February the 22nd 2016. Early hours of Sunday or Monday morning. Cuffed tightly at the wrists and ankles, with tears still in his eyes the bus came to a stop. He was instructed to get off, guided through a large entrance under construction to a small room. after an awkward shuffle to get there, the restraints where removed, his height was measured, weight and blood pressure checked, followed by a series of health related questions, with the doctor satisfied he was led back to the entrance and was handed a single piece of paper written in Chinese, no translation, “these are your rights” one officer explained in broken English, “should you wish to exercise them we really don’t give a fuck” he was silently thinking to himself. Sign here; date here, index finger print here, here and here. “This way” the officer huffed while nudging him through a huge metal door to the entrance of a second building, much more secure, with razor wire around all visible walls and not a square inch left uncovered by surrounding CCTV cameras. Once inside and already thinking of escape he noted the security center on the left and night duty guards, or there lack of. Passing through two metal detectors he was thrown a clear plastic bag, told to strip and place all clothing, shoes, hat any remaining jewelry and even underwear into the bag, which would be sealed and stored elsewhere on site. Arms up to your side, legs apart rotate 360 degrees and put these on the office shouted, throwing him some grayish sweats, a pullover, a jacket and an army green duvet. He was also given a clear plastic box containing on closer inspection some toiletries, a toothbrush, and a tube of tooth paste, a plastic cup and a single roll of that uncomfortable public toilet paper. “Come” he said in Chinese with absolutely no enthusiasm, stay on the right, follow the yellow line and wait at room five. The guard removed a huge ring of hanging from his belt, and knowing the exact key he unlocked the padlock and gave a sharp rap on the door where two Chinese men in red vest jackets slid open the reinforced door instantly removing him of his box while swiftly pushing him through to the adjacent room. He pointed to the floor with at least 20 something bodies, some asleep, some gawking in awe at the sight of the first foreigner they had ever seen. He quickly shuffled his way through and lye between two men in the no space remaining. With his duvet he shielded himself from the fluorescent lighting, hearing the door screech shut and the clink clank of the padlock. too overwhelmed to take it all in he would quickly fall asleep for the deepest sleep he would have in an uncertain amount of time, that to the day of writing this introduction august 13th 2016 is 9 days shy of 6 months. With no court date insight and no further intelligence on his case, he slowly thins, slowly grows numb, one could say he’s living only to rot away with every passing day. His mind weakens, thoughts cracked, he uses what little strength he has left to make a 3rd attempt at writing part 2 of his life story. When only two years prior his sobriety had started in a rehabilitation clinic in Thailand, where part 1 was written and shared in a group therapy with a dozen other clients also facing uncertain futures. With nothing but hopes and dreams of getting their lives back. Statistically only 20% of those that attend remain sober and get there wish.
