Mom: 'I never lost optimism'

Even though Josh Fattal has spent the last year in an Iranian prison, his mother, Laura, said he hasn't missed a holiday at their Elkins Park home.

She's frozen everything from chocolate-chip cookies for his birthday to turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, she said in a recent interview at her home, where Josh and her other son, Alex, grew up.

"I have food scattered in little pieces all over the freezer, so it's like he never missed a holiday," Laura Fattal said, smiling.

Josh Fattal, 28; Shane Bauer, 28; and Sarah Shourd, 31, friends from the University of California, Berkeley, were arrested July 31, 2009, while hiking in northern Iraq, when Iranian authorities say they illegally crossed over the border. Iran alleges that the three were spies, but they have reportedly never been charged.

As supporters gather today at 1 p.m. at Independence Mall and at 30 other rallies across the country to mark the first anniversary of their arrest, the hikers remain in a notorious Iranian prison, but their families have never stopped lobbying for their freedom.

"I have not slept through the night in a year," Laura Fattal said. "As a mother, you never want to think that your kid is in harm's way. You get frightened."

Fattal gave up her job teaching art education at Temple University to devote her time to her son's release. Her husband, Jacob, is self-employed.

She said that she was in shock for the first couple of days and weeks after Josh - a 2000 Cheltenham High School graduate who was overseas working as a teaching fellow with a Boston-based honors program - was detained.

"I think I lost close to 10 pounds," she said "I forgot to eat, I forgot to sleep. I was just in shock."

Despite the shock, she became consumed with how to get her son and his friends released from Evin Prison in Tehran, notorious for housing political prisoners.

Josh Fattal and Bauer reportedly share a cell while Shourd is alone, allowed to meet with Bauer - towhom she became engaged while imprisoned - and Fattal for only two 30-minute periods each day.

"People who are left to themselves and socially isolated don't do that well," said David Goodwin, a clinical psychologist in the Philadelphia area, who will speak about the hikers' condition at today's rally and is familiar with the psychological effects of imprisonment.

"This is no cakewalk," Goodwin said. "It's pretty challenging stuff to cope with emotionally."

Since last July, Laura Fattal and her family have joined forces with Bauer's and Shourd's families, planning vigils and rallies, writing letters to Iranian officials, hiring a lawyer to represent their children in Iran and applying for visas so that they could visit.

For six hours May 20 and four hours May 21, Laura Fattal got to hug and kiss her baby boy and tell him how much she loved him. Laura Fattal said her son and the others looked healthy and were being treated well.

"We reassured them about all that we had been doing on their behalf," Laura Fattal said, adding that it helped lift their spirits.

But despite the joyous reunion, the mothers went home without their kids.

Still, Laura Fattal has never given up in her fight to get her son back.

"I was never not optimistic, I never lost optimism, I never lost strength," Laura Fattal said.