With a dozen of the former hostages suffering from what the State Department described as “severe” psychological problems and others undergoing “down” periods, the returnees and their families may well look to Richard Queen for guidance on the upcoming months of adjustment. Queen, now 29, was released after more than eight months of captivity last July, when he was discovered to have symptoms later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. His illness is now in remission, and Queen has returned to work in the State Department’s Iranian intelligence section pending another overseas assignment this summer. Last week Queen talked to PEOPLE’S Margie Bonnett about the difficulties awaiting his former Tehran colleagues.
What advice do you have for the families of the hostages?
Don’t treat the returnees like some sort of curiosity. I’m sure most of them will just want to pick up the pieces of their lives and put them back together. What was important to me was to be able to see friends and go to a bar and have a beer. It’s important to return to familiar surroundings, to fit in and not stand out.
Should they be treated like heroes?
No. There are some that may want it. But others, I think, just want to return to their homes and families. But it was a catharsis for the country to celebrate their homecoming.
What helped you most to adjust?
I took a trip to Alaska, and that was fantastic. It was an escape from everything. When I first got home my mother really tried to smother me. I told her, “Leave me alone. I’m 28.” Then I would feel a little guilty about getting angry, but we worked it out. I just try to tell other families, “Be careful you don’t overwhelm them. And don’t be upset if they want to go out and disappear to Alaska like I did, or go sit down at a bar with some friends.”
Will talking about what happened help the returnees?
In the beginning I talked about it constantly. I would have kept talking all night if my debriefers hadn’t stopped me. But the media should remember there are 52 different people. Those who want to talk will act as a screen for those who don’t. We should try to respect the wishes of those who don’t want to relive everything.
How will the returning hostages deal with their anger to ward Iran?
I don’t know. I wanted to get a Khomeini dart board. But I’m renting an apartment and I don’t think the owners would appreciate the marks in the wall if I missed.
Do you think the hostages should try to make up for lost time?
No. The best thing to do is not look at the time in captivity as destroyed months, but as an experience. Not that any person would want to repeat it, but it was an experience few people can say they’ve gone through. If you don’t look at the positive side of things, you can really destroy yourself.
How difficult do you think it will be for the returnees to go back to work?
My problem wasn’t so much re-adjusting to a schedule as it was that, as a bachelor, I had to go out and buy furniture, find an apartment, get clothes. I left Tehran with a toothbrush, a T-shirt and a pair of pants. I left seven good suits behind, and I can’t believe how much more jeans cost now. The State Department is reimbursing me for everything, but the fact is I had to start from scratch.
Have you had psychological problems?
No. The State Department asked me if I would see a psychiatrist, so I said, “Fine,” and I visit him every six weeks. He told me: “I’m only doing this because they asked me to. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Do you think the other hostages will adjust as easily as you have?
I really don’t know, but I think so. They’re professionals.
Did your experience in Iran change your outlook on life?
In some ways. After three and a half months in a dungeon, I had to get a sunny apartment, because I wanted to see the sun in the morning. I like to hear the birds more, to hear people—even to hear traffic. That’s special. I remember being in a room with the lights out a short time ago. There was a wind outside and the tree branches were moving in the light from the streetlights. I sat there for about a half hour, just watching.
Has anything else struck you?
I think this incident has united people all across the country. We’ve had all the racial problems and divisions, but this has shown that we are essentially Americans. It’s given us more confidence and a new sense of identity.
Are you proud to have been part of it all?
I am. My feeling is that what I went through is more than worth it—the eight and a half months, the incurable illness, all of it.