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This is an excerpt from a true prison break story.

By Ihsan AlpPublished 3 months ago 12 min read

Hello our dear readers. Today, we will share with you the story of Yoshie Shiratori, a Japanese anti-hero who has some superhero features and managed to escape from prison not once, but twice, but four times(!). I hope this story, which touched me deeply, will be as interesting to you as it was to me.

Chapter 1: Apprentice Escape

Born in Aomori, Japan in 1907, Yoshie Shiratori has spent most of his life farming and fishing. Yoshie, who started to gamble and steal heavily at some point in his life, was thrown into Aomori prison after the person he tried to rob died in an argument with someone he tried to rob in 1936.

The prison conditions in Japan in the 1930s were so bad that the Turkish prison described in the movie Midnight Express was like a luxury holiday village next to the Japanese prisons of those years. The Japanese guards did not feel the slightest pity for the inmates, often beating, kicking, swearing and forcing them to work long hours.

Believing that he would be executed for murder and robbery, Yoshie decided to escape from prison to return to his wife and daughter, due to the constant beating and mistreatment of the guards.

Yoshie's freedom lasted only 3 days. He was caught in a hospital he entered to steal supplies and handed over to the police.

Chapter 2: Journeyman Escape

Adding the crime of escaping from prison to murder and robbery crimes, Yoshie was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Akita prison, which is much safer.

Known to have escaped from his previous prison, Yoshie also got into trouble with the guards in the Akita prison. The guards tortured him constantly and made fun of him, saying that it was impossible for him to escape from this prison. Yoshie, who was not even given suitable clothes during the winter season, was mostly forced to sleep on the concrete floor without a blanket.

He was kept in handcuffs all the time, in a cell with a narrow space but a very high ceiling. The walls are sheathed in smooth copper so Yoshie can't climb the wall. At the end of the ceiling, there was a small window with steel bars to allow air and a little sun to enter the cell.

Yoshie spent 6 years in Akita prison. While he was being tortured and insulted by the guards during these 6 years, he established a close relationship with Kobayashi, the head guard, because he treated him well and respectfully and came to his cell from time to time and asked how he was.

On a rainy June evening in 1942, the guards who came to check on Yoshie's cell realized that Yoshie was not in his place and set the alarm. Yoshie, who could not be found despite all the searches, was able to successfully escape from the prison for the second time.

So how did Yoshie escape this time? Yoshie's escape plan actually started 8 months ago. Finding a small piece of metal, Yoshie would take off his handcuffs on nights when the guards sparsely paced, and climb the copper wall like a lizard with his hands and feet to reach the top steel-barred window.

Although the bars of the window are steel, the frame is wooden. Yoshie hung on that frame every night for months and finally managed to unscrew it. All that remained was to wait for a rainy night, because he did not want to hear footsteps on the roof, as he would have to escape from the prison roof.

After Yoshie escaped from Akita prison, he was unable to visit his family because he knew the police would be waiting for him. By doing something very unexpected, 3 months after his escape, he went to the house of head guard Kobayashi.

Yoshie told Kobayashi that he "doesn't actually want to escape from prison and live as a fugitive, the only reason he escaped was because of the inhumane treatment he was subjected to by the other guards, and he asked for his help with a plan he made about it."

According to the plan, Yoshie would surrender to the police along with head guard Kobayashi, and with Kobayashi's support, he would explain to the judicial authorities the conditions that the inmates had to endure, creating awareness on this issue and reforming the prisons. Besides, all he wanted was to be transferred to the Tokyo prison, which is in the warmer climate, and to be treated humanely by the guards.

Kobayashi, who first listened to Yoshie and then fed his stomach, took the opportunity to let Yoshie go to the toilet and called the police, and Yoshie's second freedom adventure of 3 months ended at that point.

Chapter 3: Mastery Escape

Although Yoshie wanted a warm climate, this time he was sent to Abashiri prison, located in the northernmost part of Japan.

No inmate has ever escaped from Abashiri, Japan's most secure prison. A few unlucky inmates trying to escape were shot by the guards. The weather in the Abashiri region is so cold that even in summer the temperature can be below zero degrees.

Since Yoshie's previous escape from two different prisons brought him a certain reputation among the guards, the guards in Abashiri prison continued to torture, beat and insult him. One day, when Yoshie was subjected to beating and torture again, he was enraged and broke the iron handcuffs in his hands with pure wrist strength and challenged the guards by saying, "You will see, I will escape from this prison too".

Seeing that Yoshie could break the iron handcuffs with only his own muscle power, the guards ordered special 20 kg iron handcuffs to be worn on both his hands and ankles. These 20 kg special handcuffs, which do not have a keyhole, could be put on and removed by experienced blacksmiths in exactly two hours.

Yoshie had to do all his vital activities, including eating and sleeping, with these heavy hand and foot cuffs. The measures taken to prevent Yoshie's escape did not end there.

Yoshie was forced to stay in a specially designed cell with his hands and feet cuffed, the windows smaller than his body, and the walls reinforced with iron.

One day, about a year later, one of the guards went to check Yoshie's cell when he heard a voice and saw that Yoshie was not in the cell and only his handcuffs remained. It's the third time Yoshie has escaped from prison... Well, but how did he escape this time? How had he escaped from a small cell with both hands and feet handcuffed, fortified with iron, and all the windows out of his body?

This time Yoshie's escape plan started about 6 months ago. Yoshie does not drink the Miso soup that is offered to him under the door every day as a meal, he pours this soup into his handcuffs and sprays it on the window bars with his mouth. Yoshie knew that because Miso soup was so salty, it would eventually corrode and weaken the iron in both the clamps and the window.

