This is stippy’s final part in a ten part series (See also parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9) about one foreigner’s experience of being put in a Japanese prison (留置場 or “ryuchijyo”, a prison for locking up people for as long as 23 days until they are convicted, or cleared of a crime).
Below is the epilogue of George’s story written after he had spent 22 nights in a Japanese ryuchijyo. Finally George’s story has come to an end. I enjoyed putting it out there, and I hope that it may have changed just one or two aspects of your version of what is really important in life, and what should take a back seat. For context, you should read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eigth and ninth parts of this series before continuing on with this final installment of George’s jail journal.
From here is the journal’s epilogue, the final chapter of this 10 part story, again in George’s own words (We hope you enjoyed it!):
All of the previous journal entries were made over the 22 days when I was locked up. I regret what I did and have paid for my stupidity and really, let’s face it; it wasn’t even a spectacular crime. Pretty lame actually. The journal was written in fits and starts as my passion to lose myself in my manga or daydreams, or my depression would allow. Being locked away and not knowing how things were going to work out was obviously an incredibly stressful experience and one that I would have found much worse if I did not speak or even read Japanese. Or have any money in the bank.
I had no communication with the outside world other than with a lawyer who could speak no English. I had accepted him as I had assumed that my case was not complex and would be easy for even the most basic of lawyers to handle. My uncle in law is a famous lawyer and in his opinion my lawyer did an exceptionally good job in reducing my penalties, so I am ever grateful to him. The original charges of robbery and assault never stuck and I came out of it with a fairly deserved charge of “causing bodily harm” as the prosecutor’s translator called it. I forget the Japanese word for it and as I type this, my wife is watching TV. I don’t want to disturb her in that even though she is able to laugh about all this (as am I) now.
I was thankful to the guys in my cell, Mr. W and Mr. H. They were great guys to be roommates with and they supported me with advice and encouragement that all would be okay for me. Probably – for the better – we will never bump into each other again but I will never forget them and I sincerely wish them well in life. I sure hope things get better for them.
I treasured the photo of my wife and boys I was given from the guards from my wife but as much as I love them all, I did not have any urge to see them during my detention. I could only imagine talking to my wife through a glass window as a burning sore that would always taint her image of me and I could not handle presenting myself in that light to her or anyone I knew. My wife was, as expected, quite traumatized by the experience as she only heard the professional opinions of my lawyer, who would give her the worst case scenario so as not to build too much hope. She suffered worse than I in many ways, as she also had to explain my predicament to her closest of friends (including my friend’s wives as word got to my work friends and bosses). She was incredibly grateful to all those wives who supported her and was glad that they could all laugh grimly at the fact that I was doing all of their husbands a favour by setting an example not to be followed. It is no secret that several of my friends could easily have ended up in a similar situation given the part that alcohol (for better or worse) plays in our lives.
When I left the Kasumigaseki prosecutors office on the evening of the 22nd day, ironically, I decided to take a taxi home. I could not get one to stop as the roads were very busy and the taxis seemed full and I had my private boycott of “company fleet” taxis. I started to walk and called my bosses. I could not get through to one who was out of the country but got through to another who I was glad had nothing but real concern that I was okay. I said I could come in and tell him the story but he said to leave it until the Monday. I explained the basics and I felt that it had all been a weird dream of sorts and it was really quite a laughable story. In fact as I recited the story of how it all happened, my stupid actions were so ridiculous that it did bring about a laugh. I wasn’t sure whether or not to tell “the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth” to everyone, as my behaviour had been so appallingly dumb. I pondered that and drifted into a kind of trance, walking on and on, intending to take a taxi at some point but finding a real energy for walking. Passing some tube stations, I thought of going home by train but my stench was so great and it was, after all, rush hour. I just kept walking, enjoying the freedom to move and it was over 5 kilometers later that I eventually did hail a taxi and go home to my family.
No-one saw my disappearance as something for me to be ashamed of and word got around our office quickly that I was “out of prison”. Most of the staff had no idea and had believed the initial rumour that I had been in a motorbike accident. Another friend had thought I had gone overseas without telling him. I had already called my wife immediately on getting out and she had told me of the calls she had been getting from concerned friends trying to confirm if I was in hospital. I received calls later that night from those friends and colleagues, all drunk and laughing as they had been filled in on my whereabouts. Where was the stigma of being a criminal? There wasn’t really anything and even in the office the occasional joke pops up but on the whole, as I had suggested that first day back to work, the subject has been fairly much taboo after that first day of explanation.
