Elham Ferdowsi, a gifted college student studying economics, was a prisoner in the notorious Gharchak Varamin prison for over two years. Following her release she was able to celebrate the Persian New Year with her family.
She has written about this bitter-sweet experience, “I celebrated 23 New Years with my family and 2 in prison. Those two years had a deep negative impact on me. During the two years in Gharchak my only wish was to be able to spend the next year with my family and to help all prisoners reunite with their families. I know that thousands of prisoners are still behind bars and closed doors, with grieving hearts, but they are saying Happy New Year to each other and are actually trying to celebrate with their cellmates… can I truly not have any grief?
During the last days of March 2012, most of the prisoners were preparing to be visited by their families. Those who did not have visitors were jealous… The prisoners were trying to show their families how they had coped with the conditions, and the families were trying to act as if they were doing well. It was interesting that both knew they were lying and both were accepting these lies with full heart and soul.
At 11 am they called my name and I quickly went to the guard’s office and the meeting hall. They had come, every single member of my family, and it was very difficult to see all of them. Hearing the treble in my voice, my mother began crying, my sisters and I followed suit. I had never seen my father cry. I was embarrassed. My father had 8 children and after 30 years of serving in the education sector, he was crying at the sight of witnessing his youngest child behind the glass window of prison. I cried the whole 20 minutes we had together and upon my return to the ward.
In the final hours of the year the prisoners who were in the ward longer than others were busy preparing the New Years’ table. Everyone brought something to decorate the spread. It was a very interesting set of Persian New Year decoration on a knitted cloth. Nuts and some pastry were added to the prison store because of the New Year, but only a few of the prisoners were actually able to buy them… The table cloth was spread in the middle of the hall and it was quiet everywhere. Prisoners were deep in their thoughts until the New Year was rang in through the TV. Mehri was the first person to rise and shout, ‘Happy New Year’.
For a whole hour everyone was standing greeting one another and there was a lot of noise until Shima began beating a drum sound on her mattress and Mehri started singing a song… All the prisoners were dancing that day. For a few hours they had set aside all their griefs.
The next morning the halls were opened and everyone began visiting one another for New Years. The little kids began gathering their presents. Seeing them truly broke my heart. Why should they not have any image and taste of what our New Year is like? Little Sarina let go of her mother’s hand when she saw me and ran towards me. I gave her the pastry I had in my hand and kissed her cheeks. She didn’t allow me to say it first and told me, ‘I hope you are released this year…’ It truly broke my heart!
Two years have passed since that day and I am now with my family. But I can’t comprehend the meaning of freedom because my entire being is full of pain.”