Thursday, June 21, 2012

Abuse of Solitary Confinement, 1944 and 2012


An editorial  in the New York Times today, struck home for me.


The Abuse of Solitary Confinement
80,000 Americans being kept in solitary reads the subheading.

80.000, the size of  large town! Imagine.

Prisoners being held in tiny windowless cells for up to 23 hours.

That's exactly what happened to my grandmother in WWII.  I have her diary and I wrote a play about it: Looking for Mrs. Peel.

My grandmother was a prisoner of the Japanese in WWII, in Singapore's infamous Changi Prisoner of War Internment Camp. (Changi wasn't all that bad a place actually, relatively speaking, during the good times when the Japanese were doing well in the war.)

However, my grandmother was one of three women caught up in a torture 'incident' called the Double Tenth.

In 1943, some Japanese boats were sunk in Singapore Harbour and the Japanese suspected that some internees were involved.

Up until then, the Commandants at Changi had been pretty slack, allowing the internees to go about their lives as long as they followed a few rules.

(My grandmother in her cell at Changi. It was the Holiday Inn compared to what she would soon experience first in a torture chamber in the old Singapore YMCA building and then in solitary confinement. She barely survived.)

But in 1943, the BBC began broadcasting to the Far East and some Changi Internees set up secret radios.

Anyway, my grandmother  was, for a time, Women's Camp Leader and she got involved with the Men's radio business and then she was arrested and  brought to a 'real' prison in the Singapore YMCA building and put  in a small almost windowless room with 17 men and 1 Chinese woman, all of whom were taken out at night at tortured. The men anyway. Burned, electrified, water tortured.

My grandmother wasn't taken out and tortured, she just had to witness all this and endure the starvation and humiliation.  For a month. Then she was taken for 5 months of solitary confinement.

My play Looking for Mrs. Peel explains it all for her first hand perspective.

During the war crimes trial over the Double Tenth Incident, in 1946, my grandmother's experience in solitary were not considered torture by the British Prosecutors.

But as the New York Times article reveals: being alone in misery is a lot worse than being amongst others in misery.

My grandmother longed to be back in the horrible torture cell with 'all her friends."