If I was to write a story of my incarceration behind the bared door cells of two of china’s finest detention centers it would be no longer than several pages of mind numbing repetition, several pages that would reflect the very text book definition of insanity. My typical daily routine has already been told in poem and has a separate chapter itself. That had been written in the first detention center of the two situated in Nanshan Shenzhen where I was all be it emotional yet still in my right mind and coping with the help of anti-depressants and the occasional mild sedative. Let me first outline the Chinese judicial system. From the day of initial detainment the detainee will not be permitted to contact family or friends, he will have the right to request his embassy to help appoint a legal representative, however whether the detention center actually contact the embassy will be at their discretion. Both lawyer and embassy are the only link to beyond the walls of confinement and so are extremely important. The lawyer however won’t be allowed to accompany the detainee for police interviews, but will be relayed all relevant information surrounding the case. In china regardless of your nationality only Chinese lawyers can be appointed, so a translator may also be necessary. The detainee is guilty until proven innocent and will be detained for up to 37 days. Within these 37 days he will, if the police believe there to be enough evidence be officially arrested. During the 37 days the police will investigate and interrogate to gather information to build their case and what will eventually be used in court for prosecution. Their techniques at least with their fellow Chinese are anything but subtle, physical abuse is common practice. I was lucky enough to have the support of my embassy which ensured protection at least against physical malpractice. The investigating officers will offer a decreased sentence if additional information is given against other criminal activity that leads to an eventual arrest, a technique known as fishing. Once the detainee has been officially arrested, all gathered evidence will be compiled and passed to a further investigation department. This department determines if they feel there is enough evidence for a conviction. The process can take the best part of 45 days; if they are satisfied the case is then transferred to the courts. If however they believe evidence is lacking, or just for shits and giggles they decide to prolong the process they will send the case back to the investigating police requesting further evidence. The police then have an additional 30 days to investigate further. The investigation department can request for further evidence an additional two times, totaling an additional 90 days at least before the paperwork even begins to make its way to the courts. In many cases additional evidence will be requested even if it’s not required, in this way the police can stretch out the sentencing of a detainee for no other reason than because they want to course more pain and suffering. Once the case is finally passed to the courts there is yet another 30 day window in which the procurator will visit the detainee to confirm details of the case and to ask ‘how do you plead?’ (Pleading guilty whether innocent or otherwise will decrease the sentence). Within the following 3 months you will be given a court date which can be up to 90 days from the initial plea. Once the case has gone to court the detainee must wait a further 30 days for his sentence. Once sentenced and once 21 days have elapsed family visits are allowed for what should be thirty minutes a month, this is negotiable if you have relationships inside the department, and corruption plays a major role in Chinese society.
My friend and I left a local bar only minutes before a police raid took place. Both of us had been followed from the road side of the bar to the lobby of my apartment building. There was a tap on my right shoulder and the flash of a police badge. We were asked where we were heading, to my house I said and two police officers escorted up to my apartment where my wife answering with an unforgivable look on her face. No explanation was necessary, she knew, I knew, we all knew. After some commotion and several phone calls later another three officers made their way into my apartment and briefly searched my bag, my pockets and my office. Besides the couple hundred pounds worth of steroids seized there was nothing in the apartment. The pair of use where hand cuffed and led out through the packaging garage in two separate under cover vehicles, Yuki came with me. A suspect from the bar raid had been searched and found in possession of narcotics. When questioned he gave my name as the supplier, this is a process in china known as fishing. I later found out upon my release it was a much more elaborate setup, more will be said later. On the 21st of February 2016 I was detained for over twenty four hours between two separate police stations, at the first I was aggressively interrogated in broken English with no translator present. In the second station I was held with a dozen other foreigners most of whom were arrested at a different location known well for its open drug dealing. I had several urine tests taken in fast succession all positive for a number of substances that in itself is a fifteen day automatic detainment. I wasn’t innocent nor have I ever claimed to be, I have been an active addict with small stents of sobriety for over ten years occasionally selling to support my habit. Tired, hungry and in emotional panic I was practically forced into a confession, the evidence against me, several texts messages from a Chinese messaging application. I later found out that evidence alone would not be enough to convict me, but they already have their confession, I was to be charged with drug trafficking in the following amounts; 2 grams of MDMA, 0.7 grams of cocaine and several ecstasy tablets. I also had in my possession 0.5 grams of MDMA and a single Adderall XR tablet. Possession in china is typically a short term detention of up to 30 days; distribution is a minimum of 6 months to life and in the more extreme cases, death. Sometime later that evening I was rounded up with the dozen other foreigners, some of who I knew, all of which had been arrested the same night from raids across the city. Some four hundred people and two distributers an all had been arrested according to a local newspaper.
