Chet and the Prisoners - 5
Since I last wrote, the Japanese have got themselves more organised. They now have a barber shop too, and I was interested to see my friend Toyo was one of the barbers along with another guy called Mr Tsuno. Maybe I will go to Toyo to get my hair cut. He only charges 5 cents, rather than the two bits that my usual guy by the bus station charges. I popped into his shop when I saw him in there, and said Hi. He told me that the expenses of going into business cost him a mere twenty cents – for a comb and scissors. I sure hope he washes them between customers.
Perhaps I should mention some of the details about my main job. The penitentiary was set up here back in 1886, and in those days there were only 300 inmates but we've got double that now. The last person to be killed by capitol
punishment was in 1905, and for the most part we don't have many very serious criminals here. If I were asked to list the usual crimes, here it is. Major offenses include all person offenses, like murder and manslaughter, the most aggravated offenses against chastity, perjury, counterfeiting, arson, burglary, forgery, embezzlement, and larceny all of which are punished by imprisonment of more than one year. Minor offenses, or those leading to short sentences include minor burglary and possession of stolen goods but are dominated by public order offenses like drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
Our warden is called A J Laudenbeck, and he's been in the job since July of 37. He was born in Illinois, and then lived in Iowa for awhile. Then his family took up a homestead in North Dakota. He got involved in all sorts of local politics before he came here. He was a deputy sheriff and then made it to full sheriff, then a deputy marshall before he was appointed here.
We've got 600 cells with usually two to a cell. The new crime to hit the state is called “rubber tire rustlers” when guys take their cars out and drive cattle off their normal grazing land. They usually get
a couple years when they are caught.
Anyway, I got to Ft Lincoln about 12 last Sunday, and arranged to meet with Maybelle's friend's friend Harry from Carrington. I introduced myself and told him about how I had heard of him.
Here's a bit how the conversation went.
“So Harry, how're you doing?”
“This is so awful, Chet. I feel so betrayed. Can you do anything to get me out?”
“I suppose I can see if I can get your story in the Bismarck Tribune. That might help. So tell me a bit about yourself, so I can put some detail into the story.”
“I came from Tokoyo in Japan to the United States as a cabin boy on a steamer about the turn of the
century. First I went to Seattle, when I was 16 and worked at a place called The Millionnaires club. In 1921 I moved to Carrington and worked in a bakery. Within a few years I opened my own café . I
hired a waitress who was an local girl, Anna Firlus. We fell in love and two years later we were married.”
“Have you got any kids?”
“Yes, we've got six.”
“So how did you go about making this special Rainbow Gardens place of yours?”
“I bought five acres of barren prairie land on the edge of town. I had this dream that one day I would create an exotic theme park that was reminiscent of what I remembered about Japan. Since I was making good money with the restaurant, I could afford to start implementing that dream. We
started with landscaping and planting trees and created a garden with an arrangement of rocks, flowers, and tiny fir trees.”
“So you were sorting of setting the scene.”
“I got water flowing over the rocks through an artificial waterfall that emptied into a lily pool containing dozens of goldfish. Between the rocks and vegetation were statuettes of trolls and gnomes. Then I built a 10-story birdhouse that provided homes for 108 families of birds.”
“Boy, that sounds like a pretty place. How did you make an artificial water fall?”
“An electric motor provids the power to send a stream of water gushing over a 10 foot stone waterfall that was built into the side of a little hill. The water then flows over the rocks into a rock-bordered creek which winds its way through and finally empties into the lily pool, which was about 150 feet in size.”
“Gosh that must have taken a lot of time and money.”
“You should just see it Chet. Little trolls standing two feet in height are scattered throughout the rock garden. There are queer gnomes with long beards dressed in bright red or green, with smiling elfin faces. Three of them have fishing poles and iat fishing or smoking at the big pool. Another gnome sits smoking by the waterfall. Others are scattered through the garden. A big yellow frog has a stream of water spraying out of his mouth into the big lily pool.”
“Where did you get all that stuff from?”
“I had it shipped from the Minnesota Lakes region. And behind the hill is a big Dutch windmill. Off to one side is the pavilion with an open veranda with lounging chairs.” Harry started chuckling.
“I just remember that when the lily pond was first built, a flock of thirty pelicans tried to land while the crew of workman stood by and watched them. That was really something.”
“So you got lots of people coming to see your place then?”
“ We built a motel and after many months of hard work, the Rainbow Gardens started attracting people mostly because of the what we had on at the pavilion. It was used for meetings, banquets, wedding receptions, ballroom dancing, roller skating parties and big-band entertainment. We managed to book the most famous bands in their pavilion, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Jimmy Dorsey.”
“I expect you have stuff just for kids too.”
“A wading pool 16 by 30 feet is provided for the children as well as playground equipment, such as swings, teeters, and a steel acrobatic rack, and a toy merry go round. For a dime any youngster could find plenty to keep him busy for a long time.”
“That really sounds great, Harry. I would love to go and see it.”
“Get me out of here, Chet, and you will be my guest there for month.”
“Tell me Harry, are there many other Japanese people in North Dakota? I sure never have seen any of you before.”
“One hundred Japanese Americans that I know of live in North Dakota, many of them business people. Yasuko Kato’s beauty shop in Grand Forks was closed three days after Pearl Harbor but was reopened in two weeks. She, like a few others decided to leave but had to receive permission to leave the state. But as far as I know, I'm the only one who is locked up. And I don't know why.”
“So how did it happen?”
“ I discovered that the government, without warning, had frozen my assets. I couldn't pay any bills or buy any new provisions. I couldn't book any new acts. Within days my business was closed, and I landed up here. The efforts of my friends in Carrington to get me released has done no good.”
“Have you got a picture of your place that I could give to the paper?”
“Sure, here is what it looks like,” he said, showing me a very palatial building surrounded by beautiful gardens.(pictured above)
“Well, I can't promise anything, Harry, but I'll do my best. And if you need anything, I'm at the hospital from 1-4 each Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, so you can drop me a note there and I'll met up with you. Anyway, good luck to you and I sure hope you get out of here soon. Have you made any friends at all?
“Well, I think you might like Toyo. He's in barracks J17. Tell him you know me. He speaks good English too, so he'll be glad to have you to practice with.”