How Do I Write About It?

On Thursday May 26th at 8:00am sharp, my life came to a very sudden halt. At the front gate to my home stood 9 police officers, armed with a search warrant, cameras, boxes, and the authority to take anything that might be of interest from my house. I had just stepped out of the shower when the buzzer told me of their arrival. Naked and completely unprepared, I asked them to give me a moment while I quickly dried off and put some clothes on. A moment later, I opened the front door to be presented with the warrant and allowed them to enter the house without complaint.

Yes, this actually happened. And, after the investigators had collected everything on their list, they asked that I travel with them to the police station to answer some questions. There was no arrest warrant presented, but it was clear that my best interests would be served by getting into their van.

For almost three weeks, I did not see the horizon.

On the twentieth day, I had given up any hope of getting out of jail before 2027. Based on everything I had heard and everything I had seen, 90 days of detention followed by an all-too-predictable court case1 would have resulted in me being moved to a labour prison where I would spend my days on an assembly line making things that nobody wanted. My proclamations of innocence appeared to go unheard because they didn't line up with the details that I had slowly learned about during the course of the interrogations.

Yet here I am, sitting in my home, almost 60 hours after being released back into the world.

It still doesn't seem real. I want to write about the experience. I want to put pen to paper and explore why I had slowly given up all hope of returning to society before my 48th birthday. Yet the words fail to materialise. The question I struggle with is how to communicate the experience. Do I write chronologically? Do I write in blocks of topics, examining the interrogations, the detention centre, my cellmate, and other aspects of imprisonment as single items spanning a period of time? Do I write about how I spent my isolation when not answering questions or reenacting events for an audience of investigators? Do I write about the tears I hid from almost everybody as I thought about my son growing up and saying "My dad's in jail" every time someone asked about his father?

There are a number of half-scribbled notes on a pad of paper that I keep near the computer that contains some of the details that will likely slip my mind as the memories begin to fade. Notes about the food, the four English books available to read, the professionalism of the officers, the prosecutor, the handcuffs, the things I thought about to pass the time while stuck in a cell that measured 15m²; 20% of which was used by the semi-concealed toilet area. When it comes to preparedness, these sheets have me covered for at least 10,000 words worth of blog posts … or even a book written in a first-person narrative. Yet it's difficult to know how to approach the subject.

The last few nights in the detention centre were incredibly long. Lights are out at 9:00pm and they don't come back on for ten hours. Detainees are expected to remain lying down this entire time unless using the toilet. As I had nothing better to do, I'd often fall asleep by 8:15 and wake again after six hours so that I could examine the concrete wall nearest my nose while the old man behind me snored up a storm.

During the brief periods of REM sleep, I would dream about returning home. A dream on Day 17 involved standing at a bus stop waiting for a vehicle that never came. The timetable always showed the next bus to be five minutes away. On Day 18 I dreamed about walking from the detention centre to my home, a trek of 18.3km that I know rather well because I've travelled the actual roads for 15 years. As I approached the front gate and checked my mail, I reached into my pocket for the keys and … woke up to see a concrete wall less than 30cm from my face. On Day 19 – the last day of interrogations – it was much the same; I couldn't go home.

Day 20 was hard. This was the last day the police could hold me. One of two things were going to happen:

  1. They would find they had enough evidence between the testimony and DNA samples to indict me, resulting in another arrest warrant being issued where I would then stay in the detention centre until my court date 6 ~ 8 weeks in the future
  2. They would release me

Everything I had been told by the prosecutor and the lead investigator had me believe the first was the most likely case. My prayers to God would go unheeded, likely because my ego needed to be humbled. My house would be seized by the bank for failure to pay the mortgage. My job would be lost. Everything I had worked so hard to earn or build since moving to Japan in 2007 would be gone, with the added insult of being deported from the country at the end of my sentence2; penniless and utterly unprepared for whatever future might await.

As with the previous nights, I woke around 2 o'clock in the morning to see the scratched up concrete wall I would lean against during the day. The prayer I had said thousands of times during detention started looping through my head:

Lord, please grant me the strength, the courage, the patience, and the humility to accept these coming years.

I thought of my son, who would live into the 22nd century thinking I was a horrible person. I thought of my dog, who would likely pass away before I would see a horizon again. I thought of my father, who might also pass away before I could return. I thought of Reiko. I thought of my mother. I thought of the extreme isolation of being so far from anyone who might be able to help or, at the very least, pay me a visit.

