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Singing Was Life Itself for Us (Part Two)

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