Taiwan Prison Stories aka What’d you do, bruh?
“I’ll tell you the story, the rest you fill it in, long as the villain win.” — Jay-z
I’ve spent hours upon hours of talking with people about their crimes as well as eavesdropping on other inmates conversations: the kind of low-grade spying that in academia is known as “ethnography,” in journalism is known as “reporting,” and everywhere else is known as “paying attention.” It seems like everybody is in for drugs or murder. First time offenders have to do 50% of their time before eligible for parole, for repeat offenders, it’s 80%.
Michael and Santino, my first cellmates. Michael was in for meth dealing, he got snitched out, he got 10 years. Santino was in for heroin dealing, he got 16 years, and he had 4 years left on parole which got added on for a grand total of 20 years. There was a man named Sun who was in for murder, he was my 2nd cellmate. Actually, it was manslaughter, he got into a fight with a man and accidentally killed him.
My 3rd cellmate was a man by the name of Paul Farrell, 31 years old. Paul’s charged with Arson, and intimidation. After work one night, he went to Family Mart and bought a hamburger. They didn’t have any more ketchup, so he returned it because he can’t eat a hamburger without any ketchup. The employees allowed him to return it, even though it was already prepared. A week later, he returned to the Family Mart after a night of drinking and tried to purchase a hamburger, and they employees refused to sell it to him. He got angry and started yelling at the employee’s, they still refused to sell him a hamburger and told him to leave. Paul got on his moped and rode to a nearby gas station, filled up an empty liquor bottle with gasoline and drove back to the Family Mart. He dipped a rag in the gasoline and stuffed it in the gasoline-filled liquor bottle, basically a molotov cocktail, lit the rag and threw it underhanded onto the sidewalk in front of the Family Mart, got on his moped and drove off. As he was riding off, a Family Mart employee came out to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher, from his moped Paul looked at the Family Mart employee and made the gesture of sliding his finger across his throat. That’s where the intimidation charge comes from. There are cameras everywhere in Taiwan, so they have him on tape arguing with the Family Mart employees, driving to the gas station, driving back to the Family Mart, and his hand throwing the molotov cocktail.
My 5th celly, 28 yr old, is in for drugs. He was on parole for fraud, then caught a gun charge. When on bail for the gun charge, he was caught dealing and facilitating a meth deal. My 6th celly was a 47 yr old drunk driver. As it turns out, he wasn’t in for drunk driving, he was actually in for rape. I don’t know if it was male or female, child or adult, quite frankly I didn’t care. My 7th celly was a 41 yr old Meth user (tweaker) and a thief. He’s in for 41 counts of burglary.
The little homie was a 22 yr old dope dealer and a gangster. He got caught with 20 kilos of Ketamine, and 5 kilos of Heroin. He’s married, his wife is 17 yrs old with a child on the way, she was due in the beginning of May.
The shotcaller I was closest to was accused of smuggling 17 kilos of meth from Taiwan to Australia. He had the 17 keys strapped to 7 workers bodies, one of the workers got caught and snitched out everybody else. They caught my boy at the airport leaving the country en route to Australia. They were going to give him 22 years if he fought the case, 12 years if he confessed, so he confessed and took the 12.
A man a few cells down from me was a 24 year old gangster and a meth addict. He’s in for murder, he shot a dude, he’s going to get the death sentence. He’s a little strange, he kept asking my celly (the Englishman at the time) about his penis size, asking if white people’s penis are bigger. He said “Taiwanese are small.” He even whipped it out to show him. People do gay things here that westerners, myself included, consider gay but they aren’t gay, I think it’s just culture.
There was a motherfucker who raped his own daughter. He’s going to have a tough time in here, and he still has hell to look forward too. There was an old man who was a children’s swimming instructor. As a swimming teacher he had to hold up the kids while teaching them how to swim. He had 22 students and 8 of the 22 complained that they were uncomfortable. He refused to confess to child molestation, he said that he had to hold the kids up. They gave his ass 18 years. I don’t know if he did it or not, to be honest I would rather not know. There was a Japanese guy in for possession, he didn’t speak Chinese only a little bit of English. There was a frail old man, 62 yrs old, in for embezzling.
There was a 55 year old in the cell next to mine, he was married and he was in for robbing a bank. I asked him, “how much money did you get?” “I got 500,000” “That’s not a lot.” “I know, I make more money than that at my day job.” “What do you do?” “I’m a software engineer.” “If you make more money, then why did you rob a bank?” “I don’t know, I’m crazy.” “Did they get you when you were leaving the bank?” “No, I made it home, they caught me the next day.” He told me that they threw him into solitary confinement for 45 days when he first got locked up. I met him the first day they released him from solitary. He has a good case for insanity. They gave him 8 years.
When a person, such as a boat worker, commits a crime on international waters the ship can choose to drop them off at the next port it stops at. There are quite a few southeast asians in Taiwan prisons for crimes committed at sea. Usually, it’s murder. The filipino migrant workers bully the vietnamese and then they fight back. There were quite a number of Vietnamese in for murder, about 6 of them, they got drunk at a bar and got into a fight and killed a guy. Stabbed him to death.
