The days are all the same and the hours pass very slowly. Working helps to pass the time away. Above all, it’s a way of earning money and obtaining the most basic needs in prison.
Geoffrey is a British citizen. He is currently incarcerated in Osaka prison. He is 61 years-old and is being imprisoned abroad since 2010. He tells, for Prison Insider, what type of work he does on a regular basis.
My assigned work, for the past four years has been hand-sewing the seams of under-kimonos with 1-2mm stitches placed in 1cm or 2 cm intervals. Boring and monotonous.
I HAVE EXPERIENCED work in four different factories. The following is a compilation of my experiences and those of colleagues that have been in other factories or prisons.
This is a description of the type of work to which the majority of inmates are engaged or assigned. It must be noted that certain “specially qualified artisans”, or those with some required skills are assigned to more specific labour; such as electricians, food preparation/serving, clerical work, etc. However, these exceptions would, in reality, constitute no more than 10 % of the total population of Osaka prison.
The work is, in general, monotonous and requires simple manual tasks. These can range from assembling and folding paper bags, to the sewing by hand or machine of garments such as under-kimonos. As an example, my assigned work, for the past four years has been hand-sewing the seams of under-kimonos with 1-2mm stitches placed in 1cm or 2 cm intervals. Boring and monotonous hardly are sufficient to describe this soul-and-mind-destroying task!
Work duration is, generally, from 7:45am to 16:00pm, with two tea breaks of ten minutes each. One is “standing and no conversation” while the other is “seated and allowed to talk”. A lunch-break of 30 minutes occurs in a dining room attached to each factory.
Twenty minutes of which can be spent talking. In addition, there is a single 40 minutes (sometimes only 30 minutes) exercise period in which talking is permitted. At all other times, talking is strictly prohibited and will result in harsh punishment. The time of the exercise period varies on a specified schedule, and only applies to working days.
Assigned tasks, or jobs, are arbitrarily assigned with much reliance on the relationship that an inmate has with the factory officer in charge. Thus, the more interesting or privileged work is given to the superior’s favourite people. Training, which is minimal at best, is done “on the job” by an appointed foremen (hancho in Japanese) who have, in most cases, had no more than six months in that job but are the officer’s favourites. The various tasks are split between standing and done sitting: the cutting of the fabric and ironing is done standing.
The various parts of the kimono passing from one station to the next until completion:
Beginning with cutting > ironing for sewing > machine sewing > hand-sewing and checking > finish ironing.
Standing workers are given extra rations in the form of approximately 20 % more carbohydrates. Work conditions are extremely harsh and rigidly enforced. Offers monitor every single action from working, to eating, exercising, going to the toilet, or if one needs advice from a hancho…
** There are so many rules that it would require many pages to list them, but include: no talking or looking at anything other than one’s work, or moving from sitting to standing position, etc, etc, etc…!**
Each person has a strictly demarcated area in which to work, the only roving or moving people are the foremen when called, and approved by an officer, to another worker for assistance!
Salary is entirely, in the most part, relative to the amount of time that has been served.
Human life has almost been erased
Winters can be extremely cold, and it has only been in 2018 that half of the factories have had air-conditioning/heating installed, the remaining work-places and rooms after work, are still subject to the harsh winters and hot and humid summers that prevail in Japan. In this I am fortunate to be assigned to a factory with heating for winter and air-conditioning; previously the winters resulted in chilblains and frost-bites.
One startling aspect of the majority of factories is the virtual silence that envelopes the area; all that can be heard are the muted tones of the electric-powered machines…it is almost as if all signs of human life have been erased.
That is until someone commits the most minor of transgression, at which the officer-in-charge will launch into a humiliating bout of shouting at the poor, unfortunate person. Regardless of the length of time (over 5 years in my experience) that one witnesses such a display of the sheer degradation and inhumanity of such an excess of screaming and shouting never fails to elicit an extreme disgust at such behaviour.
Salary is entirely, in the most part, relative to the amount of time that has been served, and not on the work-type, foreman-status or other factors. The commencing salary is about 200 ¥ (1€), while after over five years I now earn about 7,000 ¥ (60€) with the maximum of which I am aware being 10,000 ¥ (80€). These rates are for a 20-day month: variations occur dur to the number of days and hours worked. Injuries, at work, are virtually non-existent and I have only heard of one occurrence in the time in Osaka. In general, Japan is obsessed with work safety and accident prevention, and this pervades the factory to an excessive degree; in fact it can be described as ad nauseum. The tasks assigned, generally, do not require any protective clothing but in the areas that warrant such equipment it is a mandatory requirement. Failure to observe these rules results in severe punishment.
That is all the space that I am allowed1; and I believe my next letter will be from England and not subject to censorship or other factors.