Is there such a thing as ‘rehab’ in Taiwan? Short answer: No.

In Taiwan, Amy Winehouse wouldn't have had a choice BUT to go to rehab, and she would have shared a 10x6 cell with two other cellies. Now that's a sobering thought.
The Wild East / Society

In Taiwan, the authorities don’t really grasp the concept of a ‘rehabilitation centre’ or what ‘rehab’ is supposed to do, for that matter – to rehabilitate, help people detoxify and get off drink and drugs.

In North America, on the other hand, going to rehab is kind of something only celebrities or at least fairly wealthy people do, because it’s so expensive. The Betty Ford clinic is one example of this, although that center is more for alcoholics. Rehab centres in the West may be offshoots of hospitals, or privately run centers.

Taiwan, like many English-speaking Western countries, has Alcoholics Anonymous therapy groups to deal with alcohol addiction. Otherwise there’s precious little support in terms of group counseling or therapy. A Taipei health official recommended recently a very good psychiatric clinic in Songshan district, Taipei to get counseling for this type of dependency.

However, in this piece the focus will be ‘soft drugs’ and the punishment in Taiwan for them, which is rehab, usually for the period of a month.

Since rehab as a concept that is totally misunderstood in Taiwan, I spoke with a couple of foreigners about their experience here in the local version of it. I initially heard rumours such as “it’s like jail, but they make you meditate.” So I sought to know more details about this strange beast, and the following is based on a combination of their stories.

It must be mentioned that foreigners often tend not to be averse to ‘nature’s medicine’ as marijuana and its derivatives such as hashish (a resinous form of pot which is little known in this society) may be perceived; thus foreigners are sometimes caught up in the web of this weird ‘rehab’ thing in Taiwan.

One such individual, an American I’ll call ‘Fred’, was drug tested when his friends were caught up in a drug bust in the south of Taiwan. He barely went over the limit but they sent him to rehab anyway.

So Fred entered a “high-security prison facility” in Taipei for this offense; coincidentally it was the last day before the opening of a ‘new’ rehab facility – a former military barrack renovated for this purpose. So this account describes what ‘rehab’ was like until quite recently, within the past year.

Fred shared a 10-by-6 foot prison cell with two other inmates. Now take a moment to picture having to live in this tiny space… then try to imagine sharing that space with two other people!

One was a former Taiwan government official who’d been embroiled in an embezzlement case that evolved in the wake of the ROC’s (Taiwan’s) ‘dollar diplomacy’ policy (foreign aid in exchange for recognition of Taiwan as a country), a man who’d spent 6 years already in jail for this offense. His American counterpart was the one who had actually absconded with the funds, and the courts kept levying new charges against him, effectively keeping him in prison. The other cellie was technically a ‘child rapist’ – a fifteen-year-old friend of one of his kid’s had come to stay with them for a year, they had what he defended as ‘consensual sex’, then when she was sixteen she tried to blackmail him out of a huge sum. He refused, and ended up in jail, sharing this tiny space with Fred. The ex-ambassador scolded this person at length for being a ‘fucking idiot’ and having admitted to engaging in intercourse with the girl.

Every day was like being in the military, said Fred. You couldn’t lay down or sit without being told to do so. Twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, the guard would shout “Prepare to meditate!” (准备沉思!) and all inmates sat in the lotus position for an hour, twice a day.

Although a young man, Fred still has difficulty today physically getting into that position as a result of this experience.

Water was only available 20 minutes a day, so they had to quickly bathe in front of each other and fill up a few buckets to use the remainder of the day.

There was no toilet tissue, and after defecating Fred had to run water down his arm in order to clean his backside. The bed was 2 feet across and if he curled up a bit he could manage to fall sleep on it. The cover was like an airplane blanket.

SEE ALSO: AA English meetings in Taipei

4 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as ‘rehab’ in Taiwan? Short answer: No.

  • September 18, 2013 at 6:08 am

    “He barely went over the limit but they sent him to rehab anyway.”
    Not sure what this means. As I understand it, in almost every country if you test positive for illegal drugs, you’re probably in trouble, whether it’s a trace amount or enough to kill an elephant.
    It’s not like boozing and driving, where there’s a blood-alcohol limit below which you’re OK, but above which you’re considered intoxicated.

  • November 20, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I am interested in getting in contact with Fred. I am a freelance journalist writing about Taiwan and I will write an article about rehabilitation in Taiwan. My name is Linus.

    • May 23, 2017 at 2:22 am

      I’m on the plane from New York to Taipei for rehab for .2 grams of cannabis. You still writing something for these rehabs?

      • May 6, 2024 at 3:31 am

        Yes would you like to write a story on your experience? Send a text send a photo if you want to presidenttrista at gmail


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