This is stippy’s fourth part in a series (see also part 1, part 2 and part 3) 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 continuation of George’s story, and how he was processed in the Japanese legal system. I strongly advise reading the first, second and third parts of this series before continuing on with this fourth installment of George’s jail journal. Once again, while reading the following, think how you would act, and how you would handle his situation. His story certainly changed my way of living in Japan (at least a little bit) for the better. Let us know if it changes yours.
From here, is the fourth part of Prison in Japan – “Processing” in George’s actual words:
The trips to Kasumigaseki (霞ヶ関) started on Sunday – my 3rd day. I was off to see the prosecutor at the Tokyo Metropolitan Courts. The prosecutor (or kensatsukan, 検察官) was the guy who would decide whether my case warranted further investigation and therefore a “necessary” 10-day extension of my detainment. It did. He even added a restriction order on communications so no visits by anyone were allowed other than my lawyer or the embassy staff. No letters were allowed in or out for at least the 10 days and possibly more. Prior to making his decision the prosecutor asked me again to agree or disagree to the facts of the case. As with my DIC friend, the facts were laid out as if my intention was to rob the driver of his (owed) money and his phone, resulting in me pushing him to the ground where he was injured. I again agreed to the results but not the nature of the incident or the motive. Shit these guys were persistent. It seemed that they were playing games with me and once again it was stated that I was best off if I just agree with the prosecution and be less “self assertive”. I started to wonder if I truly was being belligerent, as it was not be the first time for me to be accused of this and maybe I was genuinely overdoing it. I shut those thoughts out though as, upon reflection, the truth was the truth and this was too important to back down on.
Pic: The Tokyo Courthouse and Kasumigaseki Prosecutors Building
The day at the prosecutor’s office was just as long, tedious and physically draining as Wajima had explained to me when he was helping me prepare for it. It started with myself, and a nondescript Chinese fellow being cuffed and led by ropes to a bus in waiting. Down two flights of stairs with an entire Police Station staff in procession or watching from the sidelines. One or two of them shouting “ni mei ouji!” or something that I never really worked out, but meant something like “2 prisoners leaving” and reminded me so much of the “dead man walking!” scene, from the movie of the same name. We were roped into our seats and immediately headed off to who knows where, in one of those big blue and white police buses with cage over the windows. The destination turned out to be the very same Police Station that I had turned myself in to. We picked up another couple of guys, one of whom sat next to me. I then realized we were only halfway through the rounds as our bus was now full down one side of seats and half the back row. The guy beside me was one of the worst looking men I’d seen so far. He had a thick brow, with dull eyes that seemed unfocused and unseeing, a protruding lower lip and chubbiness that reminded me of some of the “special needs” kids from my High School many years before. He looked dangerous in the way that it was highly likely he would murder me if the guy next to him gave him $10. He just did not seem to have much processing power in his rather dim looking skull. In fact my PC could probably tell right from wrong quicker than this guy, and I did not like sitting next to him but what could I do. Then I laughed as I wondered if he was thinking the same thoughts about me. One of the guards told my friend here that his “medication” was at the front of the bus and that he should not worry. Yikes! It seemed to me there were quite a few prisoners carrying small envelopes containing “medication” when they got on the bus. Maybe mental illness was highly common I the world of petty crime. So, what was my excuse?
In general there were three types of “suspect” that traveled on the bus and spent that day with me and around 150 other guys in processing at the prosecutors office. There were a few guys who I thought were much like me; typical type-1 suspects. They were obviously “normal” and in here for the first and likely last time. Guys who probably have steady girlfriends or wives, and probably have quite steady jobs. On my bus that first day there were at least 2 Japanese guys who looked like quite successful salary men – one around 35 and another around 45. Well kept haircuts, good looking and with perfectly respectable faces. Their eyes were bright and had a spark of intelligence and comprehension. They wanted to get home just as much as I did. A western guy shared our bus that day on the way home and he looked like any one of my mates from back home. He and I both had closely cropped hair, wore shorts and shirts, looked sporty or dare I say even “athletic”. We only made eye contact once and almost laughed, as we each recognised by looking at each other just how so out of place we both looked. He kind of nodded in agreement. On another bus trip there was a well-dressed westerner who I saw 3 times in all. He looked like a banker and his “station” was Kayabacho (茅場町), so I assumed he was a broker or some sort. He looked intelligent and like he really had just made a stupid mistake, probably a drunken one, much like myself and the other westerner, I assumed.
