As Fate Would Have It ….
Yesterday I went to the detention center to drop off the monthly inmate allowance of about 1000 RMB (160CAN), which is used primarily to add value and comfort to their otherwise miserable detention lives … inmates with the allowance (comes from family and / or friends, not from the Government) can buy shampoo and other daily necessities, but actually there isn’t a lot to buy.
At the detention center there is a line to give the name of the inmate to receive the room number that he is in, and then move to another line to actually pay the money, of which a receipt is issued. Not complicated, and rarely busy to wait more than 5 mins (gosh, if all lines were like this in China). As I gave the name of Wu, Wu Yuren, to the guy behind the desk, a young guy next to me said, “oh, I know him, I just spent the past 3 weeks with him. Today I am released, and so picking up my remaining allowance. You must be his wife, from Canada, no? He talks about you and your daughter all the time!”. I was floored. So, I quickly paid the money and took this guy, lets call him Mr. Cao, outside to chat more, as I immediately recognized the opportunity to learn what is REALLY up with Dawu on the inside …
I won’t bother to write the entire dialogue, but will list the main points of our 30 min conversation outside the detention center:
1. On the topic of LIU Xiaobo, the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner – Yes, Dawu and all his cellmates have learned of this, albeit from a Chinese media perspective, but I am sure Dawu was able to read between the lines and educate his cellmates (not everyone in there is for ‘political’ crimes or misdemeaners) about the big picture of Liu and his 08 Charter, etc. They actually get newspapers in the detention center. According to CAO, Dawu was very pleased with the win! Ha, Dawu is most likely in his element, what with a captive audience, young and impressionable lads who have nothing better to do… In fact, Mr. CAO seemed to be very impressed with Wu, and ALMOST seemed sad to have to leave the cell and the comraderie which they all share. Dawu has made a huge impression on CAO and the others, to be sure.
FYI, Dawu was one of the 10 000 people who signed Liu’s 08 Charter, which called for major political reforms to come sooner than later to China. However, Liu was sentenced to 11 years inprisonment last year on Christmas Day. Liu Xiaobo (not China) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his writings and creating awareness globally on human rights, including his involvement in the Tiananmen Square activities of 1989. Many countries are asking that Liu be released.
2. What does an artist with a knack for drawing, cartooning, sketching DO while behind bars – well, according to CAO, Dawu draws, as they have to sit quietly on a wooden bench for 5 hours/day, and so while the others sit and think inside their heads, Dawu has managed to convince someone in there to supply him with the necessary tools and he sketches and draws. In fact, he has done fine portraits of all his cell mates and the guards! Now, will he be able to take these out with him? I can see it now, the ‘life behind bars’ art exhibition, with hundreds of life drawing works! But seriously, I am glad to hear he is using his brain, his time and his talents, and not wasting away. (in fact, I don’t think he has actually drawn much in the past 8 years, so good for him to get back into it, as he is very talented, makes it look easy, could do it with his eyes closed).
3. Dawu’s physique and general condition – Mr. CAO laughed when I asked if Dawu was skinny and sullen looking. No, in fact, due to three meals a day and no exercise, he is fat! Big belly on him now. Curious. I asked about his arm and he didn’t seem to remember a problem, although he was only with him for the past month or less, so was not there when Dawu first went in after the beating. Dawu also is able to smoke 1.5 to 2 packs of cigs a day, although these are not bought, so are ‘acquired’ through whatever other means. Interesting, there goes any idea of him having to quit while behind bars … Dawu, along with all the inmates, is buzz cut hair style, and they can wash in a warmish shower about once a week. Hence, everyone has some nasty skin diseases, although I am sure that the winter is better than the summer.
4. Detention Center Cellmate Pecking Order – There is a hierarchy in the cell, as a way of distinguishing who is who, who does what (ie. on house cleaning day), and to keep the peace. Mr. CAO was in charge of delegating cleaning duties until he left, and so that has been passed now to Dawu. Who is to clean the toilet is now decided by Dawu. Mr. Cao actually had a good memories of cleaning the floor with Dawu, on their hands and knees, wiping up and around … Mr. Cao said that Dawu was talking to him that it can be a lot like painting ( I assume they are cleaning a cement floor?). He laughed and thought that Dawu was really fun to be with .
5. Other stuff – basically, Dawu missed Hannah terribly and talks about her all the time. Mr. CAO knew that she was at least 5 or 6, and he seemed to know about me, so I assume Dawu talks a lot about us in the cell. He said that Dawu has a very good relationship with all the guards and other staff, and with this news I am not surprised, as he is easy to make friends and very resourceful. Living in a detention center there would be a real need to be resourceful.
Basically, I am very happy to hear all of this, kind of a like snap shot from the inside, something I have not been able to get as we have not seen Dawu or been able to meet with him at all … I took CAO’s number and said I would contact him if I need more information. He was thrilled. Funnily enough, on his release date, CAO was alone, heading to where ever he remembered his home to be. He called his wife on my phone, and both her contact numbers no one answered. I asked if he wanted a ride, or needed bus fare, but he was fine, thanks. Kind of sad. I think it must be hard to be released, and just coldly tossed out on the street (it was also a cold day yesterday).
No info about the trial yet. Still waiting…