(Minghui.org) After being arrested in 1999 for my belief in Falun Dafa, I was detained at the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center. The inmates, including me, were forced to perform manual labor with no compensation.
As a correctional facility, the detention center was not inspected by the Health Bureau, and did not meet the sanitary requirements for manufacturing or packaging food items. However, to utilize the free, though often unskilled, labor of the detainees and make a profit, the detention center was turned into a factory.
One of the first tasks I was given at the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center was to shell watermelon seeds. Each inmate was given a pair of seed crackers to help shell the seeds. However, if we didn't finish our quota by the end of the day, the crackers were taken away and we were made to finish the rest without tools. Some inmates cracked the seeds open with their teeth, then spit them out of their mouths.
Pastries made with watermelon seeds always bring back those memories and I no longer buy them. I don't think anyone would want to buy them if they knew what I witnessed at the detention center.
We processed food items that were exported to Japan. The inmates were to bend winter radishes, which were pre-cut into two-inch long pieces, into a “U” shape before packaging. Because the radish pieces were dry by the time we got them, they were very hard to bend. The inmates grabbed them with their hands and held the two ends together with their thumbs. Many developed calluses from doing this.
Having direct contact with the food was unsanitary, but that's how it was done. The workshop was filthy, too. Everyone shared one portable toilet by the workshop, and there was no arrangement to wash our hands thoroughly after using the toilet. The detention center authorities didn't care, as long as we met the work deadline.
That item was eventually taken off of the production line because many of the radishes were wasted. But this didn't make a dent in the detention center's profits, as they quickly moved on to another product.
I remember that a rush order came in for moon cake boxes one year, before the Moon Festival. The boxes were flat, but printed and already die cut, and the inmates were to fold them into boxes. We had to work very fast to meet the quota, so many inmates used both their hands and feet. They sat on small stools and used their feet to hold the boxes down while folding the sides with their hands.
This was during the hottest months of summer, and everyone was in their boxers and nothing else. Sweat rolled off their bodies and into the boxes. Not everyone was in the habit of washing their hands after using the toilet and resuming work. We finished the boxes in about a month, before the holiday, and I am sure we made a fortune for the detention center.
The living conditions in the detention center were filthy, with many diseases circulating. One inmate's elderly parents got sick every time they visited him. Physical violence was commonplace. The inmates and guards didn't even flinch when inflicting pain on one another. Inmates were physically and verbally abused, and used for free labor all the same. How could anything good come out of such an environment?