Tanaka Masahiro (Prisoner with a death sentence at Tokyo's Detention Center)

Have you ever heard of the "Life Painting Exhibition"? This exhibition consists of paintings drawn by prisoners with a death sentence, and because the paintings are exhibited all around Japan it is called an itinerant exhibition.
There are many kinds of prisoners sentenced to death. For instance, those already executed, those whose execution might happen at any moment, those with an irrevocable sentence by the Supreme Court, and finally those given a death sentence at their first trial who have made an appeal to Court and whose final sentence is under scrutiny.
To which group do I belong? Well, since I am writing this now, I have not yet been executed, though I have received a death sentence.
People may say that I am an un-convicted prisoner, but there is something subtle there, because in September while I am writing this, my case is still pending. Nevertheless when this article gets published and you read it the Supreme Court will make public my irrevocable sentence. In other words, on 8 September the Supreme Court dismissed my final appeal.
As a result, I am waiting for the notice of my final execution --it may be tomorrow-- I really hate. If you want to know about my situation after getting my last sentence, my life is being shortened every day, without knowing the time when my execution will take place. It is strange to be able to say this, but when one arrives at this stage all visitors that could meet with me freely and the gifts sent to me are greatly curtailed. From now on, only my relatives will be allowed to visit me. For us prisoners this is the most painful experience.

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Let me go back to the "Life Painting Exhibition". In the 130 exhibits shown there, some are the products of prisoners executed, as I mentioned above, the rest come from 19 prisoners that have a death sentence or are still under further scrutiny.
The quality varies, some paintings are good but others are poor. There are also some that attract the interest of people no matter their quality. All paintings show strong personalities and it is difficult to find anywhere such an eccentric exhibition.
I was also invited to exhibit some of my paintings that, although I should not be the one to mention it, obtained some good reputation, but on the other hand might lack some attractiveness.
Let me now talk about myself here. I started drawing 5 years and a half ago and till then I did not draw any painting because I was unaware of any artistic skills. As far as I remember the last painting I did was at the art class of middle school and it is not worthy of inviting people to see it.
A long time elapsed since then, when, being in jail with a pending death sentence, some Catholic Sisters offered me a book. The book, called "Love from a Deep Abyss", is quite well known and presents the diary of the struggle against disease of Hoshino Tomihiro who draws paintings with a pen attached to his mouth. I was deeply moved upon reading the book. The book changed totally my life.
Let me explain its content for those who were not yet able to read the book. After graduating from university Mr. Hoshino became a gymnastics instructor and just two months after taking over, had an accident during the club activities after school was over. His neck was broken and he became paralyzed from the neck down. Mr. Hoshino fell into an abyss of desperation, but with the support of many and feeling a strong desire to write, he arrived, after much thinking, to the point of using a pen attached to his mouth, his only free member. Since that time, he not only writes things with the pen in his mouth, but also draws splendid paintings and adds verses of his own to them. He has already published several poetic-drawing albums.
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When I read his book "Love from a Deep Abyss" I was deeply moved and felt shame for my loose life. Mr. Hoshino, fully paralyzed from his neck down, writes poetry and draws splendid paintings with a pen attached to his mouth, the only free member he can use, but what about myself? I started to reflect that, although, without any physical defect, I am a prisoner lacking freedoms, but I should be doing something and stop leading an unconcerned life. Up to then and also as a result of the death sentence given to me at the first trial, I was living very negligently, reading books all day long, and doing nothing productive. I started to reflect: "if Mr. Hoshino, in spite of being disabled, is striving to live a constructive life, can I continue living the same way? I must do something about it." I could not stand the same way any more and, imitating Mr. Hoshino, I started drawing.
Things allowed in jail are much restricted and there is practically nothing else permitted but drawing. In this connection, the only utensils allowed in this jail are black, red and green ball pens, black sign pens, brush pens and sharp pencils. It is only since last December that green ball pens were allowed. This is the situation concerning ball pens and although I have many times asked permission to use other painting tools and colored pencils they do not allow their use.
I often think how good it would be if they would allow us at least colored pencils, so that one could use a few colors to show the width and the depth of the paintings. This can not be done. As I mentioned above, the book of Mr. Hoshino Tomihiro gave me the opportunity to start drawing. Since I felt I had to do something I started imitating Mr. Hoshino by drawing paintings, although I was not so good at the beginning. In any event, over 10 years had passed since my last drawing and I was never good at it. To tell the truth I was rather bad.
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That I was able to become proficient at painting in such a short time, it was, I believe, a real gift from God. Even if I read the book of Mr. Hoshino, in normal circumstances, I might have been moved by its reading, but I think that it would never have impelled me to take some action. That a person like myself could start paintings following the example of Mr. Hoshino, and advance so much in a short time is just a blessing from God and nothing else.
