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Escape from Iran

Escape from Iran: From Stanford Grad to Islamic Prison is the incredible true story of Dr. Nour Zaghi, an innovative thinker and brilliant engineer embarking upon a promising career in Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum. With two doctorate degrees from Stanford, he dreams of modernizing the country’s groundwater distribution system. But the Islamic Revolution crushes those aspirations right along with the country’s infrastructure. Pivoting into real estate development to support his family, Dr. Zaghi is extraordinarily successful until he is targeted by the Muslim government for his “elitist” lifestyle and Jewish background.

This is the story of an indomitable spirit, a man who, despite repeated swindles, never loses hope for a better tomorrow. When he enters the notorious Adel Abad Prison, witnessing atrocities zealously carried out under the guise of “justice”, he retreats within, relying on his faith to keep him alive and safe inside the ivory tower he’s constructed in his mind.

With incredible courage and resilience, his wife, Shahla, is left to care for their three children while her husband endures prison. Shahla exhibits extraordinary resourcefulness, ultimately arranging for smugglers to spirit her husband out of the country while she flees to safety with the children.

Establishing a new life in the United States presents unforeseen obstacles, but the tenacious pair at last reclaim their freedom and achieve the American dream. By turns infuriating, intriguing, and inspiring, Escape from Iran: From Stanford Grad to Islamic Prison proves that with hope and determination, anything is possible.

Excerpt from: Escape from Iran

This memoir has been privately published, and is currently not available for sale. Personally, I believe it is a very important story, documenting the extraordinary experiences of a remarkable man. I invite you to read just one small segment. Please use the CONTACT ME button to reach out with your comments.

I needed a break to recuperate after the string of bad business deals, so I went to visit my eldest brother. He owned a lovely home surrounded by a large garden outside of Shiraz. It was quiet and peaceful there, and I had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. It was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I prayed for forgiveness, as is the custom. What a blessing to sit in the warm sunshine as it filtered through the trees, listening to birdsong and smelling the earthy perfume of life blooming all around. I think that moment is sweeter in my memory in light of what happened next.

I returned to my office refreshed, ready to tackle the piles of paperwork that had accumulated during the most recent development project. As I approached the door, two quasi-soldiers emerged from an unmarked car. “Nour Zaghi?” one asked gruffly.

Confused and instantly apprehensive, I cautiously affirmed my identity.

They informed me that I was being taken into custody, but said nothing more. I was placed in the backseat of the car, and my eyes were covered. I assume they didn’t want me to know where we were headed, but I was so familiar with the city that even blindfolded I could discern our direction, and I knew that I was being taken to an army base in south Shiraz.

Once we arrived, I was escorted to a small room where I was made to sit on a bench without moving for many hours. I could hear sounds all around me – the scrape of heavy boots in the hallway, muffled thumps through the walls, harsh voices barking orders. I was anxious, but I wasn’t yet scared. I don’t know why, but I felt optimistic that this incident would be concluded quickly. Then the shooting started.

As I sat on that bench, hour after hour, the sound of gunfire echoed off the walls. I heard men moaning, pleading for their lives, crying out to Allah for mercy. My optimism faded, and cold dread took its place. I felt an overwhelming sadness that I would not see my children grow up. I thought about my baby daughter, Ida, and her deep brown eyes, fringed with thick lashes, staring up into my face with such innocence and trust. I thought about Pedram, my little man, and Michael, his bouncy little brother. I knew that they would grow into honorable men and make their mother proud. I was sad that they would grow up without a father, and I was angry that I would be cheated out of the experience of parenting them. I felt sorry for myself, and bitter about the opportunities that would be lost.

I thanked God for Shahla, and I prayed that she would have the strength to raise our children without me. I knew that she could rely on the family to help her, but I wondered if she would feel that I had deserted her? In practical terms I knew that she would not blame me. Thousands of individuals had disappeared under mysterious circumstances since the revolution, and I would become just one more. She would join the legion of widows created by the Islamic Republic of Iran. But maybe, without me, she and the children could escape to a place of safety and peace.

