When last we left our valiant tourist, he was in a great deal of trouble, and no amount of Ramen would get him out of it. Andrew found that Japan was not the cuddly Pikachu he had once imagined, and was faced with the possibility of a cellmate turning him into his own personal Pokemon. These are the facts: Andrew was staying in Tokyo over fall break; Andrew and friends were searched by a police officer; Andrew did not have hashish on him; Andrew’s friend Jim did have hashish; Andrew had been arrested for conspiracy; and Andrew was in prison.
“At the very start I was hoping I’d be able to get out within a couple hours,” says Andrew, as he sits next to me in our dorm room. Those few hours stretched into days, which stretched into weeks, which stretched into nearly two months (57 days). “Up until Thanksgiving I was thinking that I’d be able to salvage the semester – just make up some papers. Then I knew that I was denied bail, so I knew I’d have to be there until December 20th.”
Staying in jail for 57 days meant Andrew had a lot of free time – time for reading, writing, and arithmetic, which made up the majority of his journal entries. Andrew’s journals are gems of information. If a sociologist is ever wondering what happens to a college student’s mind in prison, this is the place to look. Andrew takes to playing hangman against himself in them. Without a calendar, he uses them to count the days. He writes down his favorite albums, testing himself to see if he can remember the track orders. Perusing the journals I stop on a picture of a keyboard he had drawn. He used the drawing to practice typing. It was an exact replica of a real keyboard, except for one additional button. Written on the button were the words, “Give up.”
His detailed journals describe the typical prison day, which began at 6:30 AM, when the lights turned on and they played calm morning music, “like light strings and birds tweeting.” The inmates folded up their mattresses and cleaned their cells. “They had vacuum cleaners, so you’d vacuum the cell, and then wipe down the door and the bars, to make sure there wasn’t any dust,” remembers Andrew. The prisoners would brush their teeth and wash their faces at the communal sinks outside the cells.
Breakfast was a bowl of miso soup, “but it was from powder, not like real miso soup,” and a box of rice with seasonings and vegetables. The prisoners would be let out into a small, walled courtyard, with a chain link fence over the top. It gave them a glimpse at the sun. “You could shave and have your daily cigarettes. But I didn’t smoke any cigarettes.”
They’d return to their cells by 10am, when there was roll call. The guard would call off each prisoner’s number and the prisoner would respond. Andrew was Ichiban, numerically the first prisoner. “But ichiban also means the best – like number one!” he says, thrusting his fist into the air. The prisoners had to kneel in a specific way during roll call, sitting on their feet with their backs straight. “And you’d respond to your number with, ‘Hai,’ and a bow.” After roll call you’d be free to go to your personal locker and get any books you might have.
Andrew’s locker contained several things. There was his clothing – not prison issue, but personal clothing. He had his own clothes for the entire prison stay, since one doesn’t receive the prison outfits until after conviction. He had a notebook which he wrote in regularly, as well as several novels. The lawyer had brought him David Copperfield and The Bible, while his father had given him War and Peace, a Dave Barry Book, Anna Karenina, Lonesome Dove, and A Short History of Nearly Everything. But Andrew took a different approach to reading when in jail: “I would ration the books, because I didn’t want to read them too quickly. So I’d read a chapter, and then I’d lie down or meditate.”
After visiting his cubby, Andrew would have lunch to look forward to. Every day at 12:30 a pleasant man wearing something like medical scrubs would walk by with a large plastic crate of food. Andrew liked lunch. It was two loaves of bread with a jelly or jam. “There were four flavors – peanut, apricot, chocolate, and strawberry. And then butter also.” Andrew also ordered a milk carton with his lunch, for a measly 100 yen. He’d eat lunch on a small mat that the pleasant man would slide into the cell. They’d listen to the radio during lunch, hearing Japanese pop songs.
Up until dinner Andrew had more unstructured time. From the sound of it, prison was kind of like a bad summer camp. He’d “read, sit around, meditate, do push ups, or stare off into space” until dinner time. Dinner had the same feel as breakfast: a soup, a box of rice, a box of meat, some vegetables, all organized into a prepackaged container. There wasn’t much conversation with his cell mates, “Nothing beyond, ‘My name’s Andrew, how are you, what are you in for?’” At 9:30 pm they’d take roll call again, and then it was lights out. “The first week I fell asleep without any problems. After that it took me two or three hours to fall asleep. It got really annoying, ‘cause all I wanted to do was fucking go to sleep.”
