Behind the Bars

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One thing is for sure. No one wants to do time. But another thing is also equally sure. Every society needs a penal code and thus penitentiary centers to safeguard the very members of the society from those who have wronged or to help the wrongdoers find their way back into law abiding citizenry. Being a relatively populated country, Iran is no exception. In “Behind the Bars” we learn that correction centers don’t have to be thought of as jails and prisons. In this movie we visit 4 well known Iranian penitentiary centers whose reputations and at times their notoriety precedes them. One of the visited centers is for women. In the final episode, we see how charity organizations and benevolent people try to free those inmates who are behind bars merely because of the fact that they owe money. In this movie you will have a real, frank glance behind the tall walls of prisons and you will listen to honest accounts of inmates among whom you can find foreigners as well.

Behind the Bars

SOUNDBITE

The State Prisons and Security and Corrective Measures Organization puts more emphasis on corrective measures. The outlaws are kept in a complex called prison. Meanwhile, the prisoners are separated from each other according to their crime, i.e. grave and minor crimes.

SOUNDBITE

Detainees, convicts, people with or without criminal records, gangs and robbers are kept in separate wards. The Evin House of Detention holds inmates with financial offences such as bounced checks or unpaid alimony or dowry. Fortunately, in recent years the number of those who have been incarcerated due to failure in paying alimony or dowry has decreased.

SOUNDBITE

It’s a good place for addicted people who are weak when they come but are fresh and strong as they leave. But it’s not a good place for indebted people like me. We have to buy everything including our fridge, TV, carpet and curtain. We also have to prepare our own food.

SOUNDBITE

The person who was speaking before me was very dissatisfied. Although he was rightfully concerned about damages to his reputation, we can’t say that this place is absolutely bad. The State Prisons and Security and Corrective Measures Organization has done its best to provide the necessary facilities. In addition to the food prepared in the kitchens, prisoners may buy meat or chicken from the prison shops.

SOUNDBITE

I have no information about other prisons but the Cultural Department of the Evin House of Detention is very active. It does various activities such as holding training courses for mushroom growing, music and singing classes. It’s also possible for prisoners to continue their education here. The prison has a library, body building and aerobic clubs.

SOUNDBITE

Every day, 23 or 24 newspapers as well as 5 to 6 periodicals are distributed among the inmates free of charge. Also one publication is prepared by the Evin inmates. With the help of the prisoners’ families, we have published “Hoda and Poofi” for children. The publication helps establish an emotional relationship between kids and their incarcerated fathers or families. Also, special editions are published on some occasions like the martyrdom of Hazrat Fatimah (a.s.) and during the month of Muharram. Our periodical is called “Apple”.

SOUNDBITE

I have a financial problem that God willing will be solved. I was the landowner in a construction project. We had a lawyer who was substituted later. Our lawyers got us into trouble, but we are trying to solve the problem and with the grace of God, we’ll be released soon.

SOUNDBITE

Some people go to the library, some go to the Hosseinieh or the body building club. Three days a week, we come to this Varzesh-e Bastani hall and for another three days we do some other exercises. We are in prison to cure our souls. We need more leave to be able to solve our problems. Here, there are different classes of people like constructors, owners of companies or car exhibitions, architects and construction workers. It’s like a city. One day in prison feels like a year, particularly for us who have families and are athletes. The officials provide us with services, but we are not dangerous for the society. We are here because of bankruptcy and financial problems. Definitely the rights of the people should be restored.

SOUNDBITE

- May God help all these athletes to be released from this prison.

- Amen

- May God bless the prison manger who is selflessly devoted to his work.

- Amen, Peace be upon Muhammad and his progeny.

SOUNDBITE

Some prisons have better visiting regulations and more facilities. The prison officials and staff behave in a good manner. If we manage to reach them, we could easily solve our problems. Sometimes we face some restrictions. Our food ration doesn’t have good quality. Sometimes we can’t use the bathroom because it’s cold. We didn’t have gas for a while. I thought that it was the normal condition as I hadn’t been incarcerated before either in Iran or in any other foreign country. I’ve experienced this situation for the past 10 months that I’ve been here. Sometimes we don’t have pipe water, gas or spatula. Some 40 people are kept in a room like this.

SOUNDBITE

As a person who has been here for the past 16 years, I can say that this is not a prison; rather it’s like a nursing home. You have to wait here to be released. Like a nursing home, it has beds. People have a bad image of this prison and think that we are kept in cells. But we talk and joke with the prison officials. They’ve never behaved badly toward me for the past 16 years. Sometimes they get angry because they have to control some thousands of prisoners. Thus, such a behavior is quite normal. We treat our children in the same way and shout at them. For the past 16 years, everyone has respected me. As a Christian, it doesn’t matter to me whether a person is a Muslim or a Christian. We have the same God. I have the Bible here. Every year in January, the Cultural Department of the prison holds the New Year celebrations in collaboration with the Armenian Diocese of Tehran. They give us some stuff like books and clothes. They have always had good and respectful behavior toward us.