The type-2 suspect on the other hand, was the kind that was not at all stupid and more of a working class guy, with pride and intelligence but more than likely a lack of education. I thought of Wajima in this light, as I did my friend Snoop. I wasn’t sure whether Hakamada was in this one but even after hearing of his previous history I figured he was more a type-2. Type-2′s were guys who had made conscious decisions to commit a crime. On one or several occasions they had broken the law but they were not necessarily doomed to a life in the system. These were guys with essentially a good heart but either a taste for the wild side (see Snoop and Hakamada) or a lack of opportunity (see Wajima) and education (seen all around me) to climb up and away from trouble. Snoop was probably on his way down. He was a good guy but I could tell he was a danger to himself. He seemed to like me from the first day he met me and nodded to me. We sat next to each other at exercise and chatted the usual intro about my home country and rugby. He then compared biceps and exclaimed about my height, saying that he wished he were taller. In the bath one day he got me talking about the finer things in life. For him they were beer, marijuana and Snoop Doggy Dog. I assumed he had a girlfriend in there somewhere. Maybe between tokes. He was a fairly good looking, rugged type with a close cropped head, big muscles and a fine multicoloured tattoo across his left chest, shoulder and upper back. More elaborate than Hakamada’s tats, Snoop said he got his in Hawaii, but I thought that it had a strong Yakuza flavour to it. Maybe Snoop was really a type-3 but I liked him, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. The type-2 suspects were the type you could hold out some hope for. Actually chances were that Snoop was just young and reckless. Too reckless to back down from a fight in which he apparently took down 4 guys before the Police intervened and threw him in lock up. It sounded like a cool fight and I’d put my money on my boy Snoop doing the business on most people twice his size.
The third category of suspect, type-3′s, were the dull eyed, slack jowled, scrawny impoverished looking types or just plain stupid types (like Noisy and Scary) and multitude of freaks that I met who were so different to me in so many ways it was an indictment of my own failure to be put in the same room, let alone they same jail cell, as them. Actually I was really lucky as my cellmates were genuinely good guys. Likable and smart and nothing like these sorts. There were older guys who looked like crusty, struggling ramen shop owners or “snack” owners with broken, stained teeth, who live in Shitamachi (下町), the old town or “downtown” as it is known. These were the types you know have had a long and hard life. You can see it in the wrinkles, the semi-blank stare, the “I’ve been here before”, or the “I don’t give a fuck anymore” sort of attitude. They were the defeated. There were old guys who looked like my taxi driver but even my driver had some class to him. He carried a sort of working class pride in him (from my memory of him), so he was far better than the downtrodden shells that I saw in the prosecutors waiting chambers. Sitting with these guys in cuffs for 8 hours a day on our trips to Kasumigaseki, I found that these old fellows didn’t have that, they didn’t have much of anything. They were guys who were so blatantly broken and/or stupid that they were more like comic strip characters than human beings. I know this is rude and high browed to say, but I had spent 3 long days at this stage already, sitting face to face and shoulder to shoulder with these people.
There was one young guy who I was sitting opposite from for 8 hours on our hard wooden benches while we were waiting our turn to see the prosecutor. He was the epitome of a lost cause. Hard to pick his age, he could have been 18 or 22 or maybe 28. His hair was unusually unkempt – long and out of place, he had perpetually “just woken up”. He was tiny. Both extremely short (155 cm at a guess) and as skinny as anyone I’d seen. At least one of the skinnier of the 150-200 suspects being prosecuted on any given day at the Kasumigaseki prosecutors office. He had that thick, furrowed brow with huge black bushy eyebrows nesting above dark but dulled eyes. His eyelids didn’t even open fully and he seemed either semi-conscious or semi-sedated. Scarily this guy would just not stop making eye contact with me as he sat opposite me, eyes flicking to the left, center and to the right, slowly and without any real purpose. His small face included a dark fluffy, wispy teen moustache with slack jowls that indicated to me that he had not smiled since he was a small boy, if ever. His lower jaw had a definite protrusion that seemed more from a lack of musculature than anything else. Tiny dark haired arms that ended in tiny girl-sized wrists, cuffed before his clenched bony hands. His knees were tiny too, below a hunched over body that spelled tragedy. I felt some pity for this kid as his bad luck or failures began at an early age for certain. I could see two seats along, exactly the same kind of old man that this kid was destined to become. Without a doubt. The old guy in the corner was completely defeated and his life looked on first appearance to have been a series of mishaps and mistakes. I could not imagine any woman ever lying down with one of these men and I assumed that even the most menial of jobs would be too much for them to do successfully, even they were given a chance, which they would not.
These were the people I was now spending my time with. This is how far I had fallen, although I knew that it was only a brief and never to be repeated period of my life. This knowledge and those observations put me in surprisingly good spirits during my Kasumigaseki prosecutor’s office trips. Despite the being cuffed, tied together by ropes, the hard wood benches, the communal toilet in front of everyone else, the company, the strict rules on absolute silence, not being allowed to stand and the clock that would never tick quickly enough, I didn’t mind all that much, as I knew that unlike a great deal of the people around me I was never to return. I would never be spending my days in such misery again. I have the love of a beautiful, healthy wife, pure of heart and wild of spirit. I have had a share of women and good friends and happy times over the years, with more happiness to come. I have a job that on the whole I enjoy and which is financially rewarding. I have family that loves me despite all of my shortcomings. Even more important to me than all of these things, I have the unconditional love of two of the most beautiful boys that any man could wish for. My young sons are the most precious and wonderful things I have ever had the joy to be a part of in this life. I am truly a blessed and happy man. Given this, I must ask the Detective and the Prosecutor, why the fuck would I rob and assault a taxi driver over $20 when I had more than $80 in my pocket, my very own mobile phone and a friend asleep beside me at 4 in the morning? Please tell me why I would rob and run from the taxi putting all these wonderful things, not to mention my sleeping friend, at risk? I thought, “that taxi driver had better have a good explanation”, because there was no way I was going to give in to the prosecutor and these jerk-off detectives without a fight!
Let us (and George) know your thoughts in the comments below.