One Saturday morning I awoke to a knock at my door. I answered, thinking it would be the landlord, only to come face to face with a PSB (Public Security Bureau) officer checking identifications for registration.
The early-20s foreigner was in trouble for overstaying his Tourist Visa after failing to procure a job after arriving in Shanghai. Following a failed bid in the real estate industry, he sought out work while simultaneously playing a cat and mouse chase with the strangely motivated PSB as they pursued him from Huaqioazhen to Baoshan.
Eventually, he was caught, processed, and sent to the clinker to begin his grueling eight day stint.
The inmates were all Chinese, and I was the only foreigner there. I noticed that most of the prisoners had tattoos or horrible scars from their lives outside jail. Some looked like beggars and others like gang members. The most any of them could say in English was “Hello.” Better a Hello, I thought, than the “Your sh*t on my d*ck or blood on my knife” greeting I would have received in an American prison.
Despite the ominous beginnings, the Ameri-con seemed to face little trouble in the slammer, defying our initial expectations that some race violence or intimidation would occur due to his skin color and the shaky state of Sino-US relations. Perhaps some protection was in place to prevent said scenario from evolving, as it does seem he received some aspects of favoritism while in the hole.
Prison meals always consisted of rice and vegetable soup with the exception of breakfast, which was some kind of orange-colored root. No meat! But since I was a foreign guest, I was allowed to also request a Chinese steamed bun.
Once, they put on a pirated DVD of “Apocalypto” just for me, but I was subsequently charged 5 RMB for that viewing pleasure.
Though without prison drama, the account still provides interesting insight and serves as a counterpoint to some of the other, more brutal stories other foreigners have reported in Chinese jails. Past accounts have accused Chinese jails of sleep deprivation and other non-lethal “persuasion methods,” but those circumstances involved more egregious offenses than a simple expired visa.
While we’re on the subject of Chinese jail experiences, one account we would really like to read about would be the young American English teacher that was locked away in Zhuhai for 3 years for extorting 100,000RMB out of his Chinese ex-girlfriend back in 2009.
According to Xinhua, in 2008 there were more than 3,000 foreigners residing in Chinese prisons.
Read the full detailed account of an American in a Shanghai jail over at iLookChina.