The ‘Hole’ Story: My Two Months of Hell in the Taipei Detention Center
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Everybody cried sometimes, even the strongest ones, even the ones that giggled and joked a lot. Everybody felt the pressure of the time, and boredom, missing their freedom and their lives. They would call their arresting officers every day between 1pm and 3 pm, but rarely heard a voice answering the phone. Usually the answer was “Ta bu zai” — he’s not here, call tomorrow.
My arresting officer was a very nice man, telling me he was doing everything he could to speed up the process of opening my file in front of a judge and buying me ticket so I could go home. Of course the judge was always “too busy” to spare five minutes and take a glance at my papers, especially in the period before and after Chinese New Year.
However, this was happening to all of us, not just me. I was lucky — my arresting officer was nice and there for me at all times. Other women were devastated because their officer was always unreachable, there for they waited more than 6-8 months to show up on any kind of hearing or go to court and explain their case.
Eight months of waiting without a word! I was lucky. I won’t mention his name, but he always answered the phone and told me, “M, I am doing everything in my power to get you out, I’m speaking to your family, I know everything about your case, I am not forgetting you. We all want you home. You just have to wait for a while. It’s common procedure here in Taiwan, things go slowly sometimes. I will book you a ticket the moment I get a phone call from the prosecutor saying that you’re free to go. You’ll go home soon, very soon — I promise.” I must say those words were keeping me sane inside. He was such a nice man, so nice and different than the others.
You’re always watched and observed in Sanxia, or maybe it was because I was the only English-speaking person, “the white girl”. The way you behave inside is also important if you want to go home faster. I had my good guard who told me things — secrets! — things I shouldn’t have known. One day she called to me and whispered in Chinese, “The boss of this place will help you. We all know you are a nice person, so he made some phone calls. Don’t worry, they often talk about you, about your case. They watch you during the exercise time, you like to play and sport, you put a smile on your face when you can do something, they want you free. Its good, 8729! The boss likes you! He can help you a lot. Just take it easy and relax. You will go home – soon.”
Ahhh, I was waiting for that day so desperately. Come on! I’ve done things I’m not proud of in my life, but I have never, ever thought I’m going to be in jail — ever. I am a good person… I think hahahaha! So yeah. the boss of the center, my family, my boyfriend, my friends, they were all trying to help me in some way they could. My boyfriend was there for me all the time, all the visits, and I am grateful to every single person who came to see me and cheer me up during that time of hell. Thank you all, I love you soooo much! Hope I don’t have to return the favor! Stay out of trouble, stay away from jails — not fun, Hahaha!
I used to call my mom, my brother or my sister-in-law (who is Taiwanese) she really helped me a lot, N–, or some of my closest friends. My mom always cried on the phone or gave me some tough love, so after a while I stopped calling her. I didn’t want to upset her more. She couldn’t understand why I was not coming home! She was getting very angry, and then she would cry more. Not fun. I can imagine how she felt knowing I was cold (it was always cold), not eating (because she knows I’m very easily grossed out), worried that I will get hurt (knowing I lose my temper if provoked), and she was blaming herself for letting me go to Taiwan when I was still very young. That was so heart-breaking, hearing her blame herself… I was crying, she was crying, ay ya yai, it was a cry-fest for a while. I remember calling her on December 31st and wishing her Happy New Year, it was one of the most emotional moments in my life. She was very, very sad of course and like every mom she could only ask me in tears “M– when will you come home?” Ahhhh, I fought the tears so hard, just telling her, “Next week mom, don’t worry, soon. Very soon. Please don’t cry…” Those were the hard moments. Also the visit time, we couldn’t touch hands or even get a hug — nothing. We could speak on a phone, looking at our visitor through a plastic window, for 5-10 minutes. And then when the time was up, the guard rang a big bell, something like a loud, Christmas handbell. I hated the bell, I will always hate bells. The bell meant the end of the visit, it always ended with the last look, putting my hand on the plastic window, just wanting to touch the hand on the other side, get a hug…
Oh well, at least I had visitors; some women had nobody to talk to, no visit. I felt so sorry for them. Some of them are still there, still waiting to be freed, waiting for that day when the guard says your number, keeps a serious face and tells you, “hui jia” — you’re going home. The day I left, the guard couldn’t keep a serious face, she was smiling and told me so excited:” M—, ni jintian shiao wu, huei jia).”
It was February 16th. I will celebrate that day every year. My day of freedom.
After I left all the clothes and other stuff I used with the guards and got dressed in my own clothing, my arresting officer came to pick me up, smiling, and gave me a wink like a gesture “I told you, you’ll go home”. He was so nice to me, very polite, using my full name, tapping me on the shoulder and telling me, “Aren’t you excited?! You’re going home at 4 pm!”
I turned around and looked at the other women inside. It was a bittersweet moment for me. My friend Lia was crying — “Love you M—“. Others gave me smiles and made a hand gesture blowing a kiss. Even the guards who were not nice gave me a grin. “Good luck 32974”.
