Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati said he had accepted his fate - that he would spend 10 years in an Iranian prison with little hope of being released before that decade passed.
So he didn't really believe it when his guards said he was going to be released on Sunday in a prisoner swap with three fellow Americans.
On Tuesday, in his first public comments since his release, he explained his joy at realizing he was indeed being set free after four years behind bars in Iran, the Associated Press reported.
Hekmati had been convicted by an Iranian court of spying and initially sentenced to death. After a retrial, he was given 10 years on a lesser charge.
"I was at a point where I had just sort of accepted the fact that I was going to be spending 10 years in prison, so this was a surprise and I just feel truly blessed to see my government do so much for me and the other Americans," Hekmati told reporters at the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
He had no warning beforehand. "They just came one morning and said 'pack your things,'" he said.
But he fretted that the Iranians would back out at the last minute. "I was worried that maybe the Iranian side was going to make new demands," he said.
"So up until the last second we were all worried and concerned," he said.
The prisoners suffered several delays before they boarded a Swiss government plane. Even then, they didn't breathe easily until they were out of Iranian airspace.
And then "champagne bottles were popped" and veal and chocolates went around, he said.
Hekmati thanked President Barack Obama, Congress, and the Marine Corps.
"I tried my best to keep my head up and withstand all the pressures that were put on me, some of them were very inhumane and unjust," he said.
"Hearing about some of my fellow Marines supporting me really gave me the strength to put up with over four years of some very difficult times."