When I was completely naked, the guard told me to face the wall and open my ponytail. She ran her fingers through my long hair, evidently to see if I had hidden anything in it. Then she handed me a large pair of underwear, some synthetic, beige-colored sweatpants, and a matching sweatshirt to wear in place of my own clothes. The only personal item she allowed me to keep was my socks. No bra. No watch. No shoes. Instead I was given men's oversize white plastic slippers—the cheap kind many Iranians wore to the bathroom in their homes. The guard took my tote bag, made a list of the belongings it contained, and had me sign a form and fingerprint it.
Like a robot, I did as she instructed.
She then had me put on a maqna'e to cover my hair and neck, a roopoosh that hung loosely on my small frame, and a dark blue chador that smelled like unwashed socks. When I was dressed, she grabbed my arm and led me back down the corridor and, once I was blindfolded again, out the door. From there, I walked clumsily beside her a few steps down another hallway and into a room on our left, where she told me to unfasten my blindfold.
I found myself in a small, one-room dispensary. A young male doctor was sitting behind a desk. He stood up and checked my weight, blood pressure, and pulse, silently noting the results until he announced, "You're very healthy."
How unfortunate, I moaned to myself. If I were gravely ill, maybe these people would release me. Or maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they'd be glad if I were dead.
"Are you an athlete?" the doctor asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"What sports do you play?"
The doctor ran down a list of illnesses. Regrettably, I didn't have any.
"Have you ever been depressed?" he asked.
My captors wouldn't want to keep a suicidal woman here for long, would they? I thought. There was that time years ago when a counselor told me I had a mild case of depression . . .
"Well, I get depressed once in a while," I replied.
"Everyone gets depressed once in a while," the doctor said.
"And athletes shouldn't get depressed," interjected the guard, who was standing next to me. I glared at her.
"Are you on any medications?" the doctor asked.
I told him I had been using a special acne ointment, which was in the bag I had brought to prison.
"Your skin looks fine," he said. "You don't need it." With that, he turned to the guard and told her to take me back to my cell.
The steel door clanged shut behind me, automatically locking.
I had never been any more cut off from the outside world. I had never been any more alone.
A disposable plastic bowl of cold baked beans was sitting on the ratty carpet. I slid the dish aside with my foot and began to survey my new surroundings.
The guard had left four frayed military blankets in one corner for me. She had told me to roll one up as my pillow and to sleep on two others. She had also given me a towel, a miniature bar of soap, a toothbrush, and a travel-size tube of toothpaste.
The cell, which measured about seven by nine feet, was clearly made to hold only one person. By raising my arms to the sides, I could almost touch both walls. A few feet above the door, beyond my reach near the ceiling, was a closed, barred window covered with a sheet of tightly woven metal mesh. There was a small window in the door, too, but its shutter was latched from the outside.