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Opinions

A Prisoner’s Tales of Drugs and Prostitution Inside an Iranian Jail

June 25, 2019
IranWire Citizen Journalist
7 min read
Iranian or Afghan juvenile delinquents without IDs or official documents are often sent to prisons for adults, including Fashafuyeh
Iranian or Afghan juvenile delinquents without IDs or official documents are often sent to prisons for adults, including Fashafuyeh

A citizen journalist using the pseudonym Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam reports from Fashafuyeh Prison, also known as the Greater Tehran Penitentiary.

Note: the exchange rate in the translation is based on the open market rate of 13,000 tomans to one dollar. Based on this exchange rate, the average salary in Iran is between 200 to 300 dollars a month.

 

Yesterday morning as I was leaving the ward to meet a visitor, I noticed that in a corner of the corridor, a guard officer was talking to a young boy. The only thing I remembered at the time was that his name was Nima and that he had been transferred to this ward only recently. Later the guard officer told me that Nima is 16, had been arrested two weeks earlier, had spent 10 days in the quarantine ward and has now been transferred to Room 10.

I asked him what he had been telling Nima in the morning. “First I got his information so that perhaps an aid worker could help him,” he said. “Then I talked to him about drugs and breaking the law. But mostly I talked to him about sodomy so that he would be on his guard. They violate these young boys very fast. We are 24/48, meaning that we are duty for 24 hours and then off duty for 48 hours. On the days I am here I ask about him but in the next two shifts after me things are chaotic.”

The prison’s chief warden has ordered guard officers not to talk to us, but he is one of the few guards who stays a few minutes after he delivers our food rations and chats with us. “They bring in a lot of these children,” he said. “I know the environment so whenever I am here and they bring in a youngster I make him understand what to do.” 

“Does it have any effect?” I asked. 

“It is not without effect,” he answered.

Perhaps you, the reader, have lit a cigarette and are puffing on it. Or perhaps, like me, you are cursing heaven and hell after reading a few sentences of this.

“Just last night,” he said, “The TV was showing the judiciary chief and the head of the Prison Organization, who had gone to the Juvenile Reform [Detention] Center and were saying that, thank God, there are not too many here.” I told the officer that I was writing something about the children in prison. 

“Does it have any effect?” he asked. 

“It is not without effect,” I answered.

 

Twice its Capacity

The Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafuyeh Prison, is located within the hot and dry district of Qom’s Hasan Abad. To be more accurate, the prison lies a few kilometers away from the airport and sometimes the inmates, when they are going out for air in the yard, count the number of planes that fly over them to kill time. You can get to the prison by taking a cab from Kahrizak metro station [near Tehran]. Or, if you have a car, when you are on Qom Expressway, instead of turning right to get to the airport, just turn left and you will see the turrets of the prison.

The prison has four active divisions and each division has around 10 wards. Each ward has 16 rooms, eight on the right and eight on the left. Each room has five triple bunkbeds, which comes to a total of 240 bunks for the whole ward. There are 16 bathrooms and 18 latrines at the far end of the ward. Often, inmates are taking heroin in three or four of them and a few of them are always broken. Usually each ward has around 500 inmates — more than twice the wards’ capacity — and most wards house some teenage inmates. The high number of underage inmates has forced the prison to create between one and three “juvenile wards” in each division for those people born in 1997 or later. However, these wards, which the inmates call “butterfly wards,” house prisoners from age 15 to 35.

 

Juveniles in the Netherworld

A number of under-18 inmates in Fashafuyeh are Iranian or Afghan children who have no IDs or official documents. Since their age cannot be determined conclusively they have been sent to Fashafuyeh Prison for adults instead of the Juvenile Reform Center.

The first time that they experience prison, juvenile inmates fall apart under the pressure of physical mistreatment, loss of freedom, loss of their families’ and their friends’ company and an overcrowded environment. They are used as forced labor, they become drug addicts and they are sexually abused. Here I briefly quote some cases from what my prisoner friends have observed. I will leave a more detailed description for the future.