SOUNDBITE

Prisoners have better conditions in the Evin House of Detention compared to Rajai Shahr or Ghezel Hesar Prisons. Evin is a detention house and people are sent to Evin right after their arrest. In the absence of any definition of political prisoners in the law, those who threaten the country’s security and violate the related laws are charged with security offenses with specified punishment.

SOUNDBITE

I’ve been charged with purchasing and selling alcoholic drinks and I’ve been here for 16 months. I’ve never gone home on leave. We are out of the ward and work as laborers. Those who have poor financial situations are allowed to work and receive a salary. The prisoners, who have good behavior in the ward and are not quarrelsome or addicted to drugs or pills, are treated well by prison officials.

SOUNDBITE

Per capita health service provided to a prisoner is more than that of a free person. Some people who come here have abnormal social behavior and have paid less attention to their physical health. When they are kept in public places of the prison, their previous problems will be exacerbated. In the prison, these people undergo treatment free of charge.

SOUNDBITE

My clients mostly talk about their legal problems with me. Anyhow it’s difficult for them to tolerate the prison, but they have never complained about their inmates or the prison officials.

SOUNDBITE

Legal proceedings differ in cities in Iran. In small cities, legal proceedings are faster than in Tehran due to the few number of files in court branches. Sometimes, it takes 6 months to 3 or 4 years for a verdict to be issued.

Behind the Bars 2

Rajai Shahr Prison is for drug offenders. Most of our vocational training is in Rajai Shahr Prison. Well, we have small- to large-scale crimes. I mean, we keep prisoners from retail drug dealers who spend a short sentence to professional smugglers and gangsters. Depending on the category and severity of the crime and the type of confinement, prisoners experience different methods of guarding and treatment.

We, the guards look at the prisoner as we have been trusted to take care of them. We believe in this regardless of their crime and sentence. We should perform our duties inside the prison so as to prevent the prisoners from doing negative acts outside that lead to their confinement; so he follows the corrective measures and returns to society as a useful and acceptable person.

Here, we manufacture men’s clothing. And these are the prisoners or patients. We’ve brought them hereand trained them to manufacture the clothes that will be sold in Tehran Bazaar. Here, we produce about 1200-1300 clothes weekly.

I knew nothing to do outside and I was unemployed. So I used to hang out with some friends and broke the law. I came here knowing nothing. I applied for a job. I came here and learned a job. Wages aren't bad. My money is sent to my family and when I’m out, I’d like to start my own workshop.

During the time I’ve been here, I mean 60% of them have been rehabilitated, have boosted their morale; thwt hope to find a job outside, God willing!

Well, they told us another thing ] outside; that manual labor is hard and the like. But here, I saw that it’s not that bad. We’re kept busy and learn something as well.

Well, there are people who, for example, don’t know this work and commit crimes. But we’ve come to learn here and work outside.

Staying down there leads to nothing but unemployment and worries. For example, we’ve come here and learned a job; and this encourages others to do the same.

If we go outside, they will pay us some money so that we can earn a living at least for a while. It’s good.

We calculate their output monthly. Most of them are contractors. They’re paid for the number they produce. We transfer the money to their accounts so that they can spend it using their credit cards.

I’m a car painter. I was painting a stolen car at my shop. My customer was a thief. He had stolen it and wanted me to paint it. The police car came by and told me that it’s been stolen. The man never came to take the car and they took me to the station and charged me with auto theft.

I came here and saw that it’s a society of …How can I put it? People are made here; especially, in the cultural activities, the classes, and the gym. We spend most of our time at the gym. We have 4 to 5 hours recess time daily and the rest is our own: the library, the gym ... There’s also exercise equipment for the recess time. Sometimes we go to the gym or do cultural activities. There’s no place in this society for those who are into drugs. Society wants us if we keep ourselves clean here. There’ll be no place for us unless we’re clean. I’m saying this since I exercise in the prison. If you don’t keep fit here and if you don’t exercise in prison, you’ll get to no-man’s-land. Prison isn’t good; I make it OK. I live in a way to survive here. Otherwise, if I let go and stop exercising, who knows where it’ll lead to? It’s up to you how you live. Yeah, I can sit in a corner and do drugs and the like. But what about me? No! I’ll exercise, I’ll study so I can at least survive when I’m out after some years. My problems include things such as the case, the family ... I’ve made a mistake and I should pay for it here. And in prison, the respect that … I mean we live here anyway.

Prison means bounds. And human beings want no bounds. Everyone wants to be free, to enjoy the freedom and gifts of God. No matter how much corrective measure we offer to the prisoners, prison is like a town. So all facilities are here; and the guard or the warden is like a mayor.

