November 2004

Jessa Crispin

nonfiction

Doing Time by Kazuichi Hanawa

In America, prison has become the boogey man of our books, television shows, and movies. It is not a place of rehabilitation, it is a place of violent punishment. “Be good, boys and girls, or you’ll go to prison and be raped repeatedly.” Even Tom Selleck must shank a man to survive on the inside. There are so few stories of people going straight in prison, of spending their time in reflection and remorse. The cover of Kazuichi Hanawa’s comic book Doing Time claims “For the first time ever! We’re going to [show] what life in jail is really like!” There may be some disconnect for American audiences, as most of them will be thinking the Japanese have it pretty damn good.

In 1994, Hanawa was arrested in Japan for owning a firearm. A collector of model guns, he was caught testing remodeled handguns far away from civilization. He was sentenced to three years in prison. What began as a correspondence between Hanawa and his friend Tomofusa Kure became a series of comic strips. As Kure explains in the afterword, “He too only wrote about trifles. That reassured me. If he became too agitated in jail he might break down along the way or end up totally unable to adjust to reality once on the outside again. The best this is for one to do time quietly.”

Hanawa’s daily life is rigidly controlled. The prison guards punish prisoners for rolling up their sleeves during inspection and for owning too many books at a time. The prisoners dutifully obey, only slipping up once or twice when, for example, shaving takes a little more time than they had planned. When they are caught breaking the rules, sweat beads on their foreheads and they look terrified. The only time a prisoner is dragged out of his cell for disobeying rules is when Hanawa’s neighbor was caught doing crossword puzzles. “If he’d done ‘em after copying ‘em into his notebook, he wouldn’t have been punished,” a fellow inmate remarks. The reasoning behind punishing a man for doing a crossword puzzle is not explained and in Japan, it evidently doesn’t need to be. As a guard yells at a pair of inmates roughhousing, “Remember where you are!”

While the inmates do work – Hanawa is seen folding envelopes at one point, later carving gift boxes – much of their time is spent reading the prison’s collection of comic books, eating, and making sure their cells are spotless for inspection. Hanawa chronicles every tedious moment, writing out long lists of everything they eat, detailing the correct way to fold their pajamas, explaining what the different badges on their uniforms mean. It’s repetitive, but it’s also fascinating. Hanawa draws every detail of his cell, including diagrams on how to correctly organize the medicine cabinet.

The fact that the drawings were all done after his release – sketching is another activity inexplicably forbidden in a Japanese prison – illustrates just how much the routine controlled the inmates. Even on the outside, Hanawa remembered every detail of his cell, what every meal looked like, exactly how to fold the perfect envelope. Hanawa never protests neither his imprisonment nor such a long sentence for what seems like a ridiculous crime in America. He seems to show no remorse, although he admits in the introduction he will never own another gun. This is not a prison memoir in a way that would be recognizable to those familiar with the genre. But it is a very interesting sociological document, a look at the usually hidden prison life in Japan.

Doing Time by Kazuichi Hanawa
Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 8493340979
239 Pages