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Japan: a voice coming out of isolation

— Published on 23 April 2018.

Mr. Iwazaki was imprisoned for 15 years in a prison in Chiba (Japan). He committed many offences in prison. When placed in isolation, he painted several images to describe his daily life. He was released three years ago. Here is his story.

I complained about the violence exercised by the prison staff and I asked a friend to help me report it in order to get around the censorship operated by the prison management.

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Life in prison was very stressful for me. Every day, I took many tranquillisers: anxiolytics, sleeping pills, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs. When you take drugs in prison, the prison officers check your mouth after you swallow. For a certain period of time, I went to a psychiatric hospital to reduce my consumption of medicine and to detoxify myself. Today, I no longer need the drugs and I have regained my health. — © M. Iwazaki
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This is one of the jobs carried out in prison: the production of disposable chopsticks. This man’s work involves him bagging the divisible chopsticks, pair by pair. He fills almost 5000 sachets per day. He puts them in a box which he then passes on to the next person. One of the labels is attached onto the clothes, here with a red circle. This represents the category that each prisoner belongs to. The classification differs according to the institutions but in the prison of Chiba, the red badge represents level 5, which is the lowest. If a person has violated any prison regulations in the last six months, they are regarded as "bad" and carry a red badge. — © M. Iwazaki
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Here is the gate to the prison of Chiba. The image shows the moment where, in Japan, we bow deeply out of gratitude whilst leaving the prison saying "Thank you for what you have done for me” to the warders. The guards say these words: “Please live decently and do not come back!” It’s fictional, but I painted a scene of leaving the prison of Chiba. — © M. Iwazaki
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Around 10 years ago, the prison’s occupancy rate exceeded 100%. They responded by putting two people in each cell. There is an expression in Japan that goes: “Going to jail in Japan to have a smelly meal". This is not because the food smells bad; it is because meals are served next to the toilets. Occupying such a small room with other people is very stressful. — © M. Iwazaki
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Here is an overcrowded common room. This is the plan of a 5-person cell that contains 7. The prison occupancy rate is 140%. It contains two bunk beds. The person below can barely kneel. When the upper beds are too high, the prisoners commit suicide by hanging themselves by their necks. Those are the trees outside the cell on the top left and those are the toilets on the bottom left. You have to step over the heads of other prisoners to get there. When a problem occurs, prisoner relations deteriorate and conflicts break out. — © M. Iwazaki
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These waiting rooms are used before going to the visiting room or during medical consultations. It feels like you’re in a coffin there - the box can be locked from the outside. I drew transparent doors, but in reality, they are made of wood. Here are some prisoners in these "surprise boxes", who each wear a prison uniform. (1)The person is wearing old clothes shortly after entering prison. (2)This prisoner is wearing summer clothes. I drew half of a straw hat, which represents the hat prisoners wear to exercise under the burning sun. (3)Here is the outfit that the prisoners wear when we play softball on the sports field. There is a red line on the cap. This indicates a person who performs dangerous work, and is in contact with mechanical presses and materials used for cutting and welding. (4)That’s an old man. He’s wearing a badge on his right shoulder, which indicates that he has not created any incidents in detention for the last 25 years. Some prisoners can’t benefit from parole before 30 years of imprisonment. He uses the aid of crutches, but continues to work. — © M. Iwazaki
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Here’s what I have the right to possess in the cell. The case on the bottom left contains pocket books and everyday objects. Any item that did not fit in a box or sit on a shelf was prohibited. — © M. Iwazaki
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