Ahhhhh freedom! My heart was pounding, I was out of the awful uniform, I was holding my bag, my suitcases, my arresting officer was very funny, smiling like a little kid. “Where is your boyfriend? You will say goodbye?” I smiled and said, “Yes, he’ll be at the airport, you’ll see.”
Read the CONCLUSION
7 thoughts on “The ‘Hole’ Story: Part 4”
Ms M, I tend to agree with Alien.
I am not an angry person. Very happy with my young family here
You are a very angry person Alien…I know how much anger takes away from you..you’re not happy.You’re smart,but you’re not happy.I wish you can get rid of the hatred in the future.It’s only going to poison everything in your life.I wish you the best ,I really do,because I used to be like you. Learn to care and love ,but in a pure and egoless way. Best of luck my friend;) Em
Nice story. Hopefully more people who want to go overseas prepare in advance the funds necessary to do so. So you came wihout enough money in the first place and decided to be an illegal immigrant, but because you had a headache you couldnt leave( we all fall in love ) and got busted for overstaying when you neighbours got a visit from the police ( for growing drugs on the balcony was it? oops )
Mainly most people overstay for economic reasons. They want to work illegally because they can make more here than they do back home. It’s not a valid reason for overstaying 2 years. Neither is being in love. Excuses Exciuses…. nice try but doen’t cut it. Especially I see where many people want to stay here legally get screwed over because they were sent to work somewhere by their bushiban and get busted when applying for their APRC… opps illegal worker, not put in jail but they also get deported… now that’s sad. Yet these same people know they dont have a work permit to work in other locations but they take the risk. When they get caught it’s a big shock to them just as it was to you.
More to the point you thought as you were white it was less likely for you to get caught and you played it to your advantage. You just didnt expect the extra vacation you got for overstaying. It’s a lesson for everyone. Don’t assume you won’t get a jail term if you commit a crime. Yes you are a criminal if you overstay and work illegally. So you didnt rape or kill. Many people are in jail for other non violant crimes as well. Good luck though wherever you are now.
M, thanks for taking the time to explain more about your situation and I’m glad that your life is much better now.
Thank you for being a person who gives people a benefit of a doubt, that you care about the truth and thank you for thinking reasonable, productive (for everybody) and not quick to judge like some other people.
Even though I wrote something to Trista (that could be an answer to your question) I did not give her many details about my life situation at the time. I was a bit dissapointed from some of the harsh comments about me as a person and dissapointed that all people could think is “wow,she wants pitty, or boo-hoo, you’re daddy’s and mommy’s little princess and now your full of stupid excuses expecting people to feel sorry for you”. In a way that stopped me to write more about me in the story and explain why I overstayed… so my writing became more unmotivated in a way. You are the person that made me change my mind and write something more about why I overstayed.
I know I will get more bad comments and be misread or judged but, people like you will understand.. also, people who are overstaying from similar reasons like me will see and feel that they are not alone, it’s not the end of the world and their lives can change to better-like mine did.
Today I am a woman who is in love, much healthier, more optimistic and full of hopes and dreams. I have learned to meditate, read more, play instruments, love others, I am ready to even become a mom when the time comes. I am engaged to the most positive and loving person in the world who fully understands me and suports me in everything, I can work,sport, laugh again. It wasn’t always like that in the past. When I overstayed my visa, I was a mess. I was living in a constant physical pain, alone, couldn’t keep a decent job more than 2 months (so I hardly earned enough to cover my rent, my Chinese school and food) because I would get fired a lot for taking sick days off and “resting”.
I had my first migraine when I was 13 years old… over the years my situation has gotten worse and more intense, then better, then worse again. Couple of months before overstaying my visa, my migrain outbreaks were constant. My doctors (I went to a lot of doctors because no one could tell me a solid solution or a medicine) told me I have chronical migrains which are starting to turn into cluster headaches and that I need to urgently get an MRI, CAT scans and prepare myself for the big expense, because those tests were very expensive in Taiwan. Of course i didn’t get the tests done, because I didn’t have the money.
The quality of my life was so low, I started feeling depression, anxiety, taking painkillers every day, going to see doctors all the time, going to work less and less, suffered lack of sleep or taking all sorts of prescription pills given by the doctors in order to sleep through the pain. I felt like I have a tumor or a brain cancer and I’m slowly but painfully dying. Migrainers often have those kind of thoughts or become less sociable, moody, loose their jobs because lot of people in the world don’t know that a migrain is not a headache. So yes, that’s what my bosses also thought .”She’s having a headache. Here take an aspirin or ibuprofen and come to work” Of course I lost all good jobs and kept only a part time job, so I can get through each month.
I learned to live in a constant pain. Sometimes it would be a 5 (on a scale from 1 to 10), sometimes an 8, sometimes a small pain, but it was always there. Every day. To this day I don’t know what triggered that. When I was young I would get them once a month (like now), but that year was awful.. I had migrains every third day. My body was so weak from all the meds I was taking, the depression was getting heavier. I was a young girl who felt like an old lady. I was struggling to make it from one week to another, earning less and less money, I thought of leaving the country and going home, but I didn’t have money for the ticket.
