How Kelly Moore-Gilbert’s career and fortune have changed

Technically, I am unemployed. Like the dating scene, job applications are someone with a fairly unique name and face that pops up in people’s newsfeeds for a while…let’s just say, they’re not simple. Unlike dating apps, I can’t just make up a fake name and a deliberately blurry backstory, paired with a few blurry photos of people wearing sunglasses from 10 meters away. I’m pretty sure the fake name on the job application amounts to identity fraud or something like that, and I’ve already been charged with a crime.

If I’m lucky and the interview panel, like most people, doesn’t know who I am, how likely is it that they won’t just google my name when screening candidates? Anyway, how do I explain the giant black hole in my resume?

“No, I didn’t take a few years off to have a baby. No, it’s not for further study or recovery from an illness. I’m um… in prison. In a foreign country. Convicted of espionage…”

After this, it usually goes one of two ways.Either this guy is looking at me like I’m watching too much Tehran or kill eve, my reputation has since plummeted. Or maybe there was a flash of approval in their eyes, maybe they remembered hearing about that chick who was a college lecturer trapped in Iran a few years ago. Then, the inevitable follow-up questions start to flow.

I am a 35 year old childless divorcee with a criminal record. Of course, it was never like this.

“Have you been tortured?” “Are you sure you’re not a spy?” “How about PTSD?”

These people want you to be a wrinkled mess shivering in a corner, and you look disappointed, even suspicious, when you assure them that you’re not. In both cases, you can forget about getting the job. You are either already a basket or in danger of becoming one at any time.

I am a 35 year old childless divorcee with a criminal record. Of course, it was never like this. A few years ago, I was on track to achieve a comfortable middle-class life with my husband, my dream job, and a mortgage on a suburban home. I am motivated, I work hard, I am ambitious. After years of full-time study and multiple part-time jobs, I finally got my footing on the precarious academic ladder. I’m writing my first book, an adaptation of my Ph.D. I teach undergraduate and master’s courses and supervise research students. I used to think that I had more or less figured out life, myself.

Then the certainty and simplicity of my otherwise prosaic existence collapsed with such a violent abruptness that the shock and sadness of losing it lingered for years after me. It still exists.

Kelly Moore-Gilbert in Iran before her arrest, left on the cover of The Unshrouded Sky: My 804 Days in an Iranian Prison.Credit:Courtesy of Kelly Moore-Gilbert

The moment I was approached by a group of plainclothes men at Imam Khomeini airport on their way to passport control and led me into the interrogation room, my ambitions for myself changed completely. Once I was content to fight for a suburban house and a white-collar job, my ability to protect my sanity now depends on suppressing this thought and ensuring my own survival.


There is no room for ambition in prison. A complete renunciation of the dreams and aspirations once cherished, and indeed a complete forgetfulness of the past, is necessary to endure the inhuman cruelty of the Iranian penal system. How do you wake up from it afterwards? How do you reconnect with goals and ambitions that now seem superficial, empty and cliché?

As a potential job candidate, I may be radioactive right now, but I’ve taken it. For me, ambition no longer has anything to do with climbing the career ladder, getting promoted, or even getting recognized for my work. My main goal when I got home was to get straight to the point about what happened to me in Iran. my book, sky without cage, they all fulfilled that duty, setting my weary feet on the long and winding road to some kind of healing. Writing is cathartic for me, and I intend to do more.

I am also determined to be an advocate for other victims of arbitrary detention. We need to act decisively to ensure that unjustly detained Australians like Robert Payser, Cheng Lei and Sean Turner are freed from a hellish foreign prison like my own. I am also determined to be a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime, which is imprisoning tens of thousands of its own citizens for “crimes” that in Australia are nothing but our daily lives.

“Writing is cathartic for me, and I intend to do more”: Kelly Moore-Gilbert.Credit:Josh Robbenstone

I don’t want to portray myself as some kind of humanitarian trying to help others out of my own kindness. It is through the cold anger that still burns inside me that I speak out. Any act of my own activism on Iranian hostage diplomacy or human rights issues stems from a selfish desire to condemn those who stole 804 days of my life and try to dig a glimmer of hope out of the nonsense of it all . Make sure there are consequences, no matter how small and insignificant. In this anger, and in the concentration that results from it, there is healing. And with healing, recovery.


Over time, I am slowly unraveling the self-erasing and emotional detachment that have been critical to my existence. In doing so, I had to come to terms with the fact that the ex Kelly, with her old dreams and ambitions, was not coming back. Now, I long for the pleasures of living simply: from my garden, from my afternoon jogs, from chats with my grandmother, from casual interactions with strangers.

For me, ambition is no longer a matter of career, wealth, or building the ideal family structure that society tells me to. I probably don’t know where I’m going in life, but for the first time I’m happy with it. I am here enough, a free woman in charge of her own destiny. In the process of losing so much, I have also gained a lot, including a new understanding of everything I used to take for granted. For that, I am grateful.

Kelly Moore-Gilbert’s sky without cage Documented her 804 days in an Iranian prison. On September 11, she attended Writing Wrongs at the State Library at the Melbourne Writers Festival. age is a holiday partner.

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