I was studying dentistry about two years ago. I decided to go to Malaysia for my specialization. At the airport, I accepted some 12 kilos of overload baggage from a woman. One and a half kilos of it were drugs concealed in canned food. Here, we’re in Unit 2, the Quran House Hall of Rajai Shahr Prison. And we’re memorizing the Quran and the stuff like that. Here, one of the conditions is that you should be clean, both morally and physically. They have to abstain from doing fishy things … you know what I mean. There are things in here that are unavoidable; but those who want to be here have to leave that arena and enter a new one. Places like this reduce outside influences; somehow, we build a wall or barrier around ourselves to defend against negative influences. For two and a half years, prisoners didn’t live the way they should have. Hygienic and religious conditions were not so good. But when the Quran House Hall was opened, we registered for its classes, took tests, met the conditions and entered this hall. You see, it’s hard. Some guys have been here for 4 years. We have a saying here that it’s like we’re in a grave here; the only difference is that the cover is the sky. It’s very hard anyway; being away from family and society.

Pass me some kerchief … It’s really fine here, everybody is a friend. Each room usually has 4 or 5 people. There’s a restaurant too. They bring us lunch. Everything is available at our store. I’ve been here for more than 5 years and I’ve carried on with my studies; now I’m in the second grade of high school. We go to the school at the cultural building.

teacher: Second, it’s the query, meaning question and answer. ICDL stands for?

[student:] International Computer Driving License

Excuse me. - You’re welcome.

God’s prophet of so profundity, who knows the entire world completely. He was a student in God’s university. How can I thank my teacher befittingly? I’m sure that he’s never the God.Yet he’s never separate from God.A teacher just needs my faith. And a student hopes for the same.

Thanks

I’ve been in prison for 4 years now. And I’ve done tailoring for 3 years. At first, I knew nothing about it, but now I know almost everything. Most of those who learn here earn a living by it. Even the authorities introduce them to factories or companies and support them. Of course, they’re all clean here and nobody’s into drugs anymore. Working from morning to evening is tough; therefore, inmates are tired at night and take rest till the morning. And one has breakfast and lunch here too. As we work in the Factories Section, there are more facilities. Other wards are more restricted; inmates can’t go out. But here, there’s open space. We can have phone calls. Authorities help if we ask for it. Our welfare services are a bit better. The only emotional pain is not being with the family. Just that! Food comes regularly. It’s just the family. 90% of the prisoners have this family issue.

I’m the representative of this hall. I’ve been elected by the prisoners as someone who behaves well and understands others. I solve others’ problems and prevent clashes. I try to solve administrative problems and talk to the warden. I’m the medium linking the prisoners, the cultural services, the warden , and the head of the visits with each other. The inmates tell me their problems and I try to settle them amongst themselves; otherwise, I contact the warden or other higher authorities to solve the issues.

Here is the legal visit hall of Rajai Shahr Prison. Families are received here per prisoners’ request. They enter through that gate and pass through the ladies/men physical inspection room here. Then they sit in that waiting room until their inmates are transferred from the wards to here after the arrangements with the head of the visits and the ward's head are made. Prisoners sit at that waiting room. Then, they enter that room one by one and lock the door. They have almost two hours of visiting time. There are almost a total of 50 visit rooms in Rajai Shahr Prison. The visits are, as you know, conjugal visits meaning that each prisoner and his wife enter the room and after 2 hours we knock and open the door. The women are taken outside and then the prisoners go out one by one. Inside the room, there’s a bath, toilet, fridge, water heater, water tap, air conditioning, and a bed. Some hygienic items are also put there. There’s also a TV set. And Finally there are chairs and a table.

Well, you won’t know what the prison’s like till you come here. You should experience it firsthand. Otherwise, it’s impossible to know. You might think that there are dangerous people here who do evil. But you won’t know till you’re here. When you see your time is being wasted, you learn a craft to use it outside the prison. At least, we can work somewhere, earn a living, and get self-employed. Of course, we’ve also learned other jobs such as building electronics, industrial electronics, AutoCAD ... It’s been fine. The Technical and Vocational Organization issues the diplomas and there’s no logo or trace of the prison. So, when I go outside and show my diploma, they won’t reject me because of the prison.

He’s a pro.

Behind The Bars3

As you know,

the overall population of Rajai Shahr Prison consists of murderers, armed robbers and those who are dangerous members of the society.

Some are gangsters. Well, influencing them positively and holding courses in which they participate might be harder here.

Or it might be harder for them to learn and memorize Quran.

However, we’ve witnessed their activities in this regard; we’ve seen the friendship between the prisoner and the guard within the rules and regulations and the trust that the prisoners put in the guards.

Things occur that one never imagines.

In one moment, something happens and one spends the rest of his life in a cell for it,

forced to live without a hope for the outside or a second life.

So, I’m in prison willy-nilly. I see different things on TV, people who have their own life, a family, children,and live with respect; I really envy them.

I went to clear a debt. It was my cousin’s.

He said: “Someone owes me some money; let’s clear that.”

We went there and there was a fight which led to murder; so I’ve been here for 5 years. Yeah, I was here when my daughter got married, even when my grandchild was born.