Sticking to this plan for 6 months, Yoshie finally got rid of his hand and foot cuffs. Yoshie, who was able to remove the window, which was weakened by the rust and salt, was able to escape from the window, where normally only his head would fit, by sticking his head through the window and then displacing all his joints on his own respectively.

Abashiri prison guards searched for Yoshie for days but could not find him. Eventually they decided that Yoshie was either frozen in the cold air and in the middle of the mountains or had been eaten by bears, and they stopped looking.

Yet Yoshie was alive. Yoshie, who discovered an abandoned mine, kept warm by making a fire in this mine, and ate every plant and animal he could find on the mountain for food. After spending two full years in the abandoned mine, Yoshie was overcome with curiosity and landed in a nearby city in 1945. From the newspapers he could find in the city, he learned that the Second World War was over, that two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and that Japan was under US occupation. In all this confusion, he thought that the police would not be looking for him anymore, and he set out to return to his wife and daughter.

Yoshie, who was hungry on the way, wanted to buy only one tomato from a field and eat it. The farmer who owned the field attacked Yoshie, and the farmer died in the brawl. Claiming that it was self-defense not to kill the farmer, Yoshie was caught by the people around and handed over to the police again.

Chapter 4: The Last Escape

Yoshie was sent to Sapporo prison in 1947, this time. The court, which did not accept the demand for self-defense in the farmer's murder, sentenced Yoshie to death.

A 6-man armed team was formed to keep Yoshie, who is known to have escaped from prison 3 times before, under constant surveillance.

This time a cell with a window was prepared for Yoshie, similar to the one in the previous prison, but with a much smaller window as it can dislocate his joints. This time, his hands and feet were not handcuffed, as Yoshie was frequently checked through the peephole in the cell door and was no longer likely to escape from this cell.

Yoshie spent his days in a state of despair and exhaustion, perhaps due to his advancing age, or perhaps because he was kept in a cell prepared with lessons learned from each of his escapes. He spent long hours on the bed in his cell, sleeping until late in the morning even though the guards disturbed him. Some guards even got used to Yoshie getting up late in the morning and stopped bothering him early in the morning.

From time to time, one of the 6 armed guards in charge of spying on Yoshie, when he looked into the cell through the peephole in an ordinary morning, he was horrified to see that Yoshie had disappeared again.

How could this happen? Prison guards had learned from all of Yoshie's previous escapes and had prepared a cell just for him. The walls were high, all the windows were too small for Yoshie's head to penetrate, and armed guards watched him at frequent intervals. How had Yoshie escaped this time?

It was later learned that Yoshie's giving up, hopeless appearance and habit of sleeping until late in the morning to get used to the guards were also part of his plan. At night, Yoshie was quietly removing the floors under the mattress, digging a tunnel all night with the soup bowl given to him. At night and in the morning, the guards looked through the peepholes, hiding the pieces of upholstery that he had removed under his quilt so that he would think he was in his bed.

This is Yoshie's most technically simple escape. The prison administration focused too much on Yoshie's previous escapes, and while taking all their precautions against Yoshie's previous escape methods, they actually overlooked the simplest escape route; It is really admirable that Yoshie made this escape by psychologically deflecting the target.

Episode 5: Final Act

It had been a year since his last escape. One fine day, while Yoshie was sitting on the edge of a park outside the city of Sapporo, a police officer sat next to him. Eyeing the police officer sideways, Yoshie wanted to change places when he realized that the man was a high-ranking police officer. The police officer offered Yoshie a cigarette. Yoshie was touched by the police officer who offered his cigarette, which was considered expensive and luxurious in Japan at that time, to a stranger he had never met.

On the one hand, he was beaten, tortured and betrayed by the chief guard, whom he trusted most, by the prison guards for years, on the other hand, this police officer, who never knew him, offered him a very valuable cigarette politely...

Convinced that not all security forces are bad, Yoshie stood up and introduced himself to the police officer after he finished his cigarette. Since Yoshie's name had become a legend among the security forces by that time, the police officer immediately realized who he was and asked why he had betrayed him. Yoshie replied that a police officer offering him cigarettes out of respect without even knowing him made him believe that not all security forces are cruel. Yoshie explained to the police officer that he did not want to live as a fugitive anymore, and that the only reason he had escaped from prison was the abuse he was subjecte

Yoshie, who was arrested by the police officer, was taken to court again. This time, the police officer supported Yoshie's statement in his statement, and the court reduced Yoshie's sentence to 20 years, considering both Yoshie's voluntary surrender to the police and the fact that he hadn't harmed a single guard in all of his escapes, and he wanted Tokyo. He approved his transfer to his prison.

Yoshie spent his remaining sentence (14 years) in Tokyo prison, where the weather was nicer and the guards more humane, and he never once attempted to escape. Released from prison after 14 years, Yoshie returned to the city of Aomori, where our story began, to be reunited with his wife and daughter, but learned that his wife had died many years ago. Fortunately, he found his daughter, whom he had been separated from as a child, as a healthy adult and spent the remaining years in peace with his daughter.

Especially for Yoshie, who left a strong mark on modern Japanese history, a beautiful sculpture was made in the Abashiri prison, which is now converted into a museum, symbolizing his escape.

Thanks to the story of Yoshie, who died of a heart attack in 1979, a reform movement was initiated to improve the condition of Japanese prisons, and special training was given to guards and inmates to behave more humanely.

As we come to the end of another article, I hope you like our article, and I wish you to stay with love until our next article.

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About the Creator

Ihsan Alp

I am a freelancer with very high knowledge of writing, translation and software programs.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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