Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The trial

Before

That was a long wait. My friends and family must be worried already. Thanks goodness I'll see the proper authorities and be released. I find it really difficult to spend time here, staring at the clock, doing nothing. It is strange because the other people seem to manage it. They suffer alright but they don't complain, they manage it. I don't consider myself a weak person, I should be able to withstand at least what others people can bear. But everybody is different, different people are resistant to different things and maybe I am just not too resistant to jail. That's alright because I should be released today or so they tell me. Being released is such a big deal that people actually don't care what time of the day they'll be released but I do care. I am feeling every hour so I hope it will be in the morning.
My box-mates are less optimistic.
"Maybe you'll get 10 days." They mean well, they seem to think that ten days is not much, they seem to say it to comfort me so I knod.
"Yeah, maybe"
But what if they are right? I am not a special person, if japanese people get ten days for almost no reason why not me? From the other hand I have a hard time believing that because what I did is really close to nothing... I can't imagine getting 10 days for that. But Japan is strict, I could get time, maybe three more days. I think about how much more time I could take in this place. Three more days sounds about right.
I thought that I couldn't take a day more but maybe that's not true. If I organize my time, find things too do... somehow... then I could manage to wait 3 days.

In the morning, I am allowed to get a shower. Or maybe I have to I don't know. I haven't showered in quite some time so it's something I welcome. I can't believe my eyes. They actually let me into the shower room alone with hot water and some time to wash. False alarm, no they don't. About ten seconds later two other naked people enter the room and start washing. We are our own suicide watch.
Thanks goodness I had time to get used to public showers and baths starting from Kyrgyzstan then China, Korea and the Japenese Onsen. Otherwise this would be a very difficult moment.
Besides the zero privacy, the shower facilities are quite comfortable.
After showering and dressing again (there is always someone watching even when you are naked) the guard guides me to a room where I can shave. He gives me an electric razor that absolutely doesn't work. I mean it shakes and makes a sound indicating that there is a motor spinning but besides that it does very little. The sharp razor bits that are supposed to cut your facial hair are very far behind a metal grid. You can't do much, just press the razor to your skin and wait for it to do something but it does nothing. It just hurts my skin.
"This doesn't work, do you have a normal razor?"
They just have the anti-suicide razors. When you think about it, an anti-suicide razor is kind of an oxymoron. It's basically trying to make a knife that cuts and doesn't cut at the same time. I give up, I can't shave with this. There is no need to torture myself just to look civilized for my friends in a box.

Many of the inmates try to look their best for the prosecutor or for the judge. They dress up fancy (or as fancy as prison-provided clothes can dress you), brush their hair in the senseless hope that looking nice will make the judge more lenient. Looks do bring you a long way in Japan but I doubt it makes any difference to the judge. As for me, I am not going to make a clown out of myself for the amusement of a Judge who will process me like cattle on a slaughtering line. I am a prisoner in a box, I can't do much but one of the things over which I still have control is my dignity.

So I decide go in front of the prosecutor dressed and shaved like a caveman.

The courthouse

The armoured bus takes us to the courthouse. There is a whole protocol for the transfer. First we are searched multiple times and put into handcuffs. Once handcuffed, all the transferred prisoners, me included are linked to one another by a rope. This way, if you managed somehow to escape, you would have to run through Tokyo as a funny line of handcuffed convicts, one behind the other.
The handcuffs are checked several times, as I enter or exit the bus. I gave up feeling like a normal person, trying to delude myself that I am not like the others. I am in the box, it is much safer to assume that I am much like the other packaged cereal bars.
However, besides all the checks I notice that it is possible for me to take at least one hand out of the handcuffs. It may not be very comfortable but it is doable without breaking any bones. Not sure why I am looking into this, maybe just for peace of mind, perhaps exploratory research for a plan B in case Japanese justice turns out to be too crazy.

At the courthouse we are counted again. We are put with other boxes, a bit smaller, with more people, with other clocks but for a shorter time. There are about 10 people per box. Nobody talks. People wait in silence. For what? They don't seem to know, they just wait. They are old, young, seem to be from different backgrounds. And they are all fighting boredom, deep inside their mind. We don't talk to each other.
Sometime in the afternoon, someone calls me. I am taken through several corridors and elevators to another floor, and I appear in front of the public prosecutor. She is a pretty lady in her thirties with a very hard look in her eyes. Another woman is there, she says that she is my translator. She speaks English as well as French. I choose English for two reasons.
Firstly, I won't express myself in a language of a country that treats my girlfriend like dirt. And secondly I have no reason to overload this poor translator's brain by resorting to a language that is overly complicated. Don't get me wrong, I like French, it is a great choice to get laid but English is just better to get things done.