While Andrew was being bitten by Japanese bed bugs, I was back on campus with my two other roommates, oblivious to his plight. Slowly, the news trickled in. At the end of fall break we received a call from Andrew’s dad, telling us that he’d be back in a few days. Then there was another call, saying that Andrew would be back in a week at the most. Then it was another week. Then it was by the middle of November. Eventually, we stopped getting calls. My roommate Adam e-mailed Andrew’s older sister, asking her what had happened. She was cryptic in her response, telling us that Andrew had brought it upon himself. The family kept us guessing. At one point Andrew’s father offered to reveal the story to Adam, but only if he didn’t tell anyone. Adam knew he wouldn’t be able to conceal the secret, and thus declined.
We made bets as to what kind of trouble Andrew was in. He got hurt, he was in a hospital, and they couldn’t fly him back. But then his parents would tell us. He beat up some guy. That was a possibility. He had found one of those prostitute ads everyone talks about, and since he wasn’t a Japanese business man, he had gotten in trouble. But no, he wouldn’t do that.
Adam started a facebook.com group for Andrew, with the words “Save Andrew!!!” Photoshopped onto a water tower a la Ferris Bueller. It urged people to join the group, because, “Every day, another little boy becomes trapped in Japan. Every day that you do not help this boy, a little part of you dies. With each day that passes, this boy, who does not speak Japanese, deteriorates more and more in an undisclosed location in Japan. For just pennies a day, you can help this boy. Do it because Sally Struthers tells you to.” As of now the group has 34 members, including Andrew. He wants to save himself.
Andrew’s father visited him in prison on Novmber 8th, when Andrew had already been in jail for twelve days. “He was pretty scared,” Andrew said. His journal entry for the visit: “Just met with Dad. He was incredible. He compared me to Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I could see the tears beneath his eyes, just as mine were beneath mine.” I ask Andrew what that means. “Like neither of us cried, but we looked at each other and just agreed that this was fucked up.”
I ask Andrew if he has any funny stories from prison. He described a comic book: “Wow. This comic…had this guy who could use semen like a Chameleon’s tongue – so he whacks off and catches a bug, then a dragonfly, then panties, then shoots a woman in the mouth and pulls her to his cock, then saves a girl from in front of a train. But her mom then sees him with his cock out and her hair covered in semen, so he gets arrested for pedophilia. This isn’t really about my time in prison, it’s about how fucked up Japan is.”
When December 20th rolled around, Andrew was ready for his court date. His trial was set to start at 10am, but there was a catch: the trial had to end by noon of that day. At exactly twelve noon, the entire Japanese Judicial system would go on vacation – regardless of whether or not they had finished deciding Andrew’s fate. If he didn’t get through his trial, he would be stuck in Japanese prison limbo until mid January, adding Christmas and New Years to the string of holidays he had already missed. These two hours could dwarf the 57 days he had spent in prison.
Andrew wasn’t dressed in a suit and tie as one might expect – he still only had the few items of clothing he had brought to prison with him. He had, like so many days before, washed out his socks and underwear in the sink. He hadn’t washed his other clothes for several weeks. So he presented himself in pants and an old sweater. The courtroom was small and clean with a large bench for the judge. He was there with his friend Buddy, who had been arrested along with him two months earlier. They faced the same charges.
The court translator sat at a desk at the Judge’s feet, repeating everything that was said in Japanese in English, and repeating the English in Japanese. The trial began with opening statements, then the judge introduced the case, the prosecutor presented the evidence (hash), then interpreted the case and recommended the maximum sentence.
Then the defense had its turn. Buddy testified, Buddy’s dad testified, Andrew testified, and then Andrew’s dad testified, each person on the stand for roughly 15 minutes. They asked Andrew’s father about Andrew’s character and his contributions to society. They wanted to know if Andrew had a history of brushes with the law and asked about his father’s plan for rehabilitating Andrew. They laid out a plan recommended by Andrew’s lawyer, including frequent drug tests, random visits to Princeton, and family retreats.
