Well turns out they have a jail in Okinawa… and I went to it. Yup, I (Peter) went to jail. It was a harrowing experience, but luckily it’s only medium security, and the inmates serve 10 years or less, so… that’s good for me right?

This month I accompanied our pastor, Higa Sensei, to do prison ministry. He brought me along because he wanted me to play violin for the prisoners. Upon arriving we met a man. I don’t know what his position was, but I know he wasn’t a guard. He spoke a little English and told me the rules. They were pretty simple: don’t take pictures; don’t use recording devices (audio, video or otherwise); and don’t use the specific names or stories of the prisoners at any time. After signing a waiver (in Japanese, so I have no idea what it said!) and having a small snack together in the prison office, we headed down to the room where Higa Sensei would hold the church service. On the way, I deposited all of my belongings into a little locker. This was voluntary; they never checked me. The Japanese seem to go by the honour system a lot here.

Higa Sensei has been doing prison ministry in this jail for more than 20 years. It is an adult, male-only prison (so no juveniles, and no women). The inmates are on a strict schedule and participate in work (many learn a trade), training, and religion (if they so choose). The whole idea in the Japanese prison system is to prepare the prisoners and their families for reintegration into society so that they can be fully-contributing members when they re-enter and have a support network around them. Since I don’t speak much Japanese yet I wasn’t able to ask how effective this plan is, but on paper, it looks really good!

Upon arriving in the room we started the service. The men were already seated at their desks with two books placed on each one. A Japanese hymnal (from the Billy Graham Crusade of 1980) and a Bible. We started with 2 hymns: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “I’d Rather Have Jesus”. Then Higa Sensei had me introduce myself and play two songs. I said the following:

“Good Morning, my name is Peter. I’m from Canada. I don’t speak very much Japanese, I’m sorry.”

They didn’t laugh. Usually, people laugh, so this made me nervous: a tough crowd, but then again I was in jail. I played my two songs. First, “Amazing Grace” and then I went to play a famous Japanese Song, "Furusato". I had memorized it, and if you asked me to play it right now I could. But I forgot it right then. I remembered the first note (a “G”)… but that’s it. I was thinking, “It’s a quarter note… what’s next?” I stopped, got out my music, looked at the first bar, and then started playing. Slightly embarrassing.

Higa Sensei (who finished working on his sermon in the car while I was driving us to the jail) preached on Philemon. Very appropriate and encouraging book to preach from, I think. We then sang verses 1 & 3 from “I’d Rather Have Jesus”, and prayed. The prisoners were called in groups (I’m assuming by block), were frisked, and left.

Higa Sensei told me later that before their release he sometimes helps prisoners to find a church near where they are going to live. He also provides counselling to anyone who wants it, after the service is finished. Some inmates take him up on this offer.

(Picture source)