I needed to make phone calls, I needed to tell my parents and I needed to talk with my wife. If there was a way out it was now, before any paperwork was given the official stamp. I had to act irrational, which at the time was my only rational thought. I used a plastic spoon to lacerate my left wrist and both tops of my hands; I received nothing but strange looks from the other detainees. Next I tried to strangle myself with my t-shirt; I could see the police smirks through the separating glass. Finally I risked worsening my situation; I pressed my face to the glass and requested my wife counting down from five. Once I hit one I took several steps back, ran and hurled myself into the ten foot pain of glass, now I had their attention, with the police screaming from the other side I preceded to do it again, this time face first. They let me out and I had my phone call. I called my mum and my dad, I don’t remember what I said but the tears where stinging as they left my eyes. After acting irrational I had been separated from the group and allowed to sit with my wife in a room down the hall. The processing went far on into the night. Over the course of the evening I had heard seven years, five years, fifteen days, one month, I didn’t know, nor it seemed did anyone else. I held Yukis hand for those few hours like it was the last time, little did I know… it was.
Add more feelings!
Lawyers and yuki letters, embassy.
A friend; another local bar owner and myself, arrested at different times and locations, where separated from the heard and driven by bus to Nanshan, the first of the two detention centers. On arrival a doctor checked our vitals, took our weight and height measurements and questioned us in Chinese about our health. Once cleared we were then forced to sign Chinese written paperwork without translation, which as we understood where our rights, or there lack of. We were then stripped naked of our jewelry, clothes and all personal belongings, handed a grey tracksuit caked in mold and mildew before being separate from each other and led to separate cells where we wouldn’t have contact with each other for approximately four months. My call averaged between 25 to 35 detainees for company with absolutely no privacy, ever. In a place where one potentially has all the time in the world there is a constant rush at every choir. Waking at 7:20am we brush our teeth and have our breakfast, a single Chinese bun, followed by 30 minutes of mandatory army drills and 30 minutes of mandatory sitting. Sitting cross legged is forced, with hands held behind your back whilst knew prisoners introduce themselves. Detainees are forced to sit cross legged twice daily; this apparently is too decrease or lessen the chance of violence among inmates. Just a single week of sitting cross legged and your knees struggle to maintain your body weight when standing and walking. This is also the most degrading time of the day, new prisoners must sing, usually three songs, if not punishment such as pushups are enforced. They must share there reason for incarceration, number of family members, children and whatever else the elders inmates wish to ask. This is also when most altercations occur. The most respected inmates, known as bosses, will test the new comers, they will show there power and if the new detainee has any sense, he will submit. Those who don’t will have a very unpleasant day from that day fourth until hierarchy prevails. I was witness to two particular incidents in this center, the first in my first week, an 18 year old detainee with an attitude problem refused to take part in the army drills, he was quickly called out, words were exchanged and he was beaten badly in the adjacent room before being moved to another cell. The guards didn’t intervene, the boss’s gain respect through fear, and the boss’s and the guards work together to maintain control. The second incident was much harder to witness. A 17 year old detained for fighting had just joined our room, over several days he had problems completing the drills and following orders, it was obvious he was dumb, simple in mind but not by choice. The abuse started with having his upper legs hit with the back of a plastic slipper, it soon escalated, he was pulled from the drill line taken to the adjacent room and had near boiling water poured over him, followed by ice water then again by hot water. This was repeated until the screaming died down and the guard was called, at which point the boy was given a further lecture by the guard on duty as to why the boss’s must be obeyed.
Lunch followed at roughly 10:10am, a small bowl of rice by any standard with what would be considered a small helping of watery vegetable at even the least generous of restaurants. Boiled cabbage almost daily, once or twice a week we would be lucky to indulge in tofu. Only twice in my 11 months was I given potato and chicken stew, this was on the most important of the Chinese holidays. At 11:30am until 13:20pm we would sleep again, a forced rest period I assume to allow officers on duty the uninterrupted time to eat lunch. Shortly after waking, at 2pm more drills and more sitting ensues, then two hours of nothing until dinner at 4:15pm. Dinner would vary daily, a rotation of four dishes, such as pumpkin, beans, peanut soup and boiled turnip. Between 5 and 7 pm we would wash ourselves and our clothes in ice water from a large trough like object. The toilet is essentially a hole in the ground and is located next to the running water, showering doesn’t stop people using it. It’s a manic event with so many people and so little time. The bosses have their little brothers scrub them, wash their hair and clean their clothes, they bath alone and use the warm drinking water to rinse and wash. We are then locked into our sleeping quarters daily at 8:00pm and permitted to make our beds and sleep at 9:30pm not before.
