During the Spring of 2003, I began to take Japanese classes at Tenri
School of Japanese Language. In the past I had taken many Japanese classes
before, even in Japan, and I found that the classes at Tenri were among
the best. However, I failed to realize how good being involved with the
people at TCI really was, until, six months later I was arrested and indicted
by a U.S. Federal Court on a financial infringement charge. During my
trial, I continued to study Japanese and the TCI staff helped me have
faith that everything was going to turn out all right. Unfortunately,
I lost my case and, on March of 2004, I was sentenced to 28 months in
a minimum security prison.
From the onset I was handcuffed and my body and feet were shackled.
Before I was put in a cell at the federal jail in New York City, I was
strip searched. I spent my first night in a cold dark cell, and I received
my first meal in tears. The beds are uncomfortable and the food is of
the poorest quality. I was in a cell for 9 weeks before being transferred
to a prison camp. At the camp, things didn’t get much better. We
all have to work, many of us, including myself, work out on the fields
cutting grass under the hot Southern USA sun. We get paid only 12 cents
an hour. If we refuse to work, we’ll get locked up in a cell again.
All this is minimal compared to the biggest pain of missing your
family and real friends. We only get 300 minutes to call per month and
we have to pay for the phone calls. Because my mother is sick, I have
not gotten a visit from anyone, nor have I seen my family in over one
and a half years. Prison is a place of despair, hopelessness and desolation.
Some commit suicide, others lose all hope, yet few choose to be strong.
I have chosen to be strong!
Despite these difficult circumstances, I did not lose hope. I prayed
to God and I trusted that His will be done. Within a few weeks, my prayers
were answered and my sentence was cut by 11 months. Additionally, I did
not lose my passion to learn Japanese. In fact, I’ve had a desire
to preach the Christian Bible in Japanese since 1998.
I was able to get in touch with Michael Yuge via correspondence. Needless
to say, he was shocked to hear what had happened! He then asked me how
he could help. I told him about my Japanese studies and my genuine interest
to learn more about Tenrikyo. He obliged, by sending me Japanese textbooks,
magazines, cds, and the Progress newsletter. I have become a big fan of
Progress, and it has been a source of motivation and inspiration. By reading
the monthly sermons, I have acquired a thorough knowledge of Tenrikyo.
My deepest gratitude goes out to Michael, for being a great friend
during this time. I also want to give my thanks to: Takeharu Onishi, Hanae
Sakagami, Masaaki and Rie Fukui, Rev. Morishita, Rev. Okui and the rest
of the TCI staff. In August, I will be going to Orlando, Florida to be
with my family and I plan to return to New York City next year. I’m
looking forward to participating in future TCI and New York Center events.