In addition to the prayer for strength and courage, I would often say another one when standing at the barred-off window that allowed me to see little more than power lines and sky:

Lord, please allow me to leave this place and return to my home.

But something in me died that morning. Just like anyone who has spent time in a prison, I wanted to leave and return to my home. I wanted out. But I no longer felt I was going to get out. I lost hope. I lost confidence. I had to accept that the coming years were no longer in my control. This decade would be remembered as replacing one tyranny with another.

The prosecutor had the final say as to whether I would be indicted or not, and he was a tough man. His stare could freeze stars. In his office I had seen a calendar with details about my case, and on June 15th – the last day of my detention – there was a note to make a final decision in the afternoon. Based on what the officers and inmates at the detention centre said, a fax would likely be received mid-afternoon to announce my fate.

At 10:20am, the warden approached my cell: "Number 29. You're being moved."

My heart sank. They said I was being moved, which means the prefectural prison had enough space for someone to await their court date. I would be driven from the quiet detention centre at the police station and brought to a place with hundreds of men who would likely laugh at a broken white guy who rarely speaks except to say "I didn't do it."

The cell door was opened. I returned my blankets to the closet and gave one of the guards the styrofoam cup I had been using for three weeks. From there I was lead to the room where people are frisked and then put into handcuffs before transportation.

Except the room was laid out differently. Rather than seeing a mat on the floor with feet spread wide for people to stand on while being checked for contraband, a bench was pulled out from the wall and all of the clothing and belongings I had come to the prison with were laid out.

"Where am I going?" I asked.

"We can't tell you."

"Why are my clothes here? I'm going to another prison, aren't I? Where are the handcuffs?" I looked around and didn't see the metal detector wand or the specific set of restraints that the guards had dedicated for my use.

"You'll find out soon enough. Please sit down."

Two guards then went through a binder containing an inventory of everything I had handed over when I was first brought into the detention centre. My jeans, shirts, belt, watch, wallet, money … everything. Then I was asked to change out of my prison garb and put on my clothing.

You sick fucking bastards, I thought. You'll have me dress in clothes I wore as a free man to transfer to another prison, where they'll be stripped off me so that I wear somebody else's underwear yet again.

Never once in my twenty days of detention did I exercise my right to remain silent. Nor did I ever refuse to cooperate with a warden, guard, or police officer. These people were in charge of my life and, if I made too much of a fuss, it would only hurt my chances of early release. So, keeping my thoughts private, I got dressed.

Mere seconds after I finished putting on my shoes, the warden came into the room and held up a piece of paper loaded with complex Japanese characters:

"This is for you. Jason Irwin, as of 10:48am on June 15, 2022, you are released from detention and free to go."

I didn't know how to respond, so I asked the first thing that came to my head: "This is a dream, isn't it? I'm dreaming. I'll get to my home and then wake up in my cell again."

The warden shook his head. "No, you're free to go. There are some officers in the police station who you need to talk to, and then you can go home."

Is this how I should write? Narrative? In the first-person? This would allow for an exploration of thoughts as well as what happened in the real world, but I wonder if it makes sense on a blog. On this blog.

The twenty days of detention have changed how I think about things. Time moves differently. Sound is different. I pay much more attention to what people say when they communicate with me. I still feel broken, as though I lack the confidence to venture very far beyond the confines of my very, very, very large house. But each day brings another opportunity to try and reclaim some semblance of normalcy. On Wednesday, just a few hours after I was dropped off at my home, a neighbour from across the street stopped by with some snacks and asked if I was okay. She had been outside when the police had escorted me to their van so she knew what was going on. Yesterday I went to the nearby convenience store to pay a bill. Today I took a bus to city hall to pay some overdue taxes. Tomorrow I will venture into the big city to meet a friend for coffee.

As a free man.

As a normal man.

As a man who has no idea how to write about these twenty days of scrutiny and confinement.

But maybe this post can be a start.

  1. Japan has a 99% conviction rate, which is pretty much unheard of in the western world. If you go to court in Japan as a defendant, you're pretty much doomed.

  2. Although I have a permanent residence visa in Japan, being in prison for more than 365 days would result in a revocation of the privilege and a forced deportation back to Canada.