For nearly five months, 31-year-old journalist Roxana Saberi was detained in Iran following charges of espionage.
In "Between Two Worlds," Saberi chronicles her experiences from being captured, to solidary confinement, interrogations, sentenced to eight years in prison and finally reuniting with her family.
Check out an excerpt of the book below, then head to the "GMA" Library for other great reads.
Chapter Three I had been to, or rather, outside Evin, once before.
An Iranian friend had insisted on driving me past the prison, which was located on a hill in an upper-class neighborhood of northern Tehran, close to the Alborz Mountains. I had asked him not to linger: Just seeing its tall walls and barbed wire made me tense, and I suspected that cameras were recording video of anyone in the vicinity.
Now, as our car pulled up to the prison gate, I could no longer deny the reality of what was happening to me. For the first time that day, I felt truly terrified. Some people come here and never leave.
"I don't understand why you are bringing me here," I said to the Mailman, who was sitting beside me in the backseat of the car.
"Don't worry," he said with a sly smile. "If you prove your innocence,you'll be set free."
"Why should I prove my innocence?" I asserted. "A person is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. If I am guilty, you are the ones who have to prove it."
The man shrugged and turned his head away.
A guard waved us through the blue metal gate. We drove up a winding road and parked in front of a brick building, where I was told to get out of the car. Tasbihi gave me a dirty white blindfold and ordered me to cover my eyes. He told me to pull the cloth just high enough so I could see his black shoes in front of me. I followed him into the building, groping the walls as I stumbled down a hallway and up a flight of stairs. I trembled, thinking of how many thousands of prisoners had been detained, tortured, and executed in this prison since it was built by Mohammad Reza Shah in the 1970s and expanded after the Islamic Revolution.
At the top of the stairs, Tasbihi told me to face a wall. I heard him ring a buzzer. Then came the sound of a heavy door opening. A frosty hand seized my wrist and pulled me inside a corridor. The door banged shut behind me. "Remove your blindfold," a woman whispered to me.
I did as I was told. Standing before me was a solemn-faced, heavyset woman wearing round glasses and a black chador. She must have been a guard. She guided me down a quiet, brightly-lit corridor past five or six steel doors on the left. We stopped in front of the last one, which stood open. "Go in," she murmured.
I entered a small cell with lime green walls and a thin, worn-out brown carpet. The room was lit by one dim, yellow lightbulb.
"Remove all your clothes," the woman directed me.
I took off my headscarf and roopoosh, then stopped and looked at her. I wondered whether she was going to turn around or keep staring at me.
"Go ahead," she said, remaining glued to her spot with her eyes wide open.
I stripped down to my underwear.
"Take that off, too," she said.
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.
Nailed to one wall was a sign with some instructions in Farsi, which I ignored. Against another wall stood a rusty iron sink. The guard had warned me not to drink the water. She had also told me the old toilet beside the sink no longer worked. If I needed to use the bathroom down the hall, I was to push a black button near my door. This would activate a green light outside my cell, signaling that I needed to be let out.
Attached to the opposite wall was a heater with a white metal cover. It was engraved with various comments left by previous detainees. I knelt to examine them.
"National solidarity for the freedom of Iran," stated one in Farsi.
"18 Tir 1386," read another. This date on the Iranian calendar marked the eighth anniversary of the 1999 peaceful student protests that had rocked various Iranian cities before the authorities violently suppressed them. Every year since then, students had commemorated the anniversary of the protests with fresh demonstrations, which were consistently put down by force.
Ahmad Batebi was one of the students who took part in the original protests. After his photo appeared on the cover of The Economist magazine, holding up a shirt splattered with the blood of a fellow protestor, he was given a death sentence, which was later reduced to several years' imprisonment in Evin. I had read how Batebi's captors had tried to get him to say what they wanted by beating his testicles and legs and by holding his head in excrement until he inhaled it.
In 2008, when he was briefly allowed out of prison for medical treatment, he escaped to neighboring Iraq and was later granted political asylum in America.
Toward the top of the heater, someone had drawn several parallel lines, apparently indicating the number of days she had been jailed. "One, two, three . . ." I counted. "Eighteen!" I could not handle even one night here.
I puzzled over how my predecessors had made these engravings without any sharp objects at their disposal. I tried using the bottom edge of my tube of toothpaste. It was solid enough to carve into the paint.
"GOD . . . SAVE . . ." I etched into the heater, "IRAN." I had to keep myself from adding, "from these awful people." The guard might later inspect what I had written. Who knew, maybe she could read English.
As I was finishing my artwork, I heard a whimpering sound coming from the other side of the wall through the perforations in my heater.
Then I heard a neighboring cell door open.
"You must eat something," I heard the guard say.
The whimpering paused.
"I can't," a woman said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
"OK, it's up to you," the guard replied. "You're only hurting yourself, not us."
The door closed.
"Is she still refusing to eat?" asked someone, who must have been another guard.
"Yes," came the reply.
Poor woman. I wondered why she was here and what ghastly things had been done to her.
I lay down on my blankets and shut my eyes. The air was thick with dust, and my cell smelled like a junkyard of metal and cement, devoid of life and activity. The heater wasn't working, and the room was chilly. With two blankets under me and only one left as a cover, I was shivering. So I placed two blankets on top of myself and kept only one beneath. I was a little warmer, but now my bones were grinding against the frigid cement floor.
Without a watch or clock, I had no clue what time it was. It must have been near midnight, but I wasn't sleepy. Anger roused me. Anger at the people who had put me here. Anger at U.S. policies that gave my captors a pretext to accuse people like me of plotting against the Islamic regime. Anger at God.
"Why are you punishing me?" I whispered. Is it because I complained to you last night about my life? I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Please help me. Where are you? Why have you abandoned me?
I was also angry at myself. I had been such an idiot to think that my research wasn't that risky, that I would at most be interrogated and not land in prison, that Iranian intelligence agents would be rational enough to see the harmless nature of my work, and that they would believe me if I told the truth.
A few tears of self-pity trickled down my cheeks as I lay awake for what seemed like hours. I wished I could turn back time. I would have never begun writing a book about Iran. I would have left the country in 2006.
"Aaa-eee!" came a man's anguished howl from somewhere in the distance.
What a terrible, terrible place!