Sunday, April 20, 2014

I am locked inside an empty box, staring at the clock

Warning: if you are my parents or my girlfriend, please do not read this, it might be a bit difficult

Hey Janela, do not read this, seriously, don't!

We are four people in a holding cell in Arakawa police station, Tokyo. The cell has the following dimentions: 7.26 meters long, 3.3 meters wide and 2.2 meters high. The cell has a metal door 1 meter wide. The door is covered with big bars. Between the big bars there are finer bars which are so close to one another that it is barely possible to insert the top of my little finger between them. On the cell floor, there is a yellow carpet. There are no chairs, no table, no bedsm no furniture. For all intends and purposes, the cell is an empty box with humans in it.

In the back of the cell, there is a "window" 1.6 meters wide and 1.7 meters high. The window is tightly covered with bars the same way as the door. The "window" and the door overlooks a hallway illuminated by neon lights. The hallway on the "window" side has three visible windows, all tightly covered with heavy metal bars. It is possible however to have a glimpse of the outside world through the two layers of bars of the cell and hallway windows. We perceive the world through narrow patches of light.

There is a toilet. The toilet is a separate room. It has a windowm 70x50cm on the side and another window in the door. When a person is on the toilet everyone who cares to watch can see his head and upper body. The naked part of the body however, remains hidden. The door of the toilet is a a 70cm by 2 meter heavy piece of steel, it goes all the way from floor to ceiling. The top of the door is not a horizontal line, it forms a 45 degree angle, like this:
The toilet door
The door's pivotal system is extremely close to the wall. It is therefore extremely difficult to insert anything, a rope per say between the door and the wall. And even if such a rope would be inserted, it would be very difficult to to make it hold on the sliding slope (see picture above). Anything even remotely elastic such as clothes would fail to hold to that door. And we are all provided with only very elastic clothes.

A thin metal plate about 5 centimeters wide goes around the cell strongly holding the carpet to the ground, making it extremely difficult to tear the carpet or to hide anything under it. The carpet is just soft enough to provide a soft fall if a person would somehow climb to the ceiling and fall from it. However it is not fluffy enough to make suicide by asphyxiation possible. It is obvious after a while that this place is designed with one goal in mind and one goal only: to be suicide-proof.

The toilet is illuminated by three pairs of neon tubes on the ceiling and one neon lamp in the toilet space. The lights never go out. At night, the toilet neon light remains on and one neon lamp is left on in the cell box. The light from that single neon is enough to brightly illuminate the cell.
With such strong lighting, it is difficult to sleep. Most of us don't really sleep at night. We just rest in a 3/4-awake state. Sometimes we try to cover our eyes with a piece of clothing to achieve a sensation of darkness. However, in order to prevent suicide, all pieces of clothing that we do not wear are taken away from us. It is common practice for us to go to sleep with our jumper on. We later take off that jumper and use a sleeve to cover our eyes. This way, we can sleep. However, the guards patrol at night (suicide watch) and when they notice this, they wake the person up and take away his jumper. The person then has no other choice than to rest in the illuminated room.
There is one allowed option how to reduce the light intake. We are allowed to put our blanked over our head. However the provided blankets are very warm and don't let enough air through. They are unable to suffocate us but they are uncomfortable enough to prevent us from sleeping. However, few of us suffer from sleep deprivation. The reason for this is that we practically never get out of our cells, get no physical exercise and therefore accumulate very little tiredness to be consumed during the night.
We go out of our cells five to ten minutes in the morning to brush our teeth and then five to ten minutes in the evening to brush our teeth. The sinks are in the hallway, a maximum of ten meters from our cells. We also go twice per day, through the hallway to a room about 20 meters from our cell to take our sleeping mattress and put it back in the morning. The journey to the mattress room and back takes less than a minute.

Even though we don't go out from our cell, there are two to three checks a day to ensure everybody is present. The checks are performed in a ridiculous manner which comes straight out of a bad Hollywood movie. The guards shout our numbers (we have numbers, not names) and we have to say "yes!" when our number is called even though the guards see us and recognize us. When the calling is finished the guards scream to one another: "4 men in a cell!" very loudly even though they are 2 meters from each other.

Boredom is on everyone's minds, actions and faces. Everyday, we can choose 3 books from the bookshelf. There are about 150 books to choose from and about half of them are old manga which all tell approximately the same story in different flavors: good cop always catches bad guy and beats his ass. I guess that should teach us a lesson!
Almost all books are in Japanese. There are exactly 4 books in Chinese and 6 books in English. All thin english for beginners books, the kind of simplified English with 700 words of vocabulary that we had in 8th grade.
The most advanced of them is a simplified transcript of the movie love actually in 53 A5 pages. It takes 2 afternoons to read the six books. After that there are no books and it is unthinkable to request other books. I have no other choice but to read the same book over and over again, until I know it by heart, until it becomes the same thing to read and to do nothing.

At certain times, during the day, we can request a pen. Getting a pen is one thing, getting a piece of paper is another. We have to pay to get paper to write on. Even if another inmate gives me a paper that he has paid for, I can't keep it. The guards won't give it to me at the end of my detention. They will throw it away at the end of the day.

The day is organized in 3 parts. 1) Waiting for lunch at exactly 12 AM, 2) Waiting for dinner, 5 PM.
What do we do during the waiting times? Nothing. It is literally hours and days of doing nothing, looking at the clock. Since we do not sleep properly during the night and are not properly awake during the day, we also wait at nights. If your sentence is a day, you will wait 24 hours you will practically see the minute hand on the clock turn around 24 times. If your sentence is a 10 days, you will see it turn around 240 times. If your sentence is a month you will feel every single of the 720 hours. Go into an empty room, put a clock in front of you and wait for an hour to finish. Do nothing, just look at that clock. That is how is waiting in a box.

Some of us try to sleep but it is hard. We are not tired enough, the lights are bright and we do not have blankets during the day. Some of us rest more during the night, some during the day. Either way we are conscious of almost every hour that passes by.
All day long we stay in our box, even during meals. A green carpet comes in our cell through a narrow hole in the wall. The food is good though, better than my former company's canteen. The quantity is just enough for me. Maybe I could eat slightly more. However, it doesn't seem enough for some of the bigger guys.

Almost every morning we go briefly out of our box to a special room where we can shave and cut our nails. The shaving machines are special electric razors designed for anti-suicide purposes. In other words: they don't cut and hurt your skin.

Once every 5 days, we are allowed to have a shower. However, for security reasons we cannot go alone, we go in groups of three people. A guard is watching us through a window. And that is how life goes on a in Japanese detention center. No proper rest, no physical activity, no natural light, always someone watching. Everything is alright as long as no one kills himself.

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