The week before I bailed out there were these 2 Southeast Asians (Indonesians?) that arrived at the prison. A guard came and got me out of my cell because they couldn’t speak Chinese and their English was minimal. I was helping them get processed. They were brothers and migrant boat workers. I think they either stabbed a person or killed a guy on the boat. The boat just dropped them off at the nearest port which happened to be Kaohsiung. I’m not sure they knew what was going on. I can’t imagine what they were going through. I got paid in cigarettes for translating.
Taiwan began its crackdown on drug smuggling and usage in the 1990s, when the government vowed to weed out drug traffickers by throwing them all into jail. Life sentences were automatic, but in more recent years, the law was amended to grant shorter sentences to defendants that decided to plead guilty in court. I have two examples of inmates that I’ve met to illustrate my point. Example A — A dude selling drugs, he was selling meth a level 2 narcotic, he confessed and got 8 ½ years. Example B — Dude was selling meth and heroin, a level 1 narcotic. He confessed to the meth but not to the heroin, he said he was not selling the heroin, only smoking it. They gave the dude 22 years. He was crying when he got back to the cell.
The close quarters cause mental stress on the inmates. One time there were these 2 inmates, who were in cell 18, stripped down naked and started dancing and shouting. The C.O.’s had to come yell at them to put their clothes on. When they wouldn’t, they got dragged to solitary screaming the whole way.
There was a guy that got brought in, he was crying because he didn’t get bail. He wouldn’t stop crying and complaining, so the guards just threw him into solitary confinement. It took 6 guards to carry his ass out because he wouldn’t budge. Another guy who was in the cell next to mine, he was hoping to get bail, he was 27 and had a girlfriend. He wanted to bail out so he could get married to his girlfriend and have a baby. His crime was he had a gun and he fired a shot over the head of somebody. That’s gun possession, bullet possession (it’s 6 months per bullet) and discharging a firearm, I think it might be attempted murder too, I didn’t ask. Anyways, when he came back from court, he was wailing, he was denied bail. I was taken back by how many people were crying inside. What the fuck are they crying about? You do the crime, you do the time. They’re not locked up abroad. Anytime I see a bitch crying, I try to find them the next day and see if they got anything I need, I’ll just take it from them.
There was a Taiwanese man who taught English who was in for murder. He got into a fight outside of a club, he hit the guy and the dude fell and hit his head on the sidewalk and died. Taiwan doesn’t differentiate between accidental murder aka manslaughter or premeditated, cold-blooded murder. Murder is murder and it’s 25 to life. For example, let’s say I’m driving a car on one side of the road and there is a dude on a moped on the other side of the road. If he accidentally slips, falls and tumbles into my lane and I accidentally hit him with my car and he dies. That’s murder. That’s 25 to Life.
One of my friends introduced me to a guy who was convicted of selling Marijuana even though they found no weed at his residence. He was the middleman and helped his classmates get some weed, a few of them broke during the time and told the cops he was the one that procured it for them. That’s the sales charge right there. He was a 19 year old kid when he was caught. I think the cops were already wiretapping the dealer and he just got caught in the sting. He spent 3 months in prison before he was allowed to bail out. He decided to fight the case, and he fought it for 5 and a half years. He just recently lost the trial. He was 19 when he got caught, add 5 ½ years, he is 24/25 right now, add another 5 ½ years that means he spent age 19- 30 for some weed. What a waste of time. What a waste of life. That’s his prime years. You can read about his story Here. Out of the 10 students reported in the paper, he was the only one who faced charges and he was the scapegoat.
10 more observations about the justice system.
- Retribution is widely accepted as a valid argument for criminal punishment, especially for the death penalty.
- Judges can deny divorce petitions as long as one party wants to reconcile and the other doesn’t meet the onerous requirements of the law. Judicial decisions granting divorces can be appealed.
- There is no asylum law.
- Death row inmates are informed of their executions the day of and their families are only notified afterwards.
- People convicted of statutory rape can be given probation because the victim ‘consented’.
- Unmarried women are prohibited from getting fertility treatments.
- The Constitutional Court has not accepted a death penalty case in 17 years.
- The MOJ openly flouts the recommendation by international experts that the minimum age for marriage be made consistent for men and women by arguing that it is not discrimination but a privilege for women to be able to marry at a younger age.
- The government thinks human rights requires public consensus.
- People have no faith in judges and prosecutors, partly due to corruption and ineptitude but also partly due to the government’s failure in educating the people on how laws and the justice system function, leading to ill-founded criticisms based on fundamental misunderstandings.
I love Taiwan, but some of these laws really illustrate what a backwards, swamp of a country it really is. What does being ‘tough on crime’ really accomplish? Mass incarceration does no good. It’s not even cost effective, but it certainly has not reduced crime. The biggest lesson is that punishment comes too late. What spirit should the criminal-justice system embody? One side of it says it should focus on retribution and payback. The second says it should focus on doing whatever is useful for the future. The third says it should focus on reform. And of course, two and three go together, because one of the things that might be useful for the future is reform. Most of the inmates only have a junior high education, that’s because in high school students have to take tests to move up to the next grade and it gets harder. Also, some of the inmates tell me that there are a lot of fights and gang wars in high school. Instead of having a G.E.D. program to help inmates, they just give them menial jobs inside the prison making them likely to reoffend as soon as they are released. They are not willing to lower sentences or build more prisons, reasoning that they are a waste of taxpayer money, which they are. Prisons are at 180% capacity, something’s got to give.