It’s been 5 years that I’m here. But in the last 6 months, since my grandchild’s birthday, they’ve brought him here twice; I’ve seen him. Regarding the visits, we don’t have a problem.

In each ward, there are 3 halls and each hall has a 200-300 inmate population.

Each hall has 34 rooms and a Hosseinieh.

Three inmates live in each of the halls.

All the rooms look like this one, each housing three inmates.

And about 100-150 inmates live in the Hosseinieh with fifty beds and the rest mattresses for sleeping.

Here, we’re glad for the classes, rather than the jail itself.

God willingly, our prison term will be over soon and we’ll leave.

Our sentences would be much harsher without these facilities.

If they remove the cultural activities, we won’t have anything to do.

It’ll be hard to live for the life prison is very hard.

A 5-year sentence might sound easy, but without these facilities it might even feel as 30 years to us.

I’m here for homicide, for killing my wife. The murder wasn’t deliberate, it was an accident.

I was self-employed and had my grocery store. I had no idea about prison.

We make a mistake one way or another because we don’t know the law.

It’s in here that we attend classes and we understand the law.

I think one never makes a mistake if he knows the law.

I’ve attended these classes for 3 years and I’ve learned auto repair

and mosaic work professionally.

I can now operate an auto repair shop outside and even train others.

When we look at some of the crimes, we see that he’s not been a killer; his petty drug dealings or thefts were caused by unemployment.

Well, we have some facilities with cooperation of the Technical and Vocational Training Organization. We also have several trainees in various fields.

They attend different courses, like hairdressing, and receive training. And there’s no mention of prison in their diplomas.

This wasn’t my job; but with motivation and interest,I learned to a level that I can work outside. Firstly, it is my first time here.

My job was in real estate and I worked in that sector.

Unfortunately, I made a mistake and I was charged with swindle.

I was transferred from Evin to Rajai Shahr Prison.

I spent a month in Rajai Shahr in comfort and peace of mind.

I heard stories about here that made me pray to God and Quran.

I even asked my mother to pray so that I get to Evin instead of Rajai Shahr Prison.

I thank the Almighty that I’m here in Rajai Shahr, in the Quran House. The Quran helped me a lot.

I could pay cash for my freedom; my plaintiff has now come forward with a remittal and God willingly I might be released in a week.

Well, other wards don’t have the facilities that the Quran House Ward enjoys.

Here everybody attends a class with no exception.

So, there’s no time for other things. You spend 90 minutes a day in class and the rest of the day you’re involved too.

Your student comes to you, or you should visit your students.

Fortunately, you can’t find drugs here in this ward.

In other wards, they might take some with them from the courtroom or the visitors. Or if they’re shrewd enough, they might bring it in and hide it from the cameras and the guards.

We work with men’s body and soul. It’s no storage house here.

We want to have a positive influence on a person, to correct his fault.

Technical and vocational fields include AutoCAD, and learning to draw using AutoCAD.

Other courses here are vehicle maintenance and repair, auto repair, automotive electronics,

building electronics, industrial electronics, welding, and several others.

Avicenna is one of the most famous scientists in Iran and the world.

Based on the administrative guidelines of the Prisons Organization, all illiterate prisoners should attend Literacy Movement classes while in custody.

The class you see is held with the collaboration of the Education Department of Alborz Province, and all those who graduate from these classes will be awarded with the Literacy Movement Organization diploma with no mention of prison.

If the inmates show these documents outside, no one will know they’ve got them here.

Cultural poverty and illiteracy are the main causes of much of these crimes.

Illiteracy is the root of most crimes.

Many of the gangsters here have had no education in their childhood, or have left school very early leading to criminal behavior.

A burglar broke into our house, and I fought with him. He was killed, that’s why I’m here. It depends on your own character.

Some come here clean and get stuck with a host of problems.

Some come unclean and leave clean.

Some are in the middle, they leave as they came.

It depends on your character and your mentality.

Here, it’s better to mind your own business and go your own way.

However, there are always noises and distractions.

You should tolerate them. As this is a security prison, it’s more limited one way or another; for example, regarding the books you bring and going in and out. Regarding studying, it’s impossible to study in the wards as they are crowded. You should tolerate it.

And these fellows in charge of cultural activities try all they can.

As I was a compassionate person myself and I was never looking for trouble, I think self-defense isn’t a thing that one regrets, even in retrospect.

One protects his life, family and belongings at all costs.

My crime was murder. Two murders and they’ve been honor-killings unfortunately.

Since I came here, I began teaching the Quran classes.

Sorry … Alongside teaching, I began memorizing the Quran myself.

Now I’ve memorized more than three Juzes. The authorities don’t treat us as criminals.

It’s somehow common here to call us ‘patients’, people who really need help.

The Quran classes held here need a lot of work; for their planning and administration.

The devices that are used here for learning the Quran can’t be found in other prisons.

I’m here for killing my wife. It’s been 9 years since October 23, 2003.