There are couple of more reasons why Europe was not an option at the time (but that’s too private-I’m sorry). I got a stomach ulcer after that too, probably from all the meds I’ve been taking, felt lack of apetite and lost a lot of weigh during this period of time. It got so bad, I had to leave my Chinese class, go to the bathroom, take pain killers, drink water, take a break and then go back inside the class joining the others and saying sorry to my teacher. We had to pay our university studies (for student visa) every 3 months. I remember, I was a month away from getting my student ARC! If I only had the money for one more semester, one more trip to Hong Kong or Okinawa, rent, I could get an ARC in a month.
I had money for the school, but didn’t have for the rest. I tried to borrow money, I tried to even get money from my mom ..I tried everything. It wasn’t enough. My heart was pounding, my head was hurting like always..I was sitting in the living room thinking”what to do?..what to do?!!!” There was no hope…I was finally broke, broken hearted, alone and so angry at life. I became a snappy, impatient person…life was not fair in the past, and it was not fair right then.
I had a very exhausting childhood, bad life in Europe before coming to Taiwan during my early twenties, bad memories. only one loving parent, my b.friend at the time was leaving me, I was not able to work and earn money so I could stay legal, nor had money to cure my self (because there is no cure for migrains that chronic.. I didn’t have money to buy a ticket home either!
My life was a mess. I had nothing and nobody to lean on anymore, so yes, I overstayed. After that happened I had million regrets but, I knew the only thing that mattered to me at that point was getting better and sorting out my life, center myself, forget all the bad from the past, try to love, trust people, I needed to think of my body and soul first and everything else – later.
My country doesn’t have an embassy or an office in Taiwan, so I couldn’t count on sorting out my documents couple of months later.. it was done. I was overstaying, one month… another one.. another one. But, guess what? I rested more, slept more, spent money I earned to camp, be in nature, socialzed more, worked less.. I gave my body time to heal, slowly, very slowly there was progress. My migrains were reduced, I forced myself to take less and less painkillers, forced myself to not focus on anything else but positive.. and very accidentally met my fiancee.
We were just friends, he lived in Taipei, I lived in Taichung. We would visit eachother from time to time .. he cared about me in a way nobody did for a long, long time. I can say that the cure for any illness is half mental. His presence and energy, reasurance I have somebody to talk to, come home to, bring me a salad or a soup when I was sick, a massage.. all that mattered so much, and I wasn’t aware of it. We live in a world that’s so fast and so loud, we often forget to give our body and mind a break.
I finally took that 1 month vacation that I haven’t had in years! I went to the mountains and I camped with him, breathing, learning meditation, meeting people who are now my dearest friends.. I took my time, my healing time, I got a dog too, I fell in love, I was loved. To me it was like a miracle! I couldn’t understand how my migrains got shorter, more reduced, even gone some months. I was feeling alive again. That’s all that mattered to me and I knew that when I feel good I can overcome anything.
I told N— I can’t overstay forever and that I would have to turn in myself to the autorities soon and go home. He agreed and we made plans about our life together. Soon after that conversation and my plan to go to Europe, I was arrested from my house because of something my neighboor did! That was so shocking.. I never got to turn myself in (which was my next move in Taiwan, because I couldn’t live with the burden of overstaying my visa anymore) and was immediately prosecuted the same day and taken to the immigration office in Banciao.
So, that is the truth David. I don’t care what others may think, or how much they judge me. I feel happy that I am alive, feeling so much better, I don’t panic if I forget to take my painkillers and go outside the house for couple of hours anymore, I don’t feel like a prisoner in my own body. They will probably say all sorts of things after this.. That is my story, the truth, I fought for my health and my life. I fought for something better, even if that included overstaying my visa in Taiwan. That was my choice, I chose life and love. I overstayed a visa… I didn’t kill, or steal, or rape, or bribe, didn’t grow drugs or carry them through airports like some other people. I am not a criminal, I was just sick and that made me careless. I would never repeat my mistake in any other country, and I would never rely on meds or doctors so much too (like in the past). I am a happy woman now, and no matter what life throws at me in the future I will find my way, because I’ve learned how to do that. I love and I’m loved, I am ready to help anyone who is in need if I can, I believe what’s mine will come, I believe that telling the truth (and being “lame”) is much better than being a smart ass who hides his insecurities under a mask of “well spoken words”.
I’d be interested to know why M overstayed her visa for two years. I know a lot of comments have been critical, even vitriolic, but explaining some more of the back story would help people better understand M’s situation.
I’ve glad that you’ve been willing to share your story. Things like this need to be out in the open if there’s any chance that people will work to improve the system.
I’m a graduate student studying law in Taiwan. I would really like to know more about your experiences. If you’d be willing to talk, please get in contact with me by email.
R98A21120 [at sign] ntu.edu.tw