Thursday, 8 March 2012

From Jail...

Since I was separated from my wife a year ago, I've been on a little if a bender... for nearly the whole year. There was a brief time that I actually worked, but didn't last long. Mostly, I just been doing the odd graphic design job, some editing, watching a lot of TV and drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. I sometimes wonder how I'm physically able to manage so much.

One of the disadvantages of drinking so much, my tolerance of booze goes up, but my tolerance of fools goes down. Usually Korean men. I get along with Korean women just fine, but almost every time I talk to a Korean man while drinking, I get into a fight. I've been in so many fights, I'm on a first name basis with my Korean police translator. We've even gone out drinking together once or twice.
Anyway, all this fighting was bound to catch up with me at some point and a couple of weeks ago, it landed me in jail. Apparently I had failed to pay a $2000 fine and I had a warrant for my arrest, so the next time I was at the police station, instead of sitting in the drunk tank and going home in the morning, they shipped me off to prison.

Since it was a Saturday night that I was arrested, I spent Sunday in a holding cell before going to prison. That was a joke. It was a room behind the front counter. The door was left unlocked so we could use the bathroom, and other than the two youngsters at the front desk, no security at all. In North America, the typical prisoner would have punched out the two people at the desk and bolted, but in typical Korean fashion, I accepted my fate and calmly awaited my transport to prison. Sunday evening, some police came and hauled me off.

When I got to the prison I was processed and received my prisoner uniform, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, 3 bowls, plastic chopsticks and a spoon. I was shown to a room that was designed to hold 3 or 4 prisoners at a time. I was the only occupant.

"This isn't so bad." I thought, "I have a whole big room to myself."

The next day I was transferred to a small 1m x 3m room with a small shelf, toilet and TV. Not so good. There was no bed, but I was provided with a couple blankets. I had no brush or comb nor a razor. By the end of a week I looked like a crazed Grizzly Adams. Adapting to my surroundings, I found the toilet brush made a pretty good hairbrush, so I was able to maintain some level of dignity. I had no deodorant and I was given one shower, so by the end of a week, I was smelling pretty rank.

Breakfast the first morning consisted of rice, kimchi and soup. The lunch and dinner that followed consisted of pretty much the same thing-- rice, kimchi and watery, tasteless soup. There's nothing wrong with that food, but 3 times a day, every single day? And I hate rice on the best of days. After a couple meals of me not eating anything, the guards found a prisoner who spoke English, to come talk to me.

I asked him "Do you think white people just eat hamburgers and pizza 3 times a day, everyday?"

To which he replied, "Yes."

I tried to explain that I needed variety in my diet, so he asked if bread, milk or eggs were acceptable. I was okay with anything other than rice, kimchi and soup 3 times daily, so the next morning at breakfast, I got 4 slices of bread, 2 eggs, some strawberry jam and some milk. Then at lunch, I got 4 slices of bread, 2 eggs, some strawberry jam and some milk... and then again at dinner, I got 4 slices of bread, 2 eggs, some strawberry jam and some milk...

In their infinite Korean logic, they had substituted  one thing 3 times a day for a different thing 3 times a day. And they call us barbarians... By the end of the week, I had almost a whole loaf of bread and about 10 packs of jam.

There was no clock in my cell. The lights were on 24 hours a day, so I had no concept of time. Luckily, my window faced south so I could see sunlight. Using the shadows of the bars in the window on my cell wall, and some of the strawberry jam, I was able to fashion a rudimentary sundial. In the morning, the 24 hour lights got much brighter, signalling that it was 6:30 am. At 7 they would do roll call/cell check. At 8, breakfast was served. At 9, the radio would come on (loudly, with no volume control) and at 10 am, the TV would turn on. At 12, lunch was served. Using these as indicators, I was able to "see" what time it was by looking at the strawberry jam marked on my wall. The English-speaking prisoner eventually gave me a watch, but I still couldn't get a razor... am I really going to use the razor to kill myself over a $2000 fine or 40 days in the slammer? Apparently so...

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome was sheer boredom. Both the radio and TV were in Korean only. I tried to sleep as much as a could, but there was no way I was going to be able to sleep the entire 40 days, so I tried to do sit-ups and push-ups to tire myself out. By the end of the week I was able to do 50 of each. Not that great, but I started with only 10 each. Once again, the English-speaker (Kevin) came through for me and gave me a daily newspaper and a bunch of magazines and books. Unfortunately the books and magazines were all about business and economics, but I read them all cover to cover anyway. One day, Kevin brought a woman's magazine called Shape which basically had lots of pictures of women exercising. The next day, he brought me some hand lotion. Great, less than a week in jail, and I'm some one's bitch. With the 24 hour lights and CCTV camera on the ceiling, masturbating was the last thing I had in mind. I still read the magazine cover to cover. Now, I know what shade of lipstick to wear with my outfits.

The next thing a person thinks about while locked up, is how to get out. I had rent to pay, a dog to feed, a new roommate moving in, and no contact with the outside world. My phone battery had died, so I couldn't access my phonebook and they wouldn't let me use a computer to access my phonebook on Google. If I was to pay the $2000 fine, I could have been set free, but I don't have that much cash on hand, and I had no way of contacting anyone to get the cash. Thankfully, one person did know where I was, my police translator/friend, Kay. He came to visit me and I was able to give him a list of things I needed, such as a razor, deodorant, my phone charger and money. The one option made available was to go to court and appeal my fine, maybe get it reduced. This took awhile, because I had to be interviewed and have my case reviewed. Eventually, my appeal was approved and 5 days after going to prison, I was processed again, given my clothes and belongings and led to the front door outside to freedom...