What I really found amazing in the weeks of catching up with friends and filling those who I wanted to share my story with, was that there were so many other stories that people had to share. Quite a number of people seemed to have a skeleton in their closet that they could not share with anyone until I gave them this chance. I heard of a friend’s brother who had been locked away for several years and of another friend who holds a highly respected professional job who had smashed a driver in the face during a bout of road rage and driven off. His wife sitting in stunned silence as he completely lost it. These were two people that I would never have expected such stories from and it lifted me to hear them.
Yes, I had been a fool and I did not go drinking again for the following 3 months. I did not even have a beer for several weeks as it took time for me to readjust. The first few days were fine but mid-week I felt extremely stressed from the activity and sudden interaction with so many people. I found myself wanting to go home early and just hide. But I knew that if I battled the week out, all would come back to normal in time – and it generally did.
All I can say is that Detention in Japan is a pretty horrible experience. But I don’t really believe it is so much worse than anywhere else in the world. I am a white Caucasian male of middle-class origins. It is not like I faced blatant racism or a system that is against me because of the colour of my skin. There are worse scenarios that I can imagine. The system in Japan is equally tough on the local population and non-Japanese, as far as I could tell and in fact, as the “Gaijin” I was treated very well by the guards and by the inmates in general.
The Detectives were on the whole good guys. I had to return to the station to pick up my Gaijin card and it was Bad Cop who had called me and had waited around until after his shift to give it to me in person. My wife had told me that he had been extremely comforting to her from the outset. He was in fact not a Bad Cop but just a guy doing his job in a system that encourages him to do his job the way he does it. According to my wife Good Cop (Detective K) and Bad Cop, whose name I found out after I got out, had told her that they thought the driver had set me up. Apparently it is not altogether uncommon for some drivers from struggling companies to pick a target (usually a drunken salary man) and create a scene from which he can make an accusation and potentially get a settlement from. I did not know if this was just a ruse to make my wife feel better but some Japanese friends also said they had heard of these stories. I had “ridden” the gag all the way to the punch line where the guy got hurt. I even took it further by going and turning myself into the Police (自首) the following day to try and fix the situation. Apparently the cops had been on my side all the way but especially after they had met the driver in person around Day 12 or so. They told my wife that the “set up” scenario was highly likely but I had done what I had done and all they could do was feel some pity for me and follow procedure. I was more than surprised to hear that those cops, has said things like this – which they never once mentioned to me when I was on the inside.
The real point to this whole story is that it was a shock to find out that I could be locked away for so long and kept out of society, even though in my home country I expect I would have been let free to go home with a date set at the courts to face trial, fine or settlement. 22 days with no communication and mostly no idea of where my fate lay was tough. There are third world prisons and legal systems that are much worse of course, but in a civilized country like Japan it is quite shocking. Further it angered me that the Police had not bothered to make contact with my friend, the only witness (who was riding with me in the same taxi), until Day 16, meaning that Day 19 was my last day at the prosecutor’s office and a fine was to be arranged on Day 22. Surely if they spoke to him on, say, Day 5 or 6, I could have been home with the kids in 12 days, I thought.
It was an experience I will never repeat and one that I hope no one else who is not a career criminal has to go through either. My physical health has been poor since. I had lost 5 kilograms and was weak from having had no significant body movement for 3 whole weeks. It was emotional. Even when re-visiting and organising these journal entries into readable paragraphs, I had some emotional moments as I recalled how lonely and anxious I had been. How much I missed my family and how much I realized I loved my wife. How much of a fool I have been.
To end, this is a short email message I just got from “George” which he asked me to include:
Just for the record, I did not edit anything for “Blue” except the names of the cellmates and it could obviously have been written better for the purposes of presentation but my actual notebooks were a jumble of entries in a confused order. The actual names were changed but I kept pseudonyms I gave my quirky roommates, as they were the guys who I really got to know, and it was how I expressed their personalities in my journal.
I hope this has been interesting for you all. I found myself glued to Stippy to see your comments and judgment. It was, as my sister pointed out, kind of sad to see people take the comments so far off track at times but such is life on the internet. Thanks to Blue for encouraging me to give him that original email that I had sent to my sister and push me from there. Glad we did it.