They killed their husbands. Now, in prison, they feel free.

Other women’s prisons in Afghanistan have fallen under scrutiny for sexual harassment and assault, a lack of access to female medical providers and poor construction and upkeep, leading to dangerous living conditions, but the Herat facility, which is run and staffed by women, has become a kind of refuge for the prisoners. Despite the overcrowding, many inmates told Hayeri that they felt freer in prison than they had in their marriages.

Among the incarcerated is Parisa, 20, who arrived at the prison in 2018. She was married for about five years, during which time she was repeatedly beaten and stabbed by her husband. She said he would tie her up and beat her hands and feet with a thick piece of wood. At one point, she said, he even tried to sell her kidney, going as far as finding a buyer and then taking her to the hospital to get a blood test. “When they determined that my kidney was not a match, he beat me,” she said. Her husband threatened to kill her parents if she filed for a divorce. “I would pray for my death,” she said. “I would say, ‘God, either kill me or him.’ ”

Parisa went to her in-laws for protection, but they had little influence over their son. One night, she locked herself in a room in which she found her husband’s rifle and loaded it. She says she fired a shot through the door after her husband started screaming on the other side. The bullet struck him in the chest, and he died minutes later. Police took Parisa into custody, and after a brief investigation, she was tried, convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Her 1-year-old daughter, Fatima, and her 3-year-old son, Mohammad Irfan, were incarcerated with her. “I accept this imprisonment,” Parisa says. “I was not able to live another day with him, so this is what happened to me.”