Each cell in both detention centers where very similar in size and layout, about _ ft. they are composed of two adjacent rooms, the sleeping quarter slightly wider than its neighboring room. Both rooms are connected by a door parallel to the main entrance. The outside room, not actually outside but has an open roof secured with iron bars, is used as the kitchen, the shower and very hygienically the toilet. The sleeping quarter also has a toilet but can only be used between the hours of 8:00pm and 7:20am unless given permission by a boss. Urination is all that’s allowed use of this toilet for anything else will result in working penalties. There is no sunlight and there are no windows but bared openings where one would build windows, providing no cover from tropical storms in the summer months and preserving no heat in the freezing winter months. As a detainee you essentially are better off sleeping in a cardboard box on the street. The first detention center did have the added benefit of an industrial overhead air conditioning unit, whereas the second center had a single ceiling fan thick with black sooty dust, very efficient when temperatures exceed 35C. A single duvet per every two individuals is provided in winter and a single beach towel in summer, the bosses of course have several duvets each, and through summer they use them as a mattress. Each cell has several ‘bosses’ who make (and break) the rules to be followed. The main task of the bosses is too maintaining order among in mates, and they are in fact detainees themselves. They are invariably men with money who have bribed the officers for the position or they have some family or mafia relation to an officer in that particular center. The bosses don’t work, they don’t clean, they have others wash their clothes, they have extra dishes of food prepared for them by fellow inmates and even extra dishes of the food on site, they have extra duvets, a larger sleeping area, they shower alone and with hot water, they even have an endless supply of clothes. Bosses tend to live outside of their own rules, create rules when it suits them and abuse their authority. Detainees will typically only have two pairs of trousers and two pairs of jumpers. If you are respected by others then you will accumulate clothes from leaving prisoners, which is almost necessary, as if your clothes are lost, stolen or falling apart you won’t be provided with replacements. It helps to accept inmates generosity if given, the Chinese often save face over keeping comfortable, warm and even surfeited. Medication is dispensed morning and afternoon, every other day for colds and the like, prisoners who require blood pressure tablets or like myself anti-depressants get seen to daily. Shopping in the first center was available twice daily with a simple charge card system. Your card could be topped up via friends and family on the outside with a simple visit to reception. Products varied daily and where usually old sold in bulk, purchasing a single item just wasn’t possible. They were then passed through a very small opening in the cell wall, about the size of a water melon. Products varied from fruit and snacks to cosmetics and carbonated drinks.
