In 2001, 20-year-old Iranian Zarah Ghahramani spent 29 days in Tehran's Evin prison for participating in student protests against her country's fundamentalist government. In her new book, My Life as a Traitor, she describes beatings, torture, and survival in a place known for killing political prisoners. She spoke to MC about the experience.
MC: How were you arrested?
ZG: I was walking along the road, and a car stopped next to me. A woman got out, asked me my name, and said to come with her. I said, "Who are you?" She responded, "Oh, you'll find out." I knew that they were going to take me regardless, so I just went.
MC: What were the interrogations like?
ZG: The first time, they brought me into a room with a table. The guy started asking me questions, and eventually he was yelling at me. He said, "This is Evin prison — I'm the one who asks questions!"
MC: And you were beaten?
ZG: They hit me, punched me. I had broken ribs. My entire body was bruised. I had bruises all over my face and a big cut on my chin from being hit there. One time, I got hit with something — I still don't know what it was — on my shoulder and arm. My whole body was in pain, and I would faint and wake up hours later not knowing where I was or what had happened.
MC: How did you survive?
ZG: When they had first put me in my cell, the guy in the cell above me started talking to me, and I realized I knew him. He taught me the rules of prison.
MC: What kind of rules?
ZG: I thought I could have a conversation with these people — tell them this was a peaceful protest, that we're only students. But my friend said to tell them what they want to hear. He taught me to keep walking or do yoga so I would be tired enough to sleep at night. He said that whatever the food was, to eat it. If you're depressed, you don't get hungry, so I ate just to have energy to survive.
MC: Did you regret protesting?
ZG: You regret being born. You face reality. Before, I thought I could save the world. But when you sit in that room, you realize you don't have any power. They can bring you down with interrogation, slap you down, and you hate what you've done.
MC: How did your family take it?
ZG: When I came out, when I saw my mother's face and I saw my dad crying for the first time ever, I realized how selfish I was. That's when I left Iran for Australia. The government could have come for me again at anytime, and I would rather not see my family than make them worry again.
MC: If you had to do it over, would you?
ZG: I might say, Yes, I would. But then I think of the moments I experienced in prison. And now I'm sitting in the sunshine in Australia, studying for my B.A. So, I think, No, I must be crazy to even think it.