Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A foreigner's life in a Beijing jail

"Posted by Jeremy Goldkorn, October 23, 2009 3:42 PM

[A foreign man who spent the last seven months in jail sent Danwei this
description of his daily life at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center after
his release last week.]

If I were a Chinese person and not a foreigner, a crime like mine would have
been dealt with on the ³city district² level, as opposed to the ³municipal²
level which is much tougher.

The other people incarcerated at Beijing No. 1 Detention Center were all
facing life sentences or death sentences, at least as a possibility, so it¹s
not a place where detainees are given a lot of slack. It¹s the site of
Beijing¹s newly constructed hi-tech lethal injection chamber.

It was boring as anything, and the rules were strict.

Thankfully, foreigners are housed in a section where we were mixed with
big-time white collar Chinese criminals, who are a better sort than the
murderers and cannibals and rapists housed in other parts of the facility.
Many of the Chinese people I was in close contact with were college
educated, and many had been in positions of high responsibility. The CFO of
Gome was in my cell; Huang Guangyu the CEO ­ formerly the richest man in
China ­ was down the hall. I often saw him walking in the hallway heading
downstairs for investigation.

The room, or ³cell² if you like, was about 25 feet x 15 feet in dimension,
and housed between 12 and 14 detainees. About half the room was filled with
what we called ³the board², a raised platform stretching from wall to wall
on which we sat during the day and slept at night. The bathroom in the cell
consisted of a squat toilet, a faucet (no sink), and another faucet up high
for showers at night. The wall between the bathroom and the room was
transparent, so everybody could see everybody else all the time doing their
business. You get used to it. Boiled drinking water was available twice a
day in the room through a special tap.

Daily life was a drag during the week. Here¹s the schedule:
06:30 Wake up. Eat breakfast (watered-down milk powder, a piece of bread, an
egg every two days).

07:00 Clean the room. I was assigned to the bathroom from Day 1, and even
though I had many chances to ³move up² to the floor or other assignments, I
decided to stick with what had become familiar. Two of us were responsible
for the bathroom, so I cleaned it every other day, thrice a day. I stayed on
that duty for so long that I became know as the ³boss of the bathroom², or
³Toilet Control Officer². (Something for my resumeS and yes, I scrubbed the
squat toilet with a toothbrush, but not mine.)

07:30 Sit on ³the board². This is the main activity in any Chinese jail,
familiar to fans of Chinese soap operas and movies. The board runs the
length of the room, and we were required to sit on the edge of it for most
of the day.

Leaning too far forward, leaning too far back, and even crossing your legs
was forbidden (especially if the officer on duty was an asshole or having a
bad day). One person at a time was allowed to get up and move around to use
the bathroom, fetch water, get a book, etc. So, mostly I chatted with other
people or read a book. Sitting so much hurt my back at first, but then I got
used to it, or stronger.

10:30 Time for lunch! For the last three months of my incarceration it was
boiled potatoes every day. A single boiled vegetable was the template for
most all meals, with beef chunks included once a month. Every meal also
included steamed bread, which I generally avoided, and rice came with lunch
every two days. After lunch we had about an hour of free time to lie around.

12:00 Siesta time, a Chinese tradition.

13:30 Wake up from naptime. Sit on the board for another three hours. Also,
during the afternoon sitting period we were let out into our ³porch² area
for about 15 minutes, where we stored our extra food and clothing. This was
known as ³going out² for ³exercise², but in reality it was just another
small room with a big hole up high for a window with no glassS that is, you
could see the sky and sometimes the sun, but I wouldn¹t by any stretch of
the imagination call it going outside. Also, the exercise was walking around
in a circle with too many people in a small space, at probably about 2 or 3

16:30 Dinner time! MmmmmS. oily boiled cabbage. Or oily boiled turnips.

Mondays and Fridays we got to have a kind of tomato soup with egg in it, a
very popular meal, but we only got a small bowlful. I generally skipped
dinner as part of my weight loss plan, and as soon as things were cleaned up
I got down to my work out. After dinner we had 2 hours of free time for
showering (which I also used to exercise). This generally involved about 75
pushups (not all at once), some crunches, 1000 jumping jacks, some bicep and
shoulder lifting, and some squats to keep my legs from atrophying. I did
this about 5 times per week. For weightlifting we used a pair of pants
filled with water bottles. It was very prison-y.

19:00 Time to watch the official state news broadcast, Xinwen Lianbo, which
was much worse even compared to the English-language official state news
broadcast that I used to work for. ³Worse² meaning that the top 9 stories
were usually about what the top 9 leaders in the central government did that
day, followed by 2 minutes of international news. As for other sources of
news, we got about 3 or 4 random sheets from the China Daily newspaper (in
English) every week. I found out that Michael Jackson died from an article
that began, ³Since the death of pop icon Michael Jackson last ThursdayS² I
was like, are they talking about the real Michael Jackson?

After the news, we were forced to sit and watch 2 more hours of the most
incredibly mindless Chinese TV you could ever imagine. Usually the station
was set on CCTV-3, which is mostly family variety shows, cross-talk
comedians that I can¹t follow at all, lip-synched Mando-pop concerts, and
nationalist sing-alongs. Uggggh.

21:30 We can finally move around again! Time to brush your teeth, get ready
for bed, stretch, etc.

22:00 Time for bed. I was going to say, ³lights out², but then I remembered
that they never, ever, ever, never shut off the lights in the detention
center. Ever. Super-bright exposed fluorescent curly bulbs 24 hours a day,
so I ended up sleeping with a blindfold on. I made it from a t-shirt sleeve.
One of the special things about life in the detention center was that two
people in each room have to be ³on duty² during any time when people are
sleeping, including during the afternoon nap. The night was divided into
four shifts of 2 hours each, while the last shift was an additional 30
minutes. We rotated through the last three duties and then had a night off
after three nights of duty. So, on Monday I might sleep from 10pm to 4am
followed by duty until 6:30am; the next night I¹d sleep from 10 to 2, do
duty until 4, and then sleep till 6:30; on Wednesday I¹d sleep from 10 to
midnight, do duty until 2am, and then sleep until 6:30; Thursday night I
would not have to do duty, but I sometimes would have to do duty during the
afternoon nap. It was a very tough system to get used to at first.

Finally, there was no torture, no rape in the shower. Just the good ol¹
psychological torture of close confinement and isolation from everyone and
everything I ever had known one millisecond before I was taken into custody.
But I was always glad that at least there were a bunch of us in one room.
Being alone would have been much worse."

Source: http://www.danwei.org/crime/a_foreigners_life_in_a_beijing.php


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