At first, I was in Qasr Prison. Since its closure,

I was transferred here, and to this Quran House.

Thank God, I’m doing fine in the Quran activities.

It was in a fight, a group fight, that something happened and a person got killed.

And it’s almost 2 years and 3 months that I’m in jail.

I could memorize one Juz of the Holy Quran since then.

It’s possible to live a normal life here,

just that you’re confined and you can’t pass certain lines.

Yes, you can live much worse here. I can’t go into the details,

it’s not my business.

We’re in the Lajevardi Quran House of Rajai Shahr Prison

and right now students are group-reciting Surah An-Naba.

Around 600 people participate in our Quran activities each day and we have 200 people who’ve memorized the Quran, ranging from one Juz to the whole.

In recent years, the Quran House of the Rajai Shahr Prison has continuously ranked first in the Quran competitions of Iran’s prisons.

After three years, of course you’ll find one poor unlucky guy.

Maybe it’s God’s will. Who knows!?

Well, prison is a cage anyway. Prison is closed. It has its own hardships, no matter it’s night or day. Nights are silent and painful.

But during the day, there’s noise and you’re busy with the Quran classes and cultural classes.

It’s a cage anyway. Freedom is another story.

Behind the Bars4

I’m here for homicide. It’s been 3 years that I’ve been here.

Rey Prison

My friend and I went to a party. There was a fight and somebody was killed. For first timers, prison isn’t good at all because it’s impossible to tolerate it. They’ll be confused. However, if you live well, you can go on even if you’re living in poor conditions. All in all, you learn so many lessons here that’ll be good for living outside. For example, you learn to value your life, your freedom, and many other things. You shouldn’t trust everybody for it might lead the way to prison.

My case is financial and one of the main causes was my high ambitions. I mean I was greedy and I felt like I’m a goddess. I wanted to solve my children’s problems and support them. I wanted to fill the emotional gaps with money. That was my principal flaw. I didn’t value the sharp intelligence that God had given me. I was very able and had adequate income outside. I earned more than enough on my own. Yet, unfortunately I wasn’t satisfied with that. I started a fabrics business. During the recession, it led to much loss, both for me and my relatives. I was hiding from my relatives for 4 years. Finally, I could repay all my relatives, except one. I have the bills here and after 4 years I managed to clear all my debts. I showed the bills to the judge and other authorities, yet it won’t satisfy the plaintiff. He’s says: “You’ve cleared $30 thousands in 4 years; you should have paid my $10 thousands too.” Honestly, I saw the prison as a crypt before I came here. I saw the guards and authorities as, excuse my harsh language, vampires, as creatures impossible to deal with. But when I entered the prison, I found it full of lessons, changes, and rehabilitation. I found my real self here. And I’m really repentant. I repented to my God in total submission and asked Him to grant me a good life. I lived in luxury but now a tiny low class room will satisfy me if only I can live with my mother and my children. I mean a clean life without unlawful belongings. It’s no good living with others’ money.

The first 2 or 3 years here, I waited for my freedom. I did some artwork and earned a living by making handicrafts. Then, after 3 years, I thought it’s getting late for living outside, that I’m getting old. Then, I started studying for distance-learning university. Payam-e Nour University accepted me in their Law program in the Central Branch of Tehran. I married a man eight years ago. There was a man before that who really insisted on marrying me. My family refused his proposal. When I got married to the second one, he started making prank-calls and made trouble for me. One day, I decided to tell my husband about him. Then, one day he came to my house. I mean his prank-calls went all the way to the house. Then, my husband arrived. My husband didn’t hit him hard, just to make him injured or something. Then, he went to hide somewhere because he was scared. He wanted to run away and as we where two against one, we tied his limbs. He asked for another chance and apologized. We didn’t know what to do next. My husband suggested that he’s been punished and we should leave him in a deserted place somewhere. At that place, he attacked my husband with a knife. He was injured during the fight. We left him wounded there and then ran away. It’s 8 years that he’s been lost. His body hasn’t been found and he’s nowhere to be found. So, I’m stuck here. Prison is the worst place on earth, but you can live the best in this worst place.

By chance, I was introduced to the cultural services and the library of the Prisons Organization and came to prison this way. My first experience here was the green scenery of the Correction and Rehabilitation Center. I thought I’m in a kind of kids’ town or a park. Those who come here for the first time are really frightened. If they come from a normal household and unknowingly get into trouble, they will be frightened, worried and crying. Then, when two or three days pass and they see our behavior, they realize that the general opinion about prison as a dark scary place is wrong. For instance, we have 32 different fields of study here. We have all they want, from music and foreign languages to university and education. They can carry on with their studies. They can choose from these 32 available fields. We hope to increase that to fifty or even a hundred. When they see these facilities, their anxiety will be reduced by 70 or 80 percent.

