AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 17

James is brought to another solitary confinement cell. Unlike all the cells he has been to, this one is on a raised platform; iron hooks have been driven into its ceiling, and its floor is laden with rough sand, gravel, and broken glass. James’ wrists are handcuffed in front of him. He can see the words “Made in USA” engraved on the cuffs. After his lunch, the guards shackle him in another position. His arms are locked behind him, and he is ordered to sit down on the floor. James has arrived at the sixth cycle of Hell. If the nice room he stayed in a few days ago is considered one cycle of Hell, and all the confinement cells he has been through is another cycle, James is now at the eighth cycle of Hell. As James squats on the floor, little broken pieces of glass pierce on his seat. If he sits with his feet on the floor, sharp gravel and glass cut his feet. With his arms shackled behind him, it’s very difficult for James to lie down. Even if he can, it is more painful when he changes position or tries to get up. At last, James decides the best position for him is to squat on the floor, with his back against the wall. James knows very well that his seat has begun to bleed. At every meal, the guards unlock his shackles. When James finishes eating and relieving himself, they put the shackles on him again. There is an old metal box at a corner for him to contain his waste. This box was used during the war to contain machine gun bullets. Next to this box is a bundle of rags which he uses as toilet paper.

On the second day, both of James’ legs are shackled. On the third day, they lock his legs and arms together. On the fourth day, James’ right hand is locked with a chain that is pulled back behind him and shackled to his left foot. The next day, they shackle his left hand and pull that chain behind him to lock with his right foot. On the sixth day, James has to lie face down for his arms to be shackled with his legs behind him. On the seventh day, James lies on his back, with both his arms and legs locked together.

James has been thrown into the eighth cycle of Hell because of his honesty. Blood oozes from little cuts on his chest, back, seat, arms and legs. But James can still sleep thanks to his ability to overcome pain. As he can sleep, James is able to remain alert. On the eighth day, Chi Mai orders the guards to bring him to her office.

– “James, you are an honest person, but a little stupid, too.”

– “Honest people are often considered stupid.”

– “You hate crimes; yet you suffer on behalf of those criminals.”

– “What criminals are you talking about?”

– “Those at the White House and the Pentagon.”

– “I haven’t quite realized their crimes.”

– “Lt. Col. Kirk Powell has seen them; thousands of American POW’s have witnessed them; millions of GI’s have seen them; the whole world knows them clearly.”

– “If the evidence is already that clear, what is the use of my statement?”

– “The statement is your ticket to go home. I’ve told you many times that your are the one who sets the date for your return. Are you going to turn down my offer again?”

– “I’m sorry, Ms. Chi Mai.”

– “Don’t you love your family?”

– “Yes, I do. Very much.”

– “Do you want to be a martyr?”

– “No. But if I have to die here, it is also God’s will. I’ve tried to live like an honest man, and I will die an honest man.”

James is taken back to his cell. They handcuff his right arm behind him and hang it to the hook on the ceiling. This type of hanging is quite painful. With just one arm shackled behind, James’ wrist has to support the weight of his body, moving back and forth like the pendulum of a clock. Is it true that the American people have become so selfish that James Fisher has to suffer on their behalf? Does this truthful soldier endure these sufferings to glorify America? It would be quite impossible for the American people to find a more heroic symbol of the Vietnam war than James Fisher. There may be a thousand types of heroes in the battlefields, but there is only one kind of hero in prison. James is that kind of hero. He doesn’t get upset. He doesn’t oppose his captors. He just calmly endures his suffering in a valiant and noble manner. James doesn’t even feel bitter with those who have brutally tortured and humiliated him. Having just one person like James Fisher as her citizen, America can be proud. James doesn’t cry out or moan, although he has been hung in this position all night. He remembers the day he was in the conex, having been thirsty for so long, he was almost at the point of losing control of himself. James still feels a little ashamed of the incident. It seems to James that the more suffering he endures, the more insightful he becomes. James loves life. More than ever, he wants to survive. But should he have to die, James believes it is because God allows it to happen, for God doesn’t want him to go all the way down that narrow path to look for the mystery of life.

During the day, the guards change the position in which they hang James. His left wrist is shackled behind him before it is attached to the hook from the ceiling. James looks at his right wrist which has already become lacerated and badly bruised.

Day and night, they alternate hanging James from his left and right side. He is given something to eat every time they change his hanging position. James wets his pants every day while oscillating back and forth from the ceiling. After a week in the hanging position, James is taken back to his room, where he takes a bath, changes his clothes, and sleeps for a day. Both of his wrists are swollen blue and hurting when the guards come in to take him to Chi Mai’s office.

