By Philip, Japan

When I was in the UK I had a good life. I was a self-employed gas engineer who worked hard with long hours. That was until the bubble burst and my life fell apart and I started taking medication for depression.

After that I made some very bad decisions and became a victim of fraud. I was tricked into coming to Japan where I was arrested for transporting 2kg of methamphetamine. I am not saying that I was totally innocent – I take full responsibility for my actions, no matter how misguided they were. You might even think, like I do, that I was naïve or even stupid, but what’s done is done and, to make matters worse, I never received a payment unlike others here in the same situation.

I have never broken the law before (except two speeding tickets) so it came as a big shock to be arrested for something like this. Both my family and I decided that it would be best to hire a private lawyer as I had no faith in the state lawyer that I had been allocated. My son came up with one who had a good reputation that thought we had a good chance of winning. My son also got together a legal team back in the UK to collect and collate a lot of evidence, then forward it to Japan and the National Fraud Centre in the UK. I was in detention for nearly nine months before my trial. I have to say my trial seemed like a farce. My lawyer worked hard for me; he managed to get all the video evidence of my interrogations thrown out. I am not sure how much evidence form the UK they took into account but I do know they cut short the presentation by my lawyer!

So after two weeks I returned to court for their verdict. I was sentenced to 7½ years plus a fine of approximately £17,500. My lawyer said he would appeal as all the evidence was not heard. It took another four months to get the appeal heard then another month for their verdict. So all in all, I was thirteen months in detention. The appeal was not upheld; they would not accept any evidence that had not been mentioned in the original trial. They did, however rule that I had served seven months and twenty days out of the thirteen months in detention.

I was then moved from the detention centre to the prison side of the detention centre where I spent two months sitting and tearing paper into five millimetre squares. After this I was moved to the international prison and signed to be transferred back to the UK. My lawyer said I would serve one-third of my sentence (i.e. 27 months) before I would be transferred, as I had already paid my fine instead of working it off. I have to admit I was in shock after being arrested and then again after my trial, but nothing prepared me for what was to come!

I was totally overwhelmed. I did not understand the language and all the guards did was scream and shout.

After four weeks, I was designated a job in a factory assembling paper carrier bags, and, as luck would have it, there were over half a dozen English-speaking guys who were a great help to me. When I arrived I was a grade five inmate and gradually worked my way up to grade two, which gave me a few more privileges, plus I have taken on the role of factory barber, a thankless job but it helps pass the time.

The longer I stay here, the more I ask myself whether I was right in getting a private lawyer. I have since found out that Japan has a 99.9% conviction rate. I was also told that I was looking at a 14-year sentence. No-one here has got anything like that for the same amount of drugs; the sentences here range from six to nine years and fines from £11,000 to £22,000 (depending on the judge and the case etc.).

As I read some of the letters in the Prisoners Abroad newsletter, I think I am lucky to be in a Japanese prison: I am now in a single cell, so no problem with overcrowding; the prison is safe – any trouble is soon jumped on; I have my own television – I don’t care for the local programmes but two movies a week plus four American dramas and MTV. Also I get five books to read every two weeks, which again helps me to pass the time.

On the negative side, it is suffocating in the summer and freezing in the winter, with many inmates getting frostbite. The food leaves a lot to be desired. Medical care is poor (but better than some places). There is forced slave labour and very tough discipline; the rules change depending on which guards are on duty. We are not allowed to use our work money, only our own private money. If we don’t have our own private money we can get permission to use our work money to buy stamps etc. There is no opportunity to buy snacks or fruit apart from the monthly snack we get in the factory which is deducted from our salary!

I am very lucky to have a lot of support from my family and friends, especially from my son, who has worked endlessly to sort out everything back home. It is now late 2018; I have served over 45% of my sentence and still no news of my transfer. It seems Japan has no set protocol for transfers; every case is treated individually, so it’s just a waiting game.

I have weighed the pro’s and cons of going back to the UK. I do not know what the prisons are like in the UK, but at least I will get visitors and the chance to use a telephone to talk with my mother who will soon be 91 years old. I am sure a lot of you that read this have missed so much while being in prison: I have missed my daughter’s wedding, my stepdaughter’s new baby, my two granddaughters’ birthdays, also my mum’s 90th. I have lost everything I have worked for all my life: my home, my business etc. but I am still lucky to have such good family and friends.

I hope when I leave this place, I will leave my anger and hatred behind.

I will never forgive or forget what I have endured. When I get back to the UK I will write again and let you all know if I made the right choice. Until then, keep strong and keep positive. One day at a time.


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