My faith has always been central to my existence, so I began to pray. I expressed gratitude to God for the life I had been given, and I apologized to Him for not accomplishing everything He had set before me. I prayed for mercy; that my death would be swift and painless. I did not fear what would come after my earthly life was finished. I had been faithful, I had served my God, my family, and my community. As my wife frequently observed, I was fair and honest to a fault; I trusted the good in others and always gave the benefit of the doubt. I knew that as a faithful servant I would be received with love by God when I came before Him.

That afternoon was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life. Listening to the sounds of men dying, and being unable to help them, or myself, completely frayed my nerves. I had been commanded to remain motionless, which I had accomplished for many hours. But the physical body will often betray itself, and I tried to remain focused on my prayers instead of on the discomfort of my bladder growing full. I debated various courses of action, and realized that none of the outcomes would be favorable. I could request to use the bathroom, thereby risking some type of punishment for speaking. I could very quietly relieve myself there at my seat, but I feared the retribution when my transgression was discovered. My only other option was to hope that my death would occur very soon, thereby releasing me from having to choose one of the other paths. I firmly rejected that option; although it seemed imminent, I was not resigned to the inevitability of my own death. I decided that if I was going to endure some kind of punishment for giving in to the natural processes of my body, I was certainly going to do it with dignity. The next time that a guard entered the room, I quietly and respectfully requested to use the restroom.

At first the guard simply stared at me. I couldn’t determine if he was surprised or offended that I had spoken to him. He motioned for me to stand, then gave me a little shove into the hallway. I stumbled; my body was stiff from holding a rigid pose for so long. He barked at me, indicating that I should follow a painted line down the corridor. The sound of gunshots was even louder, the noise ricocheting off the gray concrete walls.

As we moved slowly toward the restroom (I hoped that’s where we were going) several quasi-soldiers joined us. An icy ball of fear formed in the pit of my stomach.

I refer to them as quasi-soldiers because although we were at an army base, it was obvious that these men were not trained military. They were gaunt, not physically fit like soldiers. They had an air of scarcity about them, a sort of “will work for food” desperation. Although their clothing was nearly identical, they did not wear uniforms. A couple of them sported pieces of military gear such as a belt or a cap, probably purloined from some unsuspecting soldier.

Instinct told me that these were dangerous men. I suspected that they were part of the disenfranchised class that blindly supported the new regime, hoping that their allegiance would lead to a better life. They were tired of scrounging for a meager living. Whatever services they were called upon to provide in this place felt grand and glorious compared with what they had been doing back home. And here, in this space, they were in charge. They had a tiny piece of power, and they were not about to waste it.

One of them opened a door and stood aside to let me enter. I was thankful to discover that we had arrived at the men’s latrine. The place was filthy, the floor covered with waste. One of the quasi-soldiers confronted me, getting right up in my face. “So, you need to use the bathroom, eh, Jew??” He spat the word out, as though it tasted bitter on his tongue. He had a hard glint in his eye. I felt his hatred pushing against me like an invisible opponent. I nodded.

He looked at his conspirators with a sly grin. Addressing me, he said, “Well, this is a Muslim sanctuary. Only those who have professed their allegiance to the Supreme Leader may walk freely here. As a Jew, you are unholy in the eyes of the state.” His cronies made noises of approval, encouraging his rant. He signaled to one of the men, who came forward and produced a small coil of braided cord. The leader tied one end to a metal loop embedded in the wall. The other end he tied to one of my belt loops. “Move forward!” he commanded.

Cautiously, I moved across the mucky floor toward the row of toilets, as far as the cord would allow me to go. I was several feet from the nearest commode when I reached the end of my tether. I looked to the leader for instructions.

With a mocking smile, he said, “You are a Jew, and we cannot allow you to contaminate our sacred space. You may relieve yourself, but you may not touch anything, lest you pollute the sanctity of holy Muslim ground.”

So, there it was. His intention was to publicly humiliate me by setting forth impossible circumstances. Although I was terrified of the consequences, the urgent needs of my body took over. The observers howled at my ludicrous attempt to connect with the commode, and directed derogatory comments in my direction. I feared retribution for having soiled their “holy ground” with urine, but by that time they had lost interest in this amusing game. Without a word, I was untied from the wall and returned to the same small room.