– “How do you feel, my truthful American?”

– “I’ve been thinking.”

– “Oh, you have?”

– “Yes, I have.”

– “Tell me what you think.”

– “When a person has to endure pain, he can endure it in an amazing way. I must say I admire myself for my endurance.”

– “Is that all?”

– “Yes, that’s all.”

– “You will soon stop admiring yourself.”

– “I don’t believe so.”

– “I’m sure you will.”

– “You have decided to remain stubborn, haven’t you?”

– “I’m sorry, Ms. Chi Mai.”

– “I’m sorry too.”

James is taken back to the eighth cycle of Hell, where his two thumbs are tied with electric wires. The guards have him stand on tiptoes, facing the wall. They tie the electric wires to the two hooks on the ceiling. James is standing with his arms raised high. His captors must have calculated well when they invented this punishment. If James attempts to stand on his heels to relieve the pain on his toes, his thumbs will hurt badly. James cannot use his thumbs to pull his whole body up to release the pressure on his toes. Blood seems to accumulate at his toes. James is afraid he cannot endure this new game. Leaning his face against the wall, he murmurs his prayers and lets his mind fly out of the cell, back to his hometown by the Rio Grande.

James’ thumbs are tied all day and all night. The guards don’t untie them, even for one minute. So they use a spoon to feed James, and put the cup of water to his mouth at mealtime, twice a day. James becomes a baby, and the guards, his nannies. He passes urine right on the spot, still in that half-hanging position. So James has eaten, drunk water, and digested his food in a torturous position which represents very well the ideology of those who have created it. The fact that James has urinated and defecated in his pants will surely not be mentioned in the report of any convention. But it will, and must be, listed in the honor roll of suffering, that a man has endured suffering with patience and dignity and overcome it with valor. According to the manual of police, this kind of torture shouldn’t last for more than seven days, because usually before the end of that period, the prisoner will run out of patience and endurance. He will cry out, and be willing to do whatever his captors ask him to do. He will be ready to carry out what he has previously refused to do. He will lose his dignity and common sense. He will no longer be a normal human being. His brain has been ripped off whatever is considered human. And that is often known as brainwashing. His captors will ask him to write, sign his name, and read into a tape recorder. He will gladly write his name and record his voice. There is nothing he fears more than the tingling pains spreading throughout his body, starting from the nerves at the tips of his blood-filled toes. Every cell in his body urges him to surrender. He will be nothing after he has finished writing, signing his name, and recording his statement. The brave people outside of prison will judge and despise him. There will be an abyss between him and the outer world. He will be a lonely individual; for society will ostracize him. On the narrow path he was walking, he has experienced unbelievably base tricks of ideology, which the people who travel on wide roads consider imaginary. Those people have not been in solitary confinement in ice-cold stone cells. Neither have they been put in a conex, or in a dungeon with sewage water. They don’t know what real thirst and hunger is. They have never been shackled and hung from the ceiling in different styles. None of them had to eat rice with muddy fingers. Not one of them had to sleep while standing, kneeling, or squatting. But they are ready to condemn anyone who cannot bear the sufferings of prison life, and don’t hesitate to honor anyone who dies in prison, no matter what the cause of death is. The people in the outer world sometimes treat released prisoners more cruelly than those who imprisoned them. The people who carry out communist ideology know this very well. They don’t need to liquidate those who have been brainwashed by them. These brainwashed prisoners are considered dead and useless although they may still live somewhere in the outer world.

James’ captors have not been successful with him. It has been seven days since they started this new punishment. They have been waiting for James to cry out, begging to surrender. The eighth cycle of Hell is still silent. James is still standing on his tiptoes, facing the wall. The tingling pain has ceased to bother him. His pants are wet with urine and feces. Sometimes he is alert; at other times he is in a trance. During those times, James feels himself as light as a feather. Maybe he isn’t in a trance. His spirit is traveling around. James has the feeling there’s another Hell cycle waiting for him: the ninth cycle. Will that be the end of the narrow path he has chosen, the life he can find only through death? James wishes he could move to that cycle soon. And as his body becomes as light as a feather, James doesn’t feel any pain from his thumbs and toes.

On the twelfth day, they untie him from the ceiling hook and take him back to his room. James has made his captors change the law of the game they had him participate in. They let him take a bath, change his clothes, and sleep. James is waiting for the ninth cycle.

—>18

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