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My 41 Days in Iran’s Most Notorious Prison

One of the five Americans released this month from Iran’s Evin Prison describes his interrogations, freedom and the mind games in between


Matthew Trevithick grew up in Boston and traveled overseas in 2008 after earning a degree in International Relations. He visited Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel, lived in northern Iraq, and spent four years in Afghanistan, working at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. In 2010, he visited Iran as a tourist. “I don’t usually drink the Kool-Aid,” he says, “but I was just absorbing this aura: This is a country we need to know more about.” The day after he left Iran, he began applying to study Farsi in Tehran, the capital. Five years later, in 2015, and one week after Iran signed a landmark nuclear deal, a new visa to return finally came through. This is his account, as told to TIME’s Andrew Katz and Karl Vick.

I thought I had totally nailed it. When I arrived on Sept. 16, I heard Oh my god. You’re from America. This is great. I was staying in a dorm in a very ritzy suburb, with a remarkable view of the mountains. But the tenor changed as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued stern warnings against American “infiltration” through the nuclear deal. The domestic political situation completely shifted underneath my feet without my realizing just how quickly it was moving.

The overt surveillance that foreign students knew well grew more obvious and heavy-handed. At the café I would sit at next to the university, I started seeing a guy parked here all the time; he was just watching me, not even trying to be subtle. On Dec. 6, I Skyped with my mother to say I’d had enough. I would be home for Christmas. The next morning I stepped out to take a taxi to airline office. Three guys jumped out: Are you Matthew? Fifteen minutes later, I’m at Tehran’s Evin Prison. They take my cellphone and my computer. I’m given a big, gray cloth blindfold.

Right, left. Right, left. Very disorienting. I can’t quite place where I am. Upstairs. I’m given prison-blue smocks and white flip flops; they take the rest of my possessions, then take mug shots. They leave me with a little bit of money. The stairs creaked as we went to the second floor. My room was six feet by seven feet. There was a window you could see out, with three layers of steel grates. You sleep on the floor, under a thick, gray wool blanket, with your towel as a pillow. The light stayed on so you end up sleeping with your blindfold.

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