The wedding was held at Ali’s parents’ house. The first time we had sexual relations I cried out and wept the whole time. Ali put his hand over my mouth and told me, “Don’t scream or it’ll be much worse. If you don’t struggle it won’t hurt so much. So don’t scream!” Little by little I learned not to cry out, and although I did resist the first few times, I gradually realized that it was useless to struggle. I learned to put up with the pain and to think it would be all over soon. We stayed at Ali’s house for a few days and then he took me back to Evin. He had managed to get my sentence reduced to three years. Then we would live together outside the prison. I didn’t want to go back with the other girls, because I would have to tell them what had happened, and at first I went to solitary. Ali would come two or three times a week to bring me food, and I knew what he wanted in return. It was horrible. I had no desire for him as a husband, but I had to put up with it. I couldn’t do anything about it. Later on I went back to the module with my cellmates. Ali continued to call me in for interrogations a few times each week. When he had a day off he would take me out of the prison and back to his home. It was my cellmates once again who gave me the strength to bear it and to understand what was happening to me. “Marina,” they would tell me, “If you don’t want to be his wife, this is rape. You’re not to blame, it’s their fault, them and their religion. Not yours.”
The months passed. In the end I became pregnant, and Ali decided we should leave the prison and he changed his job. One night he took me out of the prison and we went for dinner at his parents’ house. When we left they were waiting for him. They drove up on a motorbike and opened fire on us. Ali covered me with his body and then he just collapsed on top of me. They said it was the Mujahideen, but we learned later that it had been his own companions at the prison. He died and I lost the child. His last wish was that I should be released from Evin and allowed to go home to my family. And that’s what happened. I was set free on the 28th of March 1984.
In the two years, two months and 13 days that I spent in prison, I saw many of my companions disappear. I was tortured. I was on the point of being executed. I lost my religion and my name. I became pregnant and then lost the child I was carrying, and my husband was murdered. If I had to say what was the worst, however, I would say it was coming home when I was freed. Until that moment, I had thought that everything would go back to being the way it was when I returned home. My family and relations would all be there. All I had to do was get out of Evin, and then I could return to normal. But when I did come home, I soon realized there was no normality.
When they let me go, I started to walk along the road from the prison towards the car park at Luna Park fairground where my family were waiting for me, when I passed by another girl who had also been released. She was standing quietly on the kerb, and I wondered why she didn’t cross the street. She looked at me vacantly. She must have been a year or two older than me and she was wearing a chador and plastic sandals. I believe now that she knew what I had yet to learn –you can cross the road and go to your family, but you will never return home. You can’t escape from the prison reality. You will never feel at home again now.
If I had to say what was the worst, however, I would say it was coming home when I was freed. (...) I had thought that everything would go back to being the way it was when I returned home.
When I looked back after coming home, I realized that everything I truly cared about was in Evin, and that now I had lost not only my cellmates but also my own family. I felt guilty about leaving my fellow prisoners, and I still couldn’t get my family back. They had become strangers to me. I was a different person, but nobody wanted to know what had happened to me. Nobody asked any questions. Not even my boyfriend. It was then I began my game of pretending that I was who I had always been. I married Andre, who is a truly a wonderful man. We’re still married after 33 years, but the truth is that we hardly knew each other back then. We had two children and then we went into exile in Canada where my brother was living. Not long afterwards I managed to bring my parents over too.
My mother died in the year 2000. After the funeral, all the family and friends met back at my brother’s house. I was sitting beside my father. After 50 years of marriage, he was overcome with grief. Suddenly he turned to me and said “Marina, I want you to know that your mother forgave you before she died.” I opened my mouth to ask him what he meant, but all that came out was a terrible wail. I had no idea where it came from and I could not stop it. There were more than a hundred people all around me. I went on wailing shockingly loud. Everybody stepped back. I looked around for help but they were all rooted to the spot. Then I got up and ran to out into the street, where I collapsed. There was a doctor there, a family friend, and she brought me round. I had stopped wailing now and I could breathe. My husband put me in the car with our children and took me home. I expected him to ask me, “What happened? Are you all right?” but he said nothing. He didn’t ask anything, and neither did my brother or my father. Nobody called.
I became so terribly angry I could hardly contain my rage. I shut myself in the bathroom and began shrieking and hitting my head against the wall as hard as I could until I fainted. When I came round my head hurt terribly. I opened the door and there was my husband. He said, “Are you all right?” so I said I was, and that was it. It was then that I realized, that I began to see more clearly. Thank you, Father! You all forgive me for being a stupid adolescent who couldn’t keep her mouth shut and got into trouble, who was put in prison and made her family suffer. That was it. Somebody had at last dared to say it out loud.
I was a different person, but nobody wanted to know what had happened to me. Nobody asked any questions. Not even my boyfriend. It was then I began my game of pretending that I was who I had always been.
Then I began to think about Evin again, about my friends Sara and Gita, and the others I had met there. I began to suffer flashbacks and nightmares, and I thought that I would not be able to deal with it alone and in silence. I couldn’t keep turning my back on my past. The mask had fallen and the whole pretence had been for nothing. I started to write. My first book, Prisoner of Teheran, was published in 2006. I haven’t stopped speaking and writing since then, so that what happened will never be forgotten. I owe it to all the girls who died in Evin prison.
I know I have post-traumatic stress disorder, ‘the silent killer’. Lots of people have it and don’t even know. Until my mother died, I had not experienced any symptoms myself. It is a mental disorder for which there is no cure. It works very strangely, sometimes remaining dormant for years before suddenly raising its head. The only thing you can do is learn to live with it. It can be managed in many ways –medication, therapy, writing or going for long walks in the fresh air. But it can’t be cured.
I’m able to live a fairly normal life, but the way I process my emotions is different. I almost never cry when something bad happens to me. It’s not that I’m particularly brave, just that it’s extremely difficult to upset me with bad news. Good things really trouble me though. I don’t know how to handle happy moments. I have a very strange way of dealing with my feelings, My emotional capacity is really very limited. It’s as if there were a void between me and the rest of the world. I always have a singular feeling that I shouldn’t really be here, where I am right now. Life may be wonderful, but I simply shouldn’t be there. That is about the closest I can come to explaining how I feel.
The first person to read my book was my husband, who knew nothing at all about what had happened to me in prison, although we had already been married for 17 years. Nobody knew because nobody had wanted to know. Nobody ever asked. When he had finished reading, I asked him, “Can you forgive me for not telling you all this before?” “There’s nothing to forgive”, he answered. “Can you forgive me?” “What for?” I replied, “For not asking.”
Marina Nemat at the 5th World Congress against the Death Penalty. Madrid, 2013.