Not to think that way is not to understand how could I become so proficient, when I was never good at drawing and had not taken a painting brush for more that 10 years. This was an opportunity that guided me to Christianity. I forgot to tell that, after starting drawing, I got to know a Catholic chaplain and received private classes of religion in prison. In April 1999 I received the gift of baptism.
The book of Mr. Hoshino motivated me to begin drawing, and after getting skillful, people have praised my paintings so much that I grew in confidence and the time I spend in painting gives me great of joy.
My paintings show that I am alive. Through my paintings, I want to silently tell my son, a middle school boy I am not able to meet, the following: "Your father is a prisoner sentenced to death because of serious crimes and murders, but afterwards he became a real human person able to draw such paintings." As a result, whenever I draw, each stroke is very important to me. I can concentrate in my drawing and I am able to forget all unpleasant things. If I was not able to draw, or in the case that I could never had read the book of Mr. Hoshino, without doubt I would have still been living negligently a lazy life. This is why I should always be grateful to the book of Mr. Hoshino and to the Catholic Sisters that gave it to me.
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Many prisoners draw pictures in jail. One reason is because since there is nothing else to do, those with artistic qualities draw paintings or write poetry, like haiku and Japanese verse (tanka) or songs. Among the prisoners sentenced to death that do drawing, there are those who, by some misunderstanding, regard painting as compensation for the crimes they committed. I think they are wrong. Drawing will never indemnify past crimes. The reason why we, prisoners, draw paintings is only to transmit our own claims, not with words but with pictures. I feel ashamed by thinking presumptuously that drawing could compensate for crimes.
Even if the drawing of paintings could become the atonement of a crime of somebody who took the life of others, the souls of the murdered ones will not come to life. On the contrary, I can not stop thinking that it is just the opposite, the souls of those killed become desecrated by such activity. No matter what other people think, I do not want to become such a person.
But then, if people ask me, "How can a prisoner sentenced to death compensate for his crimes?" frankly speaking, I can not find words. In case somebody has broken or stolen something, has caused damage, etc. he can compensate for it, but when it comes to us who killed others, there is no way to bring people to life again. This is totally impossible.
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In other words, I think that people who took the lives of others can never find a way to compensate for their crime. In the court sentence it says, "compensate with your own death" but can, in reality, our lives indemnify such crimes? To my mind, those court sentences are just conventional phrases.
Because of our execution the ones killed will not come to life again. I am not saying this out of regret for my own life.
If because I die, those victims murdered by me were to return to life again, I, immediately, offer my life now. Usually, I feel somehow reluctant to accept execution as a penalty. Will that really be a compensation of a crime? Will the victims come to life? Will the surviving families of the victims forget and accept everything, as if nothing ever happened?
Naturally I deeply apologize to the victims and their families. I am ready to offer immediately my life, if by doing that I could exchange it for the lives of the victims. When I hear by radio the news of incidents similar to my own, I remember the crimes I committed and it torments my heart. On the other hand, shutting my eyes to my own faults, I feel miserable and strange at blaming others: "In spite of listening to such news, why is it that people in the world, being humans, commit the same mistakes?"
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I am a Christian now and I pray everyday for the repose of the souls of my victims. Naturally, no matter how much I pray, my crimes will not be deleted and the victims will not come to life anymore. But, praying is about all I can do now. Maybe what I say is not correct, but anyhow my prayers can console the souls of the victims and I get peace of heart thinking that I can also obtain salvation.
On the other hand, I can not stay without prayer. Lately, I came to understand that Christian prayer is not only for others, but also for oneself. I finally came now to understand and think in such a way. I received private religious lessons in jail and before baptism I lived freely and negligently. For instance, thinking that, since I am a condemned prisoner that will soon go to meet my victims in the outer world, I was spending all my time, every day, reading amusing novels and refusing to examine myself.
But, as a result of receiving in jail private lessons on Christianity and meeting there my present wife, I reflected about myself and thought that I could not continue living like that. This motivated me to receive baptism. Till that time I was not exactly an atheist, but, without thinking about God or Buddha, I was an egoistic person that only cared for myself and for a good present life.
The Catholic Sisters, who came to visit me, the chaplain priest who taught me Christianity and my wife awoke me from such a selfish situation. Without them I do not think I could have held my present attitudes. Probably I was, even now, leading a debauched life.
At present, I strongly and deeply reflect upon my life and plan to continue examining myself. I want also to pray, from the bottom of my heart, for the repose of my victims.
Lastly, I want to thank Mr. Katayanagi, a Jesuit seminarian studying Philosophy at Sophia University, for giving a chance to write this to a person like myself. I wish him to become a good priest. I also wish God's blessings to all readers.
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