When I befriended my husband, he committed crimes without me knowing. Then, I had to accompany him in his armed robberies for me and my family to be safe. We robbed drug-dealers. We had nothing to do with ordinary people. He took large sums of drugs from them, one or two kilos each time. I have to tolerate harsh words and curses now. I was a spoiled child somehow. Now, I hear things that I didn’t even think of before. But environments like the Employment Center or the cultural activities make me busy and teach me new things. For example, I used to play volleyball outside as an amateur. Now, I’m the passer of the team here. I’m the main passer.

When they enter the Employment and Crafts-Learning Department, we have absolutely nothing to do with their cases. We aim to compensate for the failings of the society or their families in providing job opportunities and income. We try to teach them crafts that will create adequate income outside, crafts that need little initial investment.

I think they work with their dreams in this class. Most of them have had no chance of wearing tiaras. When they’re making these tiaras, sometimes I look from a distance and I see how they put them on with a sigh. And they congratulate each other and laugh.

My husband and I got separated in 1994. At that time I worked in a company that sent me for baby-sitting. Then, my daughter decided to marry and I did not have enough money for her. I didn’t go to that house to steal; I was doing baby-sitting for 15 years by then. I had worked 4 months in the last household when I found some gold hidden in a bag under their bed. First, I asked them to lend me some money for my daughter’s wedding. But, the man refused and told me he has no money. Then, when I found out their gold, I thought about it for a while. I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally, I stole their gold, yeah I did it. Prison has been influential. I regretted what I’d done even before the arrest. But, it was too late. I just wanted to give my daughter what she needed for her wedding, just that. I did it because her father had passed away after the divorce. Eight months into my detention, my daughter got married. The relatives helped her to have her own life anyway. I haven’t been in touch with them since then. No, they won’t come to me.

I knew there’s something called prison, but I thought it’s for seriously dangerous people. Well, now that I live here, I see that many of them are innocent and have done nothing wrong.

When you’re out of here, you think that these women are kept in confinement, left to themselves under harsh conditions. But if you come inside, thinking what others think about here, you will see things in a different light. Especially, those who have criminal backgrounds and are regular prisoners see the prison as a kind of hotel. What you might hear in their conversation - that “it’s our hotel here!” - has something of truth to it. Most of them enjoy a comfort here that they can’t find outside. They don’t have adequate housing. They see this place as a shelter when they commit a crime.

I was a university student outside and I loved studying. Here, however, thanks to the authorities, some of them are so compassionate and kind that … Oh I’m in tears … I mean I’ve lived with the personnel rather than the inmates. It’s only their encouragement and assistance that has kept me waiting for my freedom, waiting to find my real self and choose a correct way of life.

Before the Revolution, there was no occupation or workshops in prisons, nor was there any training courses or Quran classes or dining halls. But it’s now one of the highest priorities of the Prisons Organization. Crafts-learning, academic learning and religious teachings are the main components of planning in the Prisons Organization. Yet today, in the Islamic Republic, prisoners are kept in groups, meaning they’re kept in room units. When corrective measures are in place, there is no need for closure or confinement.

Given the things we did and the weapons and large-scale drugs that we had, if I were out now, I would have died. I couldn’t survive like that.

General opinion might be unkind to my colleagues working in prison. But I think half of their lives remain here and the prisoners are part of their family.

What I used to think about prison was absolutely wrong. There’s a sea of differences between what I saw in movies and the prison that I live in now. Outside, I studied but I didn’t work anywhere. Then, I got several diplomas from the courses here. As I really liked wedding tiaras and bouquets, I carried on with that course. Some can’t do this. They want to leave as soon as they arrive. They don’t want to be corrected. But their behavior towards us is very kind. I might have harmed myself if I were free after that incident because I couldn’t tolerate my situation; I couldn’t understand my situation at all. But when I came here, after the initial shock and confusion, I put myself together. I would have been destroyed outside.

Tehran Correction and Rehabilitation Center

The Correction and Rehabilitation Center is exclusively built for children under 18 in Tehran. There’s absolutely no inmate here who is above 18 years of age. Individuals under 18 are kept in the Correction and Rehabilitation Centers. Girls and boys are kept separately. There are separate wards and halls depending on the age and severity of the sentence.

They’re kind when it fits and unkind when it doesn’t. It depends on our behavior; you should understand and act correctly and think reasonably when you see their reaction, when you see this lack of freedom and you can’t see your family for a week or two, when you’re always waiting for the visits or in my case when I’m counting the days to see my mother or brother …

Iran Educational Center

You can’t say that everybody here has been corrected or has changed. Majority of those who’ve done something wrong for the first time, they come here and never return. For instance, in the last four years, I’ve seen many who have been here only once and have never returned. Most of those who are released, return to their previous situation, the same family, the same environment, it’s all the same. The biggest issue here is lack of change. Nothing ever happens. Nothing gets worse and nothing gets better. Even if things get a bit worse, one might get encouraged to change. But it’s monotonous here; it’s always like this. Any child at my age has a lot of ideas for her future, like I’ll do this and that. I have some ideas too, like going outside to study or have a job. But I never go into details or the practicality of it because I have no idea about the outside world. I have no father, my mother’s in prison, and my sister is here with me. I don’t have anyone to support me outside. So I really don’t think much about what I’ll do outside or make any plans for my future.

