Sarah Shourd tells Oprah Winfrey that confinement showed her "what's really important"

By Hilary Shenfeld
September 23, 2010 12:00 PM
George Burns/Harpo Productions

Even though she has been released from a 14-month confinement in an Iranian prison, American hiker Sarah Shourd still doesn’t feel free.

“In a way I’m still being punished because they still have the power to hurt me,” she said Thursday on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

She won’t truly feel relief until her fiancé Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal are also freed, and Shourd, 32, said she would like to meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while he is in New York this week.

The three Americans were captured on July 21, 2009, while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border after apparently straying off course. Shourd told Oprah Winfrey that the trio traveled to the picturesque spot in Ahmad Awah known for its museums, food and Kurdish culture in northern Iraq on the recommendation of staff at their Iraqi hotel – and then set off on a trail after asking workers at a small breakfast spot where to hike.

Three hours later, “we saw soldiers,” Shourd said. “We had no idea we crossed into Iran,” because, she explained, there were no indications of a border such as flags, fences, signs or even people. After a few days, they ended up in a prison in Tehran where they were interrogated and eventually charged with being spies, for which there is “absolutely no evidence of any kind,” she said.

Solitary Confinement

The worst part about captivity: being held in solitary confinement in a cell that she described as eight steps by five steps, only big enough for a bed and place to exercise.

“It was a horrible experience,” she told Winfrey.

After two months alone, Shourd was able to see her two companions, both 28, for about a half hour each week, when they would meet in a small courtyard and hold hands. Later, she was able to spend about an hour a day with them.

Whenever Shourd left her cell, she was blindfolded – even when using the bathroom. However, she was allowed to shower every day and even found a way to dress up for a “date night” with Bauer by dabbing some strawberry jelly on her lips.

Then, about nine months into their stay, Bauer proposed.

Confinement, she said, showed her “what’s really important – my relationship with my family and my relationship with Shane’s family.”

Medical Attention

During her prison stay, Shourd discovered a lump in her breast and said she was given no medical attention for many months. When she was finally able to see a doctor, she was not allowed to ask any questions, she said. (The lump turned out to be benign, she discovered after being examined in the U.S.)

Nine days ago, Shourd was told she could be released for treatment and then was flown to Oman after her $500,000 bail was paid. She did not detail who paid her bail or how it was arranged.

Though she still feels “kind of numb and a little bit in shock,” since her Sept. 14 release, Shourd said she also feels determined to get the other two out.

“I need to keep up my pleas to the Iranian government and religious leaders to show the same humanitarian gesture,” she said, “the same compassion for my friends because they don’t deserve to be there.”