This is the story of my wrongful imprisonment, the very first attempt to talk about it publicly at TED.
In 2014, I spoke at TED Week at UCLA Anderson to raise questions about the issues of injustice that directly or indirectly affect every American. I am now sharing my story with you and am asking you to share it with others to raise awareness and spark change.
At 6:30am on the morning of January 7, 2010 I was living what seemed like the American Dream. I was fast asleep in my bed in New York City, my girlfriend resting peacefully by my side, shortly before I had to be at my job at McKinsey, the global consulting firm. Life was good. My future looked bright. Minutes later it all changed…
Federal agents burst into my home, slammed me up against a wall and handcuffed me. By 7am, my U.S. citizenship, Princeton PhD, published biotech book, years of hard work and aspiring to be my best—none of it mattered. I was an Iranian accused of breaking the law. Prosecutors claimed I had violated trade sanctions with Iran by accepting money from my family to purchase a home. After interrogation, I was shackled into isolation; instead of sitting in my office in my suit, I was sitting on a metal bunk bed in an orange jumper in maximum security isolation. Bail was denied. It seemed as if I was presumed guilty until I could prove innocence.
Two tough years in prison plunged me into my darkest hours, weeks and months.
665 days after my arrest I won on appeal and was released from prison. But my battle to get my life back had only begun.
I tried to put my life back together. I graduated from the MBA program at UCLA Anderson. I applied for jobs relentlessly. Interviews came and went… seasons changed. Yet, despite my qualifications and the final appellate decision in my favor, it seems as if no potential employer can get over my prison story.
Five years have passed since my arrest and I don’t know how much longer it will take for me to recover professionally and personally. I have two bachelors, two masters, a PhD, and a loving family and wonderfully supportive friends from my 20 years in the U.S. I was accused of a non-violent charge I did not commit and won on appeal. I couldn’t help but wonder why it took 22 months of keeping me in prison. What does justice mean? Couldn’t help but think if it’s this hard for me, how difficult could it be for others who are incarcerated, don’t have opportunities I’ve had, didn’t win on appeal and are trying to reintegrate into society and lead productive lives?
I am asking you to take 1 minute to watch the TED video trailer. This is a campaign to raise awareness for the need to change and to improve our criminal justice system. I am asking you to share this with your family, friends and colleagues, with lawyers, journalists, news outlets, advocacy groups, media and politicians. Help me get the word out on social media by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and other channels; let’s raise awareness, let’s spark change.