Wish I could never get so old to forget how to stay under the rain.

Mohammad Shasani

I am Mohammad Shasani, 60 years old. In 1999, I killed two people in a car accident in Aghdasieh neighborhood in the north of Tehran and I was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. I spent over two years in prison and was released on December 31, 2012. I am very happy now that I am free and having this interview with you. May God help all those who are behind bars.

In 1999, it was around 7:00 p.m. on the Day of Ashura that I was called up to transport a group of mourners from Pasdaran neighborhood of Tehran to Aghdasieh. I dropped them at their destination and was to collect them at 11:00 p.m.

I was back at the spot at 11:00 but fortunately or unfortunately I could not find them there; they may have drifted away from the place while watching or attending other mourning processions in the area.

On my way back, I drove down a steep street and I was gathering speed when a driver cut in front of me. I hit the brakes but they did not work. To reduce speed and avoid the car in front, I had put the car in the neutral and that, coupled with the speed and the heavy weight of the vehicle, caused a sudden acceleration and I lost control and rammed into a sedan. The force of the crash severely damaged the back of the sedan and pushed it into the corner of a nearby shop. My van ran off the street and crashed into an electricity box.

I quickly jumped off my car and looked underneath it to see if I had run over a child who happened to be walking with his father across the street at the time. I did not find anything. An elderly man asked me what I was looking for and I told him that I was looking for the child who appeared in front of me just before the disaster. The man told me that the child had a lucky escape and ran away.

I rushed to the sedan and found the driver dead inside. There was also a pedestrian lying dead underneath his car. The man was the father of the child, apparently killed when hit by the sedan.

Police arrived at the scene and I told them what had happened. The court found me guilty and sentenced me to 25 months in jail. I was sent off to Evin Prison but got bailed out 27 days later. I was given two years’ time to get the consent of the families of the deceased persons. I could not, however, face the families as it was too difficult for me.

A prison is much like a home, there is a corridor with rooms on each side. The number of inmates in each room varies, depending on how many beds the room has. Sometimes, some inmates slept in the corridors when their cells got crowded. A prison is not like what many people think. Some people want to have it easy; they want prisons to be exactly like their own homes where they have everything quickly brought to them. That is a wrong image. A prison is a place where one is supposed to pay for the crimes committed. Of course, there are classifications of crimes as to their gravity; the gravity of a crime such as creating counterfeit bills and fake documents or trading illicit drugs is not equal to that of vehicular offenses. It is obvious that prisons treat people involved in each of these offenses differently. I add that some prisoners receive better treatment because of their age.

Some people say prions are not like what they like them to be, well, that is no wonder. For a person who is in jail for cheating people out of a lot of money, life in prison can indeed be very good as he or she can use some of the ill-gotten money to have fun while serving their sentence in prison. But prison life is a little difficult for those who are imprisoned for vehicular offenses, like me, or for not having paid alimony to a former spouse or having written a bad check.

The man sitting by the flag, wearing grey striped jacket and glasses

Unfortunately, those who have not seen prisons first hand do not have a good image of prisons and prison guards. They might think prisons are places where people are harshly treated and prison guards are cruel people who force prisoners into doing things. However, those who have seen prisons for themselves, people like the families of the prisoners, do not have such an image.

The thin woman with the black headscarf

My husband has been in prison for the past two years for possession of illicit drugs. He also has to pay a fine of around $336. He is serving a prison term for almost $286 and I have to deposit the remaining $50 into his prison bank account. The prison authorities take good care of me.

The fat woman taking about her daughter’s sufferings

My husband has been sentenced to life in prison for possession of illicit drugs. We are not allowed to visit him; we all know that he has committed a crime but you cannot expect our little child to understand why she is not allowed to visit her father.

Days before the (Persian) New Year holidays, I filed a request to Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, asking the court to grant my husband a few days off so that he could be with his family for the holidays. My request got nowhere and when I told our child that she would not have her dad for the holidays, she broke into tears and cried for hours on end. I took her for a walk in the park in order to calm her down. She was crying all the while and asking me why her dad would not be let out, even for one night.

During the holidays, I tried again to have my husband out for a short break but I failed. I think letting him out for one night would not harm anyone but it would be a great morale boost to his daughter.

The woman with chador talking about her son

My son could have died of drug abuse had he stayed at home. He was addicted to meth. We made him break the addiction and he was clean for a year but he started taking drugs again. I have no objections to his being incarcerated, hoping that he may get reformed. We, as his family, cannot do much but to worry about him. But I believe that after four years of being in prison, I should be allowed, as his mother, to have him at home on supervised trial releases once every week or so to see whether he has been reformed and whether he can be released on parole.

