Recently freed hiker Sarah Shourd is not convinced she crossed into Iran at all and was told directly by an Iranian prosecutor that her guilt or innocence "really doesn't matter," the American told Oprah Winfrey today in her first television interview since her release last week.
"There was a moment that it hit me that this was going to be possibly a bigger deal than my worst fears," Shourd told Winfrey. "You know, we had two months of investigation, and there was a moment when my investigator said to me, 'Sara, the investigation is over.' And he said I could continue asking questions but, 'You've been told that the investigation is finished and at this point it's become political ... and it really doesn't matter if you're innocent or not. This is bigger than you.'"
Shourd was arrested along with her fiance, Shane Bauer, and her friend, Josh Fattal, on July 31, 2009 while hiking in northern Iraq near the Iranian border. For more than 13 months, the three were detained in Tehran, Iran's infamous Evin prison under accusations of espionage and illegally crossing the border.
Shourd was released earlier this month because of a deteriorating health condition and, as she said on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" today, because she was a woman and Iran "is proud of the fact that it's more lenient with women."
Bauer and Fattal remain in the Iranian prison.
Shourd told Winfrey she hopes to take advantage of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's visit to the United Nations in New York and will attempt to talk to the leader about freeing the other two hikers.
"I just want him to know that I have no animosity towards him or towards any Iranian people and there's just no reason for animosity in a situation like this," she said. "There's no feeling of blame or anger, there's just a strong desire for it to be over so we can go on with our lives."
Shourd shared touching, intimate details of her captivity -- including putting strawberry jelly on her lips to "dress up" on Fridays for the one hour a day she got to spend with Bauer and Fattal -- but also challenged Iranian officials' version of the story of their capture.
When Winfrey asked a question about "when" the trio crossed into Iran, Shourd interjected, "If!"
"The important thing for me to say about the arrest, too, is that there was absolutely no indication of a border. No signs," she said. "We didn't see a single person. No flag or building or fence, you know, the way we would imagine a border. We were just on one trail so I had no way of knowing where that border is."
After a five-month investigation, The Nation reported in June of this year based on eyewitness accounts that the hikers never entered Iran at all and were actually captured in Iraq and taken over the border.
Shourd told Winfrey that while they were hiking, soldiers suddenly appeared and spoke to the group in Farsi.
"We had no idea we were even near Iran," she said. "They told us that we had to come with them."
Sarah Shourd: Trio Was Interrogated, Driven Around for Days
Shourd said the group was not immediately taken to prison, but was driven around Iran for a few days, during which they endured interrogations.
"We switched hands several times and we spent the night in this small prison kind of in the middle of nowhere," she said.
She claimed their captors repeatedly promised them freedom.
"They kept telling us, 'We're going to let you go. We're going to let you go. This is nothing. We're just checking up on a few things,'" she said.
Instead, the three eventually were taken to Evin prison in Iran and all thrown into solitary confinement. Shourd, who has appeared stoic in the two news conferences since her release, told Winfrey with a faintly cracking voice about the horrible realization once they arrived.
"It didn't hit me until we arrived in Tehran and that's when we were separated for the first time," she said. "That was one of the most devastating moments, because they just tore us apart and threw us into three different cells. And I screamed and screamed all night long. That's when it hit me that we were in prison."
Still, Shourd said Iranians told the trio for the first six months that they were not being charged with espionage. Then the harsh news came from Shourd's investigator that her guilt or innocence of the charges did not matter.
"It hit me that I was part of something that was bigger than myself," she said, "something that I didn't deserve to be a part of, but I was part of it."
After more than 13 months of anxious waiting and unnerving uncertainty, Shourd was released -- but not before a few power plays were made both within the Iranian government and between Iran and the U.S.
Ahmadinejad already has used Shourd's release to call on the U.S. to free eight Iranians he claims American officials are holding.
"It would not be misplaced to ask that the U.S. government should take a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained here in the United States," Ahmadinejad told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour on "This Week."
Coping With Solitary Confinement: Date Nights and an Engagement
Shourd said that she endured the nearly 14 months of detention almost completely in solitary confinement, in a cell that was "eight steps by five steps."
She was not allowed to write or phone her mother, Nora, despite repeated crying and pleading to do so.
"The worst thing is thinking about my mother," she said. "I mean my whole family. But my mother and I are extremely close... I just thought about her terror."
Seven months into her detention, she was finally allowed a phone call.
"It was incredible just to know that she could have that relief," Shourd told Winfrey. "It was also really difficult because I felt I didn't have a lot of hope at that time. And I heard the hope in her voice and I was happy that she had hope, but I didn't have hope."
Shourd said she was terrified for the first few months, but only broke down once.
"There was only one day in prison where I really gave up. I just didn't get out of bed, didn't eat, just cried. Didn't even speak to the guards. I had to pick myself up, I had to keep going for my mom and for everyone else that loves me and for God. That's really what makes you not give up," she said.
Shourd said that after the first couple months, she was allowed to see Bauer and Fattal for an hour every day. They would spend the time, she said, in a circle holding hands. On Fridays, the three called their hour their "date night."
"The only way I could make myself look a little better was some jelly, some strawberry jelly on my lips," Shourd said with a laugh. "That was a little something."
Shourd told Winfrey that though she bathed regularly, she never had a mirror so she didn't know what she looked like. That didn't stop Bauer from proposing to her nine months ago.
"That was a special moment," she said. "That was one of the best."
Shourd Turns Attention to Fiance, Friend Still Imprisoned
Another special moment came in late May 2010 when the mothers of the three hikers were allowed to fly to Tehran to visit their children in a hotel.
At the time, Shourd told reporters that while solitary confinement was difficult, the hikers were receiving "good food and we have medical care, which is appreciated."
But today, Shourd told Winfrey that when she found a lump in her breast, the medical attention she received was disconcerting.
"I did find a lump in my breast and that was extremely terrifying for me because I didn't get any medical attention for many months, and even when I did, I wasn't allowed to talk to the doctors so I couldn't ask any questions," she said.
Shourd was checked out by doctors in Oman after her September release and declared physically healthy.
Her only mission now, she said, is getting her fiance and friend out of prison.
Iranian officials have said that Bauer and Fattal will face trial for espionage. One official claimed during her release that Shourd would have to return to the country to face charges of illegal entry into Iran.
"This is the biggest separation for me. In a way, I'm still being punished because they still have that power to hurt me," she said. "I don't feel free. It's not what I expected it to be, it's not what I've been dreaming about all this time. It's a big disappointment for all of us. But it's a step."
ABC News' Desiree Adib, Jason Stine, Kirit Radia, Sabrina Parise, Thea Trachtenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.