The trial

The prosecutor tells me that she's a prosecutor and asks weather or not I want a lawyer. I don't believe that my "crime" would be worth anyone's time so I refuse. She goes over my accusation with all the "allegedly" precautions which make the sentences even longer. It is such a relief to be out of isolation that I am actually happy for every ounce of communication I can get. But on the other hand, this kind of behavior is pitiful and that woman is not my penpal so I tell her to get to the point.
She seems surprised that I don't want a lawyer but I just want all this over quick. She says that she will push for maximum penalty.
"Because it is my job."
"Wait... it is your job to push for maximum penalty regardless of the commited crime?"
"That is why you should take a lawyer."
"Could I have the reasons which makes you think that my case requires to push for maximum penalty?"
"It is not important what I think. I am just doing my job."
Yeah I got that the public prosecutor is not my friend, I do hope to avoid the stockholm syndrome but this just not make sense. Does that mean that the prosecutor's job is to push the punishment as far as possible independently of what the prisoner has done? Because if that is the case, it means that in case of no defence the defendent gets prison to life or whatever the maximum penalty under japanese law is? This seems a little too far-fetched but I can't seem to get other type of answer, although what she says is always very Japanese vague and full of countless apologies and politeness formulas.
My translator translates the output to French as well as English but the result is the same: the prosecutor will be pushing endlessly through increasingly  harsh penalties until she hits a wall. And that wall is supposed to be my lawyer.
"Do you want a lawyer?," she asks again. She seems worried, like someone who is about to do something bad but feels that has no choice.
"I will handle my own defense if need be."

The prosecutor lets me go with a worried look and I do not pity her because when you take a job like this, you should be prepared to bear the consequences of the harm you do to people, that should be your rightful cross to bear.

When I return back to the box, my friends ask me whether I am going out. When I say no, they truly welcome me amongst them. I am officially a prisoner now, I am part of the family.

The next day I am to see the judge. I am more curious than afraid about the whole thing, how the Japanese justice system works. I arrive in a small room, a woman is there, on the other side of the table. There is another person, taking notes.

"I am the judge," says the woman, "can you state your name and date of birth for the court?"
I have learned in jail that we are in year 26 and I proudly state that.
"Do you have a permanent address in Japan?"
"No"
"So your name is Filip Novotny, you're born on 17. June of the year 26 and you do not have a permanent address in Japan. Is that correct?"
"Yes"
"Thank you, I do not need anything else."
"Where is the prosecutor?"
"There is no need for a prosecutor, I have all the information I need." says the judge. Strange.
I guess if there is not any public prosecutor to accuse me of anything then I don't have to bother with my defense. I have a feeling that I really don't understand what is going on here or maybe I just watch too many movies. I just sit there, looking at the judge and she looks at me.
"So... is there or will there be a verdict?"
"I can't say."
"Really? But forgive me for asking but you're the judge, right? Isn't it like... your job to listen to accusation and defence and then decide of a verdict?"
"No. I think you have misinterpreted what a judge does in Japan."
"Clearly so."
"We are incredibly sorry."

Of course they are. I never was a believer of the justice system but this is starting to look suspicious. I have been thrown in a cell prior to judgement, I have been subject to a DNA test, I have faced a prosecutor who very politly told me she'll stop at nothing to keep me behind bars and now I saw a judge who doesn't give verdicts in a trial where there is no prosecutor. From behind my eyes, this is getting kafkaesque.

Just after I exit the room, I am handed a piece of paper which contains the results of the trial. So there seems to be a verdict after all. Nowhere is there written the real reason of my arrest. The paper is incredibly vague. It translates:
The defendant is sentenced to be in jail for a standard period of time or more for the following reasons:

  • The defendant does not have a fixed address in Japan
  • To prevent the defender of hiding evidence
  • To prevent the defender from escaping
The last one kind of make sense. You lock someone up to prevent them from escaping, that's a direct consequence, hardly a cause for lockup. 
And while it is true that I indeed do not have a fixed Japanese address, forcingly establishing me one in Arakawa prison is hardly the solution I was hoping for. I think I prefer to be homeless thank you very much.
But prevent me from hiding evidence, see, that is strange.
Turns out that in a case like mine there just isn't any evidence to be hidden because there is nothing to hide to begin with. This sentence just doesn't apply to what I did and for the first time, a thought crosses my mind. I always assumed I was accused of something I did but what if I was accused of something I did not do? After all, it wouldn't be the first time something like this would happen. I was accused of being a spy before and that was before I even got to China. Since then, my hitchhiking story has gotten wilder and more incredible. Would it be so unreal to think that the police didn't believe a word of that story?
When I think about it now, the police didn't ask me much about what I did, they were more interested in my nationality, more importantly, my double nationality. They sent my passport for forensic analysis and tried quite hard to figure out what my nationality really was, the true origins of my bloodline.


And... jail for a standard period of time or more, what the hell does that mean? Did I just get a potential life sentence?
I ask to see the judge again and surprisingly enough, they let me.

"What is a standard period of time?" Shit just got real.
"A standard period of time is 10 to 20 days."
"Is my sentence a maximum of 20 days?"
"Your sentence may be more than 20 days."
"Is my sentence more than, say.. a month?"
"It is possible that your sentence is more than a month, that is not up to me."
"Of course, why am I asking, you're only the judge."
No wonder Japan is a safe country, the justice system must drive the few criminals crazy.
"The length of the sentence depends on the time the investigation takes. We are incredibly sorry."

So let me sum this up. I was imprisoned because I don't have an address and I should not be able to escape from the address that I don't have. So says the judge whose job somehow is to not deliver judgement. All this for the time that last the investigation. But the person who has authority over the investigation is the public prosecutor whose job is to keep me behind bars no matter what in order to prevent me to hide more evidence.
So all that the public prosecutor has to do to keep his job is to make the investigation run forever which is very easy since they are apparently looking for evidence that just does not exist and thus will never find.

In short I might just have been handed life in prison in the most polite way you can imagine, courtesy of Japanese manners.

"I think I'll take a lawyer. If only to explain to me how the Japanese justice system works."