By Sara Rasouli, citizen journalist
The jarring sounds of an elevator or a doorbell send them into a state of panic, solitude serves as a stark reminder of their loneliness, and the cacophony triggers haunting memories of their days of interrogation.
Long-lasting psychological effects accompany many individuals who have experienced imprisonment in the islamic Republic’s dungeons.
"The duration of detainment or the specific prison – be it Qarchak, Evin, Rajaeeshahr, Karaj, Gilan or any other – bears no significance,” says Sara, who was arrested during nationwide protests last year.
"Even a single day spent within those walls etches an indelible mark on your psyche. Memories, fears and sorrows linger, whether it's been a year or a decade; sometimes it suffocates you.”
"Confronted with a surge of apprehensions, recollections and sorrows caused by imprisonment, you yearn for someone who will sit across from you, someone who does not only listen to your story but comprehends and empathizes with your words."
This former prisoner says that seeking help from psychologists has not yielded positive results for her and other ex-detainees and, in certain instances, even exacerbated their condition.
According to a Tehran-based psychologist who asked to remain anonymous, “only a handful of psychologists possess the acumen to address the sensitive and intricate domain of prisons.”
"Despite the array of treatment modalities available for numerous traumas we've encountered, the stark reality remains that this particular experience demands utmost sensitivity. Due to the dearth of seasoned psychologists, psychiatrists or therapists in this field, success stories for patients in Iran remain a rarity," this psychologist says.
Nazanin: Are Motorbikes Pursuing Me?
Nazanin’s sobs make her voice barely audible over the phone. I rush to her residence.
Nazanin has endured nearly two months of confinement in Ward 2A of Tehran’s Evin prison.
She recounted how a man on a motorcycle, with its license plate concealed, followed her to her home. At the stroke of midnight, security forces stormed in to apprehend her.
This feeling of being pursued by a motorcycle has now returned and the specter of arrest is haunting her again.
She confides: "I'm perpetually haunted by this sense of being trailed."
"Often, I alter my route unnecessarily, just to shake off any potential trackers. I've come to believe that every motorcycle is an intelligence operative shadowing our every move."
Sahar: My Heart Races When the Doorbell Rings
At 4 a.m., a knock resounded against the door of Sahar’s flat while she was engrossed in watching the news.
As she peered through the peephole, an inexplicable obstruction clouded her view, rendering her blind. She hastily called upon her husband and unlatched the entrance.
Ten individuals swung open the door and surged into the flat, triggering an overwhelming surge of anxiety.
Since that incident, Sahar has become plagued by a persistent apprehension and dread of any door's sound.
She seeks solace in concealing herself behind doors.
"I'm desperate to banish the echoes of knocks and door sounds from my life. The resonance of a door slam triggers palpitations in me," Sahar says.
She has engaged in myriad discussions on this matter with her psychiatrist. Yet, the pain remains unassuaged despite adjustments to her medication regimen.
Maryam: The Interrogator Wakes Me Up
Upon opening her eyes, Maryam finds a man looming over her, uttering, "Madam, it's time to go."
She recollects the chilling words of her last interrogation: "You'll be granted bail today, but dread the day you awaken to find me standing at your bedside again."
Since then, sleep disorders plague Maryam's nights.
Her therapist, who assured her she was a beacon of honor, suggests delving into those unsettling days.
"I’m the embodiment of that honor, yet I'm haunted by the fear of being abruptly awakened by others." she says. "I’m that very pride, yet I tremble at the thought of sleep. It's as though nobody understands the depth of my struggle – not even Mr. Babai, my therapist."
Saeedeh: My Dreams Unfold within the Confines of Qarchak Prison
Saeedeh also struggles with sleep disturbances. During the night, she often finds herself wandering in a daze at Qarchak prison’s yard and engaging in conversations with inmates.
After having spent a total of two months in Evin and Qarchak prisons, she admits to grappling with profound sorrow.
She manages to briefly ease her sadness by reminiscing with her fellow inmates.
The Sound of the Elevator
The noise of an elevator triggers fear in many former prisoners, a dimly lit room is suffocating, solitude evokes feelings of aloneness and a sudden loud noise disrupts their focus.
And the dearth of specialists in the field of prison-related psychological issues has left numerous detainees trapped in their trauma.
"Many of my friends who were once detained have bared their scars and struggles after their release,” says Zahra, a student in psychology. “I suggested to a professor the idea of forming a group where we could actively listen to them, document and ultimately make a positive impact on these detainees' lives. It would not only be beneficial for them but also for us because it would offer insights into how to effectively navigate these complex cases."
Zahra's proposal remains undecided.