TV & Radio
Female ex-con writes of US prison horrors (Mainichi Daily News 2005/09/10)
Shukan Post (9/16)In 1998, Tomomi Arima, then 21, set off to experience life in the United States and study English. Now seven years later, she is back in Japan, an ex-con and author of the recently published "Purizun Gaaru" (Prison Girl, Popura-sha), a 332-page account of her two-year experience as an unwilling guest of the American penal system.
As Shukan Post (9/16) reports, while working part time as a waitress at a Japanese restaurant in New York City, Arimura began to cohabit with Alexis, a Russian immigrant heavily involved in drug running. In the early morning hours of November 1, 2002, her apartment was raided by a team of FBI agents in search of drugs believed to be in Alexis' possession and she was placed under arrest.
Although Arimura insists she merely shacked up with the Russian and never dealt in drugs, the state felt it had a strong case to send her away for a long stretch, and her defense attorney advised her to accept a plea bargain. From January 2002 she began serving a two-year sentence at the Federal Penitentiary for Women in Danbury, Connecticut.
Upon her arrival, Arimura writes, the new inmates were lined up in a row, and a burly female guard ordered them to strip naked.
"We were escorted to the showers, completely naked," she relates. "Then the guard ordered, 'Turn your butts toward me. Okay, now squat down and cough.' This was to make sure we were not concealing anything in our vaginas."
After this initial "baptism," Arimura donned a gray inmate's uniform and was led to her cell, passing by rows of other inmates, their hands grasping cell bars and eyes glittering in what appeared to be eager anticipation.
"The world seemed to be turning black before my eyes," she recalls.
Compared with Japan's total prison population of 75,280 (in 2004), the U.S. has over 2.13 million prisoners serving time in federal, state and county lockups and a clear social structure exists on the inside. In the Danbury facility, according to Arimura, about one third of the women were "studs," masculine females with lesbian tendencies.
"The showers and toilet cubicles were rooms where inmate 'love' encounters took place," Arimura writes.
Not surprisingly, one "stud," a 33-year-old black woman named "Lupita" soon began showing a rapt interest in the new Japanese arrival.
"Every morning around 7:30, when she went off to the workshop, she would come to my room and while I slept, gently pat my crotch. But she never got rough with me."
Among the more memorable residents who Arimura encountered was "Latisha," a 2-meter tall "woman" who had, before a sex-change operation, once been a man.
"She looked like F1 fighter Bob Sapp," Arimura writes. "She couldn't get her estrogen injections while in prison, and when the other women teased her because her beard began growing, she would look at herself in the mirror and pout like a girl."
One prisoner, a woman in her 40s named "Jackie," had murdered five people with an axe. Another, "Caroline," a 64-year-old Italian-American woman, had obtained anthrax spores shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack and attempted to murder the family of a man who had been harassing her son.
Violent confrontations between African-American and Hispanic gangs were regular occurrences. When one gargantuan black behemoth weighing over 200 kilograms put several Hispanics in the hospital ward with serious injuries, she and others were confined to punishment cells.
"She was so big, they couldn't restrain her hands in front of her using a single pair of cuffs," says Arimura. "They had to join two sets of cuffs together. She just smirked."
Avoiding both sexual predators and the wild melees, Arimura proved a model prisoner, and obtained release two months before completion of her two-year sentence --- upon which she was immediately deported to Japan. Because of her criminal record, she can never return to the United States. But after what she went through at the hands of that country's penal system, any fondness she felt for the red, white and blue, writes Shukan Post, is gone for good.
(By Masuo Kamiyama, People's Pick Waiwai contributor)
September 10, 2005