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'Like Being Born Again': American Describes Being Freed From Iranian Prison

In a photo provided by the Hekmati family, Amir Hekmati (second from right) meets with relatives and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, on Monday.

"This is all still surreal," says Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who's one of four Americans released by Iran this past weekend. Freed after more than four years of imprisonment, Hekmati says he feels like he's been born again.

Speaking from Landstuhl, Germany, Hekmati also thanked those who had helped him get through his ordeal.

Here's some of what he had to say:

"I feel extremely lucky — alive for the first time in a long time, and very humbled at everybody's support, from the president to Congress to my fellow Marines, and especially my family who have really gone through so much throughout this time."

Hekmati, 32, added that he plans to tell more of his story in the future: "There is a lot that I have to say about the experience, and what happened, and I hope to bring that to the American people and the world."

The freed American was reunited with members of his family at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where he has been undergoing medical and psychological evaluations.

When asked how he feels now, Hekmati said: "It feels great. I feel very lucky .... It's like being born again, and I just really feel proud to be an American."

As for his treatment in prison, he said, "Well, it wasn't good."

Hekmati went on to say that he had reached a point in his captivity where he had resigned himself to spending 10 years in prison. And he said there wasn't a big lead-up to his release: "They just came one morning and said, 'Pack your things.'"

He added that he didn't really believe what was happening until he was out of Iranian airspace.

Asked how he coped with his time in captivity, Hekmati said, "I didn't want to let any of my fellow Marines down, and the reputation of the Marine Corps. So, I tried my best to keep my head up and withstand all the pressures that were put upon me — some of which were very inhumane and unjust."

As NPR reported last week, Hekmati's sister attended President Obama's recent State of the Union address.

Hekmati's release comes four years after an Iranian court sentenced him to death; that verdict was later overturned. Authorities in Iran had accused the former Marine translator of working for the CIA. Hekmati and his family have insisted that he had traveled to Iran to visit his grandmother.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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