“Some time ago Rashed, an Afghan boy from Herat, who was on service duty in the prison, slipped and fell down and broke his wrist as he was carrying a tray because the floor was slippery,” one person tells me. “Try as we might, they refused to send him to the hospital. Even the ward’s representative could not do anything about it. Later on, when eventually we got him to the clinic, they said that it was no longer an emergency. The bone had mended crookedly and has remained so. Nevertheless, he is still forced to work in the service.”

Juvenile inmates are ordered to clean rooms, corridors, yards, bathrooms and latrines, or to do other prisoners’ laundry. The preparation and delivery of food are generally done by juvenile inmates. The high number of Afghan adolescents working in prison services is quite noticeable. In return for their work they receive cigarettes, which function like money inside the prison.

 

Enter as a Child, Leave as an Addict

Nineteen-year-old Alireza from Tehran has been an inmate for six months and is the ward’s barber. “I knew nothing about hairstyling,” he says. “A generous inmate taught me and, little by little, I became good at it, and now I cut the hair of 10 people every day. Well, that is how I started on drugs. This guy would come in and I would cut his hair. He would say ‘thanks, let me give you ecstasy’ and I would take them. These days I take one B2 [Buprenorphine, an opioid and a painkiller, used to treat opioid addiction but which is also addictive] every day. It costs me 30,000 tomans [$2.30] and the crystal [meth] costs me 120,000 tomans [$9.20]. I really cannot take this place and this crowd if I do not take it. They arrested me for having liquor. The judge has not yet issued a verdict and I do not think I will get more than two years, but I will leave this place an addict.”

 

Three Drug Channels

The weekly flow of drugs in each ward is worth more than 100 million tomans [$7,700]. The drugs reach the ward in three ways. The first, referred to as “local,” is via the guard officer but the amount is low and it is done privately. The second way, the “stored” method, is that when an inmate leaves the prison to go to court, or when an inmate is brought from outside after his arrest, he hides the drugs in his anus or swallows it. But the amount here is also very trivial. Most of the drugs that come into the prison are delivered via “throwing:” at a specified time, prison employees throw packages into the yard when the inmate/buyer is outside the ward getting air. A package that costs five million tomans [$385] outside will bring in 50 million tomans [$3,850] when it is “thrown.”

 

Young Boys and Concubines

“It was around 3:00 after midnight when the fight started,” one cellmate tells me. “They stabbed each other with daggers. It lasted until 4:30 in the morning and they took nine of them to the clinic. Over what? Over whether this boy should sleep in this cell or the other one.”

If an inmate has no wife, he can pay the prison’s clergyman 500,000 tomans [$38] and he will find him a concubine so he can have “legitimate” sex for one night. And in some wards there are “mono” [monogamous] boys who “belong” to only one adult inmate in return for protection, money, or drugs.

 


 

Related Coverage:

Notes from Fashafuyeh: “The Prison Sentence That Could End in Death”

IranWire Exclusive: Interview with Cellmate of Slain Political Prisoner, June 24, 2019

Political Prisoners Demand Justice for Murder of Fellow Inmate, June 20, 2019

More Violence in Tehran Prison as Judge Accuses Dervishes of Being “Rioters”, June 20, 2019

"My Son Was My Reason to Live. They Took Him Away from Me”, June 15, 2019

Political Prisoner Murdered While Awaiting Appeal, June 12, 2019

Riots Endanger Lives of Political Prisoners, May 10, 2019

200 Dervishes Remain in Prison, February 14, 2019

Gharchak Prison: Pardons Are Preceded by Teargas, Pepper Spray and Clubs, February 19, 2019

A Young Iranian’s Memory of Torture, Humiliation and Urine, January 29, 2019

Prison Life and the Big Business of Smuggled Knives, December 14, 2018

Expired and Counterfeit Medicine for Prisoners, November 23, 2018

Gonabadi Sufi Dies in Prison, March 5, 2018

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