Mohammad Shasani

Prison officials would accept title deeds for land or property as bail and since I presented them with one, I expected to be let out. However, five months passed and nothing happened. When I took the issue to the officials, they told me that I was eligible for parole and was placed on parole. I worked in the prison’s meeting hall. It was really convenient; I went to the prison in the morning and stayed there till 2: 30 in the afternoon. I could sleep at home at nights. I was also allowed to stay home on holidays.

Working at the meeting hall, I could see people coming and going out of the prison facility. Prison wardens were really nice to us, contrary to what I had heard about them. I believe those who create counterfeit bills and fake documents, disturb public peace and threaten people’s life should be sent to prisons and live under unfavorable conditions to learn that they should not repeat the felonies. But I also believe that people like me should be treated as harshly because the nature of the offense I committed is totally different; it was just a mishap. I did not kill anyone intentionally but I agree that I should receive punishment for the offense I unintentionally committed.

I admit that time in prison can be difficult; you are taken away from your family, the food may not be to your liking or it may not agree with you. Things were OK for me, though. There were difficulties; but I somehow could cope with them.

I did not want my family to come in and visit me in the prison because I called home two to three times a day. I think prison visits are for those who cannot get bailed out or cannot leave the prison. I was able to take frequent leaves and my family did not need to visit me in the prison. They, nonetheless, visited me, not being able to stand my being away from them. I say prison visits were a waste of time for them; they had to spend the whole morning for a 15-minute talk through telephone behind a glass wall. Every room was equipped with a telephone and I called home two or three times a day.

The man sitting by the flag, wearing grey striped jacket and glasses

We are ready to allow anyone, even foreign delegations, to visit the country’s prisons, if they have the permission of Iran’s Judiciary or State Prisons and Security and Corrective Measures Organization. Members of Majlis (the parliament) and different committees have visited the country’s prisons several times and toured the different sections of the prisons. We announce our readiness to receive visitors and will be happy to have them.

Recent reports of prisoner abuse, in particular the death of Sattar Beheshti, had nothing to do with the prisons. He did not die in a prison. He spent almost 23.5 hours in a prison and I gave the full report of that to Iran’s Majlis National Security Committee and the Iran’s Judiciary officials. Those reports had nothing to do with prison conditions. These conditions don’t exist in the country’s prisons. If a prisoner is reported to have staged a hunger strike, it is never related to prison conditions but usually in protest to the type of court sentences handed down to him or her.

Man talking about Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation

One of the effective measures of Iran's Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation in protecting the vulnerable sections of the society has been freeing detainees who are in prisons for involuntary crimes and returning them to their families in a bid to protect and empower the families.

Last year, we freed around 1200 prisoners with a fund of around $12 million. Of course, the bulk of this fund was the blood money and the damages that the relatives of the victims refused to accept from convicted prisoners as compensation for their loss.

Khayer (ÎííÑ) 1

I have had five prisoners released so far. I try, with people’s donations, to obtain the freedom for those who are in prison due to financial inability and those who did not commit their crimes on purpose.

Khayer (ÎííÑ) 2

My family and I always try to lead others whenever we feel that we can help a family in distress.

The man sitting by the flag, wearing grey striped jacket and glasses

A center that helps the State Prisons and Security and Corrective Measures Organization and is in fact part of the organization is the Post Release Center. Our support is not limited only to those inside prisons. With the funds that the state provides us annually, we can support, through the Post Release Center, some of the ex-prisoners who learned and obtained a certificate for a specific profession while serving their prison time. This support is provided by giving these ex-prisoners loans or helping them with their job search, and also through taking care of their needs for a while in their post-release period.

Mohammad Shasani:

The guy sends his greetings to you but apologizes for not being able to have the interview with you. He says he is suffering an assortment of ailments and I wished him a speedy recovery.

Although my wife can take care of our family much better than myself, the presence of a man in the family and at home is very important; his mere presence provides security.

My family helped me more than I ever imagined because in prison, I could see some of the prisoners being abandoned and given the cold shoulder by their families or relatives and I always worried that might happen to me. Thank God I never experienced such a treatment from my family.

Mohammad Shasani: Do you have thin ankle-length socks for women?

The vendor: Yes, I do.

Mohammad Shasani: Do not give me too many of them, I need only one pair.

The vendor: The three pairs cost 58 cents.

Mohammad Shasani: Keep them in their covers.

The bald man:

Prisoners held for involuntary crimes or bankruptcy and financial inability to pay their court-set alimony or blood money fill out some forms at Iran’s Association to Help Prisoners Pay Blood Money. Following an investigation into the varsity of their claims, the detainees can become eligible to receive financial aid by the association or individual donors, or by the country’s banks which provide these prisoners with long term installment loans with very little interest.

Mohammad Shasani:

Some people can get bailed out of prison because they are rich; they have land or other valuable properties which they can place as bail, but others like me have none of them and cannot get bailed out. I would be stuck in prison now had it not been for the help that the prison officials provided me with.

   

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