Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, speaks at a Gildenhorn Book Series lunch program on her book, My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran (Ecco).
My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran
At the Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran, a man in a checkered shirt sits down in an easy chair. He removes several documents from his pocket and hands one to Haleh Esfandiari, a sixty-seven-year-old Iranian American grandmother he has interrogated and detained for what seems to be an endless number of weeks. “This is your arrest warrant and we are taking you to Evin Prison,” he says.
This stunning arrest was the culmination of a chain of events set into motion in the early-morning hours of December 31, 2006—a day that began like any other but presaged the end of Esfandiari’s regular visits to her elderly mother in Iran, and her return to the United States. That morning, the driver arrived on time. Her mother held the Quran over her head for blessing and luck. From the car, Haleh waved good-bye. She checked for her passport and plane ticket. But as the taxi neared the airport, a sedan forced them to pull over. Three men, armed with knives, threatened her and her driver while going through her pockets and stealing her belongings—including her travel documents. She was left unharmed but would not fly home to the States that day. “An ordinary robbery,” Esfandiari insisted to friends and family. She took steps to secure a new passport and book a new flight. But it would not be until eight months later that she would leave Iran.
Esfandiari became the victim of the far-fetched belief on the part of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry that she, a scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., was part of an American conspiracy for “regime change” in Iran. In haunting prose and vivid detail, Esfandiari recounts how the Intelligence Ministry subsequently ordered a search of her mother’s apartment; put her through hours, then weeks, of interrogation; tapped her phone calls, forcing her to speak in code to her husband and mother; and finally detained her at the notorious Evin Prison, where she would spend 105 days in solitary confinement.
Through her ordeal, Esfandiari came face-to-face with the state of affairs between Iran and the United States—and witnessed firsthand how fear and paranoia could create a government that would take her captive. Weaving her personal story of capture and release with her extensive knowledge of Iran, My Prison, My Home is at once a mesmerizing story of survival and a clear-eyed portrait of Iran today and how it came to be.
Watch video. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, speaks about her book, My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran (Ecco).