Notes from Prison

6. Behind Bars

6. Behind Bars

This is the sixth in a series of articles by Mojtaba Hosseini, an Iranian convert to Christianity who spent more than three years in prison in the southern city of Shiraz because of his membership of a house-church. Mojtaba’s first note from prison explained his journey to faith and the first of his two subsequent arrests; his second detailed his long interrogation; his third explained the desperation and loneliness of solitary confinement and his fourth described some of the dreams and visions he had in solitary. His fifth note described his court hearing. In this sixth note, Mojtaba talks us through his first moments in prison.

Inside the prison, I was taken to a room where my name and crime were to be recorded.

After asking me for my personal details, the prison officer asked me what my crime was.

“Christian,” I replied.

He looked up at me in surprise, and said: “Is it a crime to be a Christian?”

“It seems so,” I replied. “I am a living example, standing in front of you now.”

Suddenly, the agent from the Ministry of Intelligence, who had brought me to the prison, snapped: “Propaganda against the Islamic Republic! His crime is propaganda against the Islamic Republic!”

“No, I’m a Christian!” I responded. “And that is the only reason I’m here now. I have never been involved in any propaganda against the Republic!”

“Your crime is what I say it is!” he said. “And from now on you are only to declare this, and you have no right to say that you are a Christian – whether to this man or to any other prisoners here!”

After taking my fingerprints and searching me, I was taken into the ward. But before entering, the guard warned me again that I had no right to talk to the other prisoners about Christianity.

A new home

It was such a strange feeling, entering that place. I felt lost, like someone alone in a big city. In front of me was a corridor, off which there were about 10 cells on each side. Each one was about the size of a regular bedroom, but they were packed full of bunk beds, and about 20 people were staying in each cell. 

I think the number of people in each cell was probably about double their actual capacity. That was why the air was so suffocating. And it was so dirty!

Many prisoners turned to look at me as I arrived, and I looked up to see a host of faces of people who looked like no-one I would usually associate with – let alone live with! – and presumably guilty of all kinds of terrible crimes.

I felt extremely vulnerable. I was looking around, trying to find a cell that might have room for me, when suddenly one of the prisoners grabbed me and pulled me into his cell. 

I was terrified by the faces I saw in that cell, and, still clinging onto my belongings, pulled myself away, saying that I first needed to call my family. But no matter how loudly I called for a prison guard, no-one answered.

One of the prisoners called out: “What’s your problem?”

I replied that I had to call my family.

He smiled, and said the phone wasn’t available until noon the next day, and that, when it was, there was only one phone for all the prisoners to fight over.

An unexpected opportunity

It was at that moment that another of the cells, the closest to the entrance, caught my eye. It looked much cleaner than the other cells, and even the people inside seemed somehow less intimidating. 

I was just thinking how dearly I would like to stay in that cell when one of the prisoners there pointed at me and told me to come over.

“What’s your crime?” they asked, as I entered.

“I’m a Christian,” I replied.

“Christian?” they all said, surprised. “What do you mean? Why would they arrest you for that?”

I explained, and then something interesting happened; they all started sharing positive thoughts about Jesus and Christianity.

One of them said: “Did you know that Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary?” A few others said some things about Jesus, and it was a great opportunity for me to share my faith.

After a few hours, one of them called over to me and said that he wanted to show me something. Above his bed, there was an image that he had cut out of a magazine, which showed Jesus lying in his mother’s arms after his death.

I was so surprised to see such a picture in such a place, and I felt such joy in my heart that there, of all places – in the very cell in which I had found myself – I could gaze upon the image of my dear friend and Saviour. It was so encouraging to me. It was as if He was standing beside me, saying: “I, your Shepherd, am here with you, even in this darkest of valleys.”

After dinner I was talking with another prisoner whose face was wounded and bruised. I asked what had happened to him, and he told me how he had been arrested after stealing some things. And then he started talking about his personal life, and the damage that he had done to others, especially to his family. He expressed great remorse, and I told him about Christ’s message of forgiveness, and in the end we prayed together.

This was another great encouragement to me, showing me that I could talk about the Bible with these prisoners, and pray for them. I had never expected such an opportunity, but through these experiences my fears were overcome and my heart was filled with peace. It was as though I was walking over stormy seas, eye to eye with Jesus, but the surrounding waves no longer terrified me.

When it was time for the lights to be turned out, I was pointed towards a bunk stationed above two others, where no-one else had wanted to sleep. The bed had no pillow, and it was not at all comfortable, but I was so tired that I soon fell asleep.

But just a few hours later, around midnight, I was awoken by something, and when I opened my eyes there was smoke everywhere. At first I thought I must be mistaken, but I soon realised that I was in fact correct, and when I looked down to see where it was coming from, I was surprised at what I saw.

It turned out that after the lights went off, a great many of the prisoners stayed awake to smoke drugs together. Just below me, on the bottom bunk, several people were sat together, doing drugs. The atmosphere was very heavy and suffocating. 

On the one hand, my heart was really broken for these people, and I felt so sad to see how miserable their lives had become. And on the other hand I asked myself: “Why should someone like me be here?” And I realised that God had put me there to be a witness for Him.

Also, while knowing that God’s plans are always good and based on His perfect wisdom, I was seeing firsthand the cruelty and mercilessness of the government which had made me one of hundreds of Iranian Christians to pass through such dangers and injustices only because of our beliefs. But throughout this journey, we are always able testify to our righteous King and good Shepherd, and still rejoice in Him in the midst of our pain and sorrow.

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