]. The room was covered by a thin orange carpet. We should’ve brought our flip-flops inside the room. Qiblah[6]’s direction was also drawn on the wall with an arrow facing the northeast. We didn’t have any books. And when we asked for books, they provided us with the Quran, Nahj al-Balagha, or other religious books through which we could read about marriage and religious ceremonies. Days used to last more than 24 hours in these cells; much more than you could imagine…  


[1] Haj Khanoum is literally used to call a woman who has been to Mecca. In reality, it is somewhat used by some of the female police who cooperate with the Islamic state and police. 

[2] Maqnāe is a kind of headscarf that is officially worn on official occasions. 

[3] The author does not know what she is seeing, and that is why she doesn’t know what to call it. This door buzzer was previously described as a “metal rectangle with lights on it next to the entry door.”  

[4] Iranian toilets have different shapes in comparison with their western counterpart. They are known as squat toilets and refer to the position used knowingly by squatting instead of sitting. These toilets simply consist of a toilet pan at the floor level with a hole in it. The toilets’ material differs from ceramic to steel, and in some cases, are constructed with stone. The author’s meaning about the steel bowl in this text refers to the steel material of the cell’s toilet.

[5] 2009 is referred to as the Green Movement in Iran when a lot of political dissidents were arrested and jailed.

[6] The direction of the Kaaba (the sacred building at Mecca), to which Muslims turn at prayer


Singing Was Life Itself For Us

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by: Tanide