Monday, April 21, 2014

Life in a box

I am put in the box in about 8 PM. There are three people there. There is Seventeen, Five and Eighteen.

"Tana-san," says Five, "Kami." He says in a very soft voice, too soft for his size. His voice is like a feather.
The guard brings him paper tissues. It's toilet paper actually. Soft sheets of toilet paper, 25x20 centimeters each. About half a hundred sheets. He takes each sheet and folds it in half. Everytime he folds a tissue, he tries to enjoy that moment with his whole being. He even gives a sigh of pleasure as he folds the soft tissue in two.
As slowly as he can, from the pile of tissue sheets he makes a pile of of tissue sheets folded in half. When it's finished he gives a very quiet sigh of despair.

Five is one of the few people here who has actually done something which would actually be considered as a crime even in Europe. He has arrived to Japan from China and robbed an ATM. He ran away with a little less than a hundred thousand dollars which he hid somewhere which I won't write here for obvious reasons. If or when he is released, he plans to take that sum and send it to his parents. They are quite poor people.
For the time being, he folds tissues in half.
As slowly as he can, from the pile of tissue sheets he makes a pile of of half-tissues. When it's finished he gives a very quiet sigh of despair.

I watch this guy with stupefaction and promise myself never to fall that low. I should be careful with the promises for this box is empty from all objects except desperation.

Five is a foreigner. I have hoped for some English but I get Chinese instead. Still, I am the only one in the detention center who can communicate with him in his native language at least a little bit. He doesn't speak a word of english but can manage some japanese words.
He is a big guy, big for chinese but taller than me too. No danger there though, he is a teddy bear. Plus, life in that box is slowly turning him into a vegetable. It has been three months that he has been in here. His behaviour reminds me of people who have down syndrome. He is to be detained for at least three years.

Seventeen is a skinny japanese guy named Toshi. But I only learn this on my last day in jail. For now, he is Seventeen. He has been here for a month because he was seen drunk in the street at he has at least one more month to wait.

The first night, I manage to sleep. I haven't slept well the last few nights, haven't eaten much and have spent a lot of energy. So I just fall down and sleep, I don't mind the lights on. But I see that my fellow inmates struggeling to keep their eyes closed and I wonder how long until such things start happening to me too.

At 6:30 exactly we wake up. Five minutes later we take the floor matresses on which we slept and take them to another room. Then we return to the box and we wait. The door opens very briefly and a guard throws in a vacuum cleaner, two buckets with water and wet towels. We have to clean the box which is already clean because there is nothing in it for dust to accumulate. The three inmates grab each a towel or the vacuum cleaner and start cleaning. They are happy to do it because from all the things it is possible to do here, cleaning the toilet is one of the most exciting ones. I don't want to do anything to improve the box that is keeping me prisonner. I, unlike everybody else never use the suffix -san (mark of respect) when talking to the other guards. Showing respect to people responsible for your detention feels like losing my dignity; I will not do it. I know that this is just their job and that they didn't put me here but I believe that a person is responsible for his or her actions regardless of him or her acting under authority. I know this goes against what psychology has thought us but it is my opinion.
Actually, I keep the talking with the guards to a minimum. When I want something, my cellmates will ask it for me so I don't owe my captors anything.

The guards are not evil, they try to be as nice as the rules allow them to. Unfortunatelly the rules don't have much room for kindness. After all, how can you be kind and lock people in boxes?
We go brush our teeth. I do it quickly but my fellow inmates take their time. Going out of the box is tasting a bit of freedom even if it's only the narrow hallway.
Then breakfast. The guard slides the green carpet into the box through the narrow hole in the wall and then he slides the food, dish after dish. We are all waiting for food like baby birds for their mother. We feel just as helpless because in the conditions in which we live, if one day food stops coming through the hole; we die. Theoretically. It's Japan however, the rule says that food will keep coming through the hole and food will keep coming through the hole.
The food is good. Rice, some rolls, some friend little things. We get two bottles of soy sauce that we must give back after we put it on our rice. We also get chopsticks that we must give back so we don't kill ourselves with them.
"How do you say soyu in English?," asks Seventeen
"It's soy sauce," I say
"Soy sauce! How funny! Hahahahahha." And he bursts into laughter.
I smile a bit. I am not in a mood to laugh or to do anything. I don't want to socially bind with these people. Not because I despise them, I do not. I am sure they are perfectly find fellows; it's just that binding with them makes no sense. What could we possibly achieve in this place?
I can kill time just as well on my own.

After breakfast we wait. I have three books. I read the first one, about New Zealand in the morning. It takes me about two hours to finish it. It's written for children but what can I do?
"The people who first lived in Australia are called the Aboriginese. The land was very important for the Aboriginese. They like to farm their land." For the first time of my life, I wouldn't be afraid to spend my days reading the very complex Victor Hugo's "les miserables". But I am reading english for beginner's books.
Then comes lunch. I am always hungry for food and the food is good. So I eat lunch. Two pieces of bread with butter and jam. The butter and jam are in small plastic bags. The thing is, for security reasons we can't use a knife or a spoon to put the jam on your bread. I pour the butter on the bread and try to spread it with the small plastic bag but it's not very effective. The others do this too, there is no better solution anyway.

In the afternoon Five gets a pen. He writes on a notepad covered with chinese characters. I still have two other books: O. Henry's short stories simplified to 700 words of vocabulary. Half an hour to read it cover to cover. Simplified super thin version of the road ahead by Bill Gates: 20 minutes to read it cover to cover. And I used to complain about New Zealand.

This is a joke, I'll ask for proper books. I am a very curious person, I can't survive without a heavy information intake. I don't like to ask the guards for stuff but some books, that's a very obvious request.
But the guard completly ignores me. I ask again. This hurts my pride, I don't like to repeat myself to people who have authority over me.
"Can I have different books"
"No," says the guard.
"Why?"
"One day - 3 books."
"But these are books for children! Don't you have bigger books?"
"Tomorrow you take big japanese book."
"But I don't read Japanese"
The guard walks away. I have nothing now. Just the clock. And a damn slow one. It is unbearable to wait just until 5 PM, for dinner. I am bored of my mind. My box mates try to sleep but they are actually just lying on the floor with their eyes out of focus. Thank god I am going out tomorrow. Another day in here would be the end of me. I can't imagine how these people could spend a month in here. I think they didn't. I must have misunderstood.