Walking a Day Imprisoned with Pastor Saeed
* The following is an expository narrative crafted from the information imprisoned American Pastor Saeed has shared with his family and descriptions publicized from released prisoners of Rajaei Shahr Prison. As Pastor Saeed’s wife Naghmeh says, “This is a day in the life of Saeed as he would tell it.”
8:00 AM I awake after another sleepless night, not knowing what the day will hold. Will another of my fellow inmates be dragged to the gallows today? Will another inmate steal my belongs? Will a guard threaten me to recant my faith and return to Islam? I start to try and prepare my mind for what strength I will need for another day, but my thoughts are interrupted as the guards come to count me. To them I am not a man but just another number. I debate whether to lay my head back down and skip the meager breakfast of bread and cheese, realizing that if I do, I will only have one other meager portion of food to sustain me for the entire day. Reality hits abruptly every morning, awakening me from my dreams of family and freedom. Sleep is incredibly alluring as it is in my sleep that I temporarily escape the reality of prison life. Sleep also helps me pass the time and to avoid tension among other prisoners. There are days where I don’t have the strength to get out of bed, but luckily today is not that day. Today, as I begin my day, I stop and pray to steady my mind and remind myself of the promises of God.
10:00 AM Today I get to take a shower. It sounds like such a simply luxury, but here with limited facilities and severe overcrowding, I count it a blessing despite the filth I stand in to clean myself. You see, there are only 3 showers for the roughly 80 prisoners in my section of the prison. Practically, this means I get to shower roughly once a week. The water is cold, but I am grateful.
11:00 AM After my shower I contemplate whether to return to my little corner in my cell or try to mingle with other prisoners. There are roughly 80 of us in my little room built for 20, but my corner is where I can pray and avoid conflict with other prisoners. For a while I was able to make paper crosses to hang by my bed, a sort of little sanctuary, but the guards have since forbidden such displays. While the day always passes faster when I have fellowship with others, doing so has gotten increasingly more difficult. There are some prisoners here who see my very presence as a threat, for I am not only a convert to Christianity but I am also an American. This tension has only grown as the United States and Iran continue to negotiate. For today, I decide to sit in my little space, alone with my thoughts.
12:00 PM The guards round us up to take us to the courtyard. The courtyard is not much more than an open air concrete cell, but it is my only opportunity to feel the sun on my face. Going outdoors is a luxury offered daily; but over the past year, there were many days when I had to avoid the courtyard. It was in the courtyard that some prisoners associated with Islamic terrorists groups threatened to take my life. The tensions are high with fellow prisoners who oppose my faith and conversion from Islam, but with recent geopolitical events, my U.S. citizenship has also become a source of tension. The internal pull for sunlight entices me, but I know that stepping outside places me at greater risk. So today, I avoid the conflict and decide sunlight is not worth the risk.
2:00 PM As prisoners, we are responsible for maintaining the ward and are each assigned chores and tasks. But even with these tasks the sheer number of us and lack of overall care for the facilities has created inhumane and unsanitary conditions. Our bathroom, which I am tasked with cleaning today, is no more than a hole in the ground. Every attempt to clean the bathroom is futile as the ceiling above leaks feces and urine from the bathroom directly above. As I clean I try to maintain perspective by humming worship songs. In this filth, I am reminded of the depth of my own filth that Jesus took for me by dying on the cross.
5:00 PM My stomach is starting to feel the pains of severe hunger. The meager portion of bread and cheese has not sustained me throughout the day. With these hunger pains I am also desperate for some relief from the pains in my abdomen – injuries I sustained from numerous prison beatings endured over the years. The level of pain has varied in the last two and half years, but today it is strong. Unfortunately, the mild pain killers that curbed the sharpness of my pain have long run out. The prison doctors have told me they will provide no additional medicine for my internal injuries. So today, I go to the one source I know to help my pain – I go to God.
6:00 PM For the second time today I must line up to be counted by the guards.
7:00 PM When a prisoner arrives here, he has only what clothing and little money he had in his pocket when detained. After going through the mandatory quarantine, the prisoner enters the general population and must purchase any necessities from the prison store. We must purchase our own dishes and utensils for eating, our blankets for keeping warm in the cold winter, our undergarments, and our toiletries. So for some prisoners who are estranged from their family they have very little and eat their food from plastic containers cut from used milk jugs and cleaning agents. Today, I feel blessed my family has provided me enough money on my store account to have my own bowl and spoon. For dinner, I am given either a single potato or a bowl of rice with some sauce. Tonight’s dinner is rice with what tastes like soy sauce. Of the two and half years I have been in the prison, the prison has only made available protein, which I had to purchase from the prison store, for 2 months. The last time I ate protein was over 7 months ago. Clean drinking water has also been a scarcity. For months now, I have had to drink water from the tap—water that I must let sit so the sediments can settle before skimming the water from the top. I can tell that the lack of nutritious food has taken a toll on my strength and health.
9:00PM The sun has set and the day is winding down. I return to my cell and try to find something to occupy my mind. The room is extremely crowded and dark. There is a small window near my bed, without glass and steel bars. The broken window was brutal during the winter months, so I am grateful that the weather has warmed. Before settling into bed, I must regularly check the beds as the prison is infested with roaches and mice. A few weeks ago I had reached into my Kleenex box for a tissue only to find that a mouse had made his home inside.
12:30 AM Lights out at 12:30. While I seek sleep, it evades me tonight. Over the past several weeks the number of executions in the prison has greatly increased. I try to close my eyes and avoid the sounds and images of death. I try to coax my mind into recognizing that if I can just stop my thoughts about my reality I can return to my dreams where I can be reunited with my wife and two beautiful children. I try to recount which day of the week it is and cling to the hope that I will get to have a visitation with my Iranian family on Wednesday – it is in these visitations that I get to see pictures of my growing children. It is during these visitations I get the words of encouragement from all of my brothers and sisters in Christ who have committed to praying for my freedom.
The ACLJ continues to work in this country and abroad to secure the freedom of Pastor Saeed – a U.S. citizen – who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than two-and-a-half years because of his Christian faith. The ACLJ represents Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, and their two young children who live in Idaho.