I was officially arrested on the 37th day. At some point within the following forty five day window I had been told by the same investigating officer that my investigation had been closed and that I would shortly be transferred to a second detention center in the Futian district awaiting my court hearing. I confronted the arresting officer on the day of my official arrest and asked him for an approximate sentence, he replied six months based on his experience and the drugs I was accused of selling. Little did I know this was only the beginning? In June my case had been re-opened and sent back to the investigation department pending further investigation, I later found out my friend had also supplied the same individual I had supplied but twice. Once transferred to the second center our case was treated as one. The police may have suspected we were partners, I will never know, I had no idea my friend had any involvement in that scene at all. In any case a trial that involves two or more people takes longer to go to court the more people involved. The journey from Nanshan to Futian was in a word ‘emotional’, almost 4 weeks after being told I would be waiting only two weeks until being transfer the day had finally come. I was made aware of the transfer that very morning said good bye to the few I got to know and saw Daniel for the first time close enough to talk to in months. But we were forbidden to speak, the pair of us where escorted into a police minivan after being tightly shackled at the wrists and ankles. Every word we tried to voice was short lived and hushed by the office in charge. Sat behind us where two military police with batons, in front was my original cell officer and driving, yet another officer. We didn’t converse on that journey, our minds where overwhelmed experiencing what can only be described as freedom. Still restrained in chains, still enclosed and guarded but free from the walls of those cells. The world was incredible, it was fast and it was mesmerizing. People oblivious to the pain of having to forcefully forget, people who had no reason to filter out the memories of people they love in order to survive, people on their way to work, people on their way to see friends, they were free and they didn’t even know it. I wanted to cry, the overcrowding, the traffic, the over cast weather, and the pollution it was all so beautiful, but short lived as we came to a stop outside of a much larger, much more secure compound. The transfer process was no different to that of new arrivals, we were stripped and searched, handed new clothes and signed for all our belongings to be put in storage. We had several minutes to talk and exchange stories, it was then I was told about a possible setup, that perhaps what I thought had happened wasn’t the actual truth, but this wasn’t discussed further. We were separated again for the remainder of our sentences.
My new home, Room 01, the conditions of which made the first center looks like a five star hotel. My heart was pounding as I entered the cell. New people, would they be as friendly as the previous group, would anyone speak English, would they take to me or would I be the outcast foreigner. Immediately I was greeted by a Hong Kongnese who spoke surprisingly good English, the typical interrogation followed, why I was here, how long was my sentence, where did I come from, not all questions I could answer. After washing my feet with toothpaste, typical detention Etiquette as an attempt to deter disease, I was shuffled to a space on the floor between thirty or more inmates and told to sleep for the remainder of the afternoon nap period. As I lay down I glanced around the cell, all new faces watching me and trying to figure me out, the paint was pealing from the cell walls, the plaster was cracked and the back wall thick with mold and mildew, I asked myself how could my situation keep on getting worse? As a new prisoner I was subject to new rules, one of which was prohibited from purchasing food for three weeks whilst awaiting transfer to another room. Any detainee who finds himself in detention in china will first be put in a so called beginner’s room to learn the ropes and be taught the prison rules before being allocated to the cell in which they will live out the remainder of their sentence. The site administrator of the first center kept me in the beginner’s room throughout my whole time there, as a way to make my time more comfortable. With the constant rotation of prisoners and new comers the room rarely had more than thirty people for over a week, every Monday the two week old inmates would be moved to larger cells leaving on average twenty people to a room which would allow me to have priority on sleeping space and location. Here I wasn’t given that privilege. So I made do with a brave diet of cabbage and rice twice daily. My medical files to my surprise hadn’t survived the transfer with me. They didn’t have my anti-depressants on site and my embassy hadn’t turned up for any required assistance. In Futian the doctor’s visit a lot less frequently and are of practically no help. Medication is generic and scarce at best, sickness and disease; skin conditions in particular are rife among prisoners. Worse still the doctors assigned to the cells hand all medication to one of the room bosses who of course has no medical training, he is responsible for distribution which leaves much room for abuse with certain individuals, a terrible system if you miss your allocated time you miss your medication which in turn results in a penalty. On the first evening I found myself distressed in tears, with the help of an English speaking inmate I had been granted permission from the most respected boss to call upon a doctor. In a country that doesn’t believe in mental health problems such as depression trying to describe my illness was near impossible. after a fractured conversation in Chinese and with my anger rising I insulted the doctor, he came back thirty minutes later which Prozac, realizing this was as far as I would get I gratefully accepted the alternate medication.