After Andrew’s father spoke, Andrew was asked if he wanted to speak for himself. “Part of the structure is that at the end the judge asks you if you have anything to say on you behalf.” He stood in front of the judge, looked into the audience at his father, and said, “I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. And I was wrong. I will never again think of breaking the law – any law anywhere – and I will be a shining example for others. I realize now not only how my crime hurt me, but how much it has hurt those I love… my family and friends.” Andrew had practiced the speech before, writing drafts of it in his journal. He looked at the clock. Ten minutes were left before the courts closed.
The Judge listened to the interpreter repeat Andrew’s testimony, and then asked Andrew about his two months in jail, and what that was like for a young American. He told the judge, “It’s given me motivation to reform and never make these mistakes again.” I asked Andrew, “Did you believe you had made a mistake?” He told me, “I completely believed everything I said in court. But now? No, absolutely not. I feel like I could’ve been more careful, but I feel that it was unjust.”
The sentencing for the case happened immediately. The judge had already reviewed the entire case, so unless something significant occurs during the trail, he knows his decision. At 11:55 on December 20th the judge passed sentence. Andrew was convicted of violation of the cannabis control act and sentenced to 8 months of manual labor. “It was like leather working or stuff like that, not like chain gang, but producing things.” The sentence was suspended for two years, “which means as long as I’m not convicted in Japan of any crime in the next two years the sentence gets remitted. But if I am convicted, the eight months is added to whatever sentence I get. Needless to say I won’t be convicted in Japan in the next two years.”
Andrew left the courtroom and went back to his cell to get processed, released, and “get all my shit back.” “I remember walking out of the courthouse and seeing the sky and being like, ‘whoa.’” He and his father walked out onto the street and hailed a cab. He stepped into a cab, and for the first time in two months, rode in a car without handcuffs. “I had the best Tempura I ever had for lunch.” And then he wrote this e-mail to me and my roommates:
Subject: Regarding the Whereabouts of One Andrew Strenio
So first of all allow me to apologize. Seriously. Basically, I am coming home tomorrow afternoon, in some sense, but with 14 time zones to go through, I’m not really sure how accurate of a statement that is. Basically I feel terrible about all the worrying that you guys must have done about me. Let me reassure you, I am perfectly healthy, safe, sane, sober, peppy, and all those good things. I’m here with my dad right now, and we have a little bit of running around to do before we leave tomorrow, so I have to be a little brief here. Basically, I’ve been detained for the past 54 days, but I am now free to go. I’ll tell you guys the complete story when I get home, but in brief: I was arrested by Tokyo police on October 28th, was refused bail, had my trial today, was found guilty and sentenced to 8 months imprisonment with forced labor, but the sentence was suspended for 2 years, which means as long as I don’t get arrested in Japan again in the next two years, the whole thing is nullified. Again, I’ll fill in some details when I get back. Once more, I feel just awful for everything that I’ve put you through, as well as everyone else that I’ve caused grief to. I’d appreciate it if you guys just kept this among yourselves until I can relate the whole story to you, and let others (sensemaya, wprb, etc…) in on some scoop. I don’t know how much of the story I’ll be telling everyone, and since I’m trying to come back next semester, which will involve a lot of wrangling with deans, rumors floating around would definitely not help me. I love you guys, have great Christmases / Chanukahs / new year’s eve NYC concerts. I can’t wait to see everyone again.
Andrew spent Spring Break at home. Perhaps that was for the best. He plans on graduating in the spring of ’07 as a philosophy major. He wants to send along this message to all young travelers out there:??Hey guys! It’s Andrew. I know this is a pretty crazy story, but everything that Ben’s written is absolutely true. So I just want to warn everyone to be extremely careful about how you conduct yourselves when you’re abroad. Being an American citizen is not a get out of jail free card, and the legal system in the states is the most forgiving you’ll find anywhere. Except for the places where you can bribe your way out. But regardless, brushes with the law are not glamorous or fun. So be careful. Don’t be the next me.