One month in and I was no better off, I had just come through several days of severely painstaking depression whilst transitioning to Prozac which they did have on site but for which I’ve had particularly horrid experiences with in the past. Prozac has been linked to suicide and I certainly had had familiar agonizing thoughts crop up which otherwise hadn’t surfaced in years. There wasn’t a single English speaking officer on site, nor did the center supply a translator, I had been refused a request for my embassy and was confined twenty four hours a day to this cell. In Nanshan center detainees would be let out several times a week for perhaps fifteen minutes a time and The bosses of course twice daily for forty five minutes at a time. In this center detainees where never let out with the exception of lawyer or family visits. Bosses had it slightly better at twice a week for a similar time of fifteen minutes. In fact in Futian unless we had a reason to make a call for an officer through the intercom, we were left entirely to our own devices. Other nonsense rules would prohibit me from brushing my teeth twice a day and prohibit me from washing more than once a day. I also couldn’t walk to the adjacent room without permission, every prisoner has strict instructions to always be sat on the upper deck, to the rear of the cell and not to lie down or slouch, any deviation from these rules would result in a penalty.
As it turned day twenty one in the Futian center I was transferred to a ‘non executed room’, the name doesn’t directly reflected its meaning, a non-executed room simply means ‘the prisoners still awaiting sentencing room’, and there I was initially thinking I had avoided the death sentence. I was now permitted to buy food stuffs; the system however is flawed, inefficient and quite ridiculous. All products can only be purchased in bulk, for example a minimum order of chicken thighs is fifty pieces, each detainee is allocated 400RMB spending allowance per week, and each chicken thigh is 12RMB, which exceeds the weekly limit. So, shopping becomes a shared process which often equates to arguments among detainees who shared, it also leave some individuals without the option to purchase food if there is no one who wants to share. Orders are placed every Wednesday with products delivered a full ten days later, the Saturday after next. My job in the new room as with the last was dish washing which I’m quite fond of, finding it rather therapeutic. When I had been offered to wash the bosses dishes to avoid night duty I of course jumped at the task. Every cell mate has a role to play, a job to help maintain the cleanliness of the cell and help to keep living conditions as comfortable as possible. Detainees also have nightly watch duty or night shifts. The more prisoners per room, the more watchers on duty. This is to try to accommodate for sleeping space or there lack of, it is not uncommon to have prisoners sleep in shift due to lack of space. Watchers rotate per hour and per day. Night watch is also used as a penalty system for disobeying the community rules. For example, every prisoner must memorize and be able to recite the prison and cell rules without fail within the first three days, failure to do so will result in two penalties every day left un-recited, and there after a further two penalties. A verbal altercation may result in ten penalties, a physical altercation will result tin fifty with the added annoyance of a modern day ball and chain where a weighted piece of still is located in the center of a chain secured at both ankles. Detainees that repeatedly break the rules or are constantly violent or even if the onsite officer is just having an ‘off’ day may find themselves in the doctors quarters lying on the their backs shackled by the wrists and ankles to a bare metal bed frame. In most cases a helmet is used to prevent self-harm from head banging and the prisoner is intermittently hand fed a little bread and water to keep them alive while defecating where they lie. This punishment can last in extreme cases for several days. In Nanshan there was a call mate who repeatedly ate the bristled heads from toothbrushes, either an attempt at suicide or just for attention, he was punished to four consecutive days strapped to the bed with little food and water. Unlike the Nanshan center Futian did not play English or English subtitled movies on the weekends, or the week days for that matter. There was little to no variance from CCTV15 a Chinese music channel, CCTV1 which was Chinese news and soaps and CCTV6 which at least offered some entertaining movies. The TV was generally on all day on weekends but week days where kept between 5 to 11 pm and aggravatingly always played at full volume. In the cell was an assortment of Chinese books, foreign books could apparently be requested but with a typical waiting period of a month and no guarantee of arrival it was barely worth the effort. In Nanshan family members could send in reading material, in Futian of course like everything else it was prohibited. A further month in and the site administrator decided to put a ban on chess, all make shift chess boards, bottle caps and checkered T-shirts had to be surrendered, leaving little to do but play cards.