Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gene Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Gene Akutsu
Interviewers: Larry Hashima (primary), Stephen Fugita (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 25, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-agene-01-0032

<Begin Segment 32>

LH: So, you didn't, you didn't have too much contact with the people from Heart Mountain, the Heart Mountain boys, but I've heard stories about sort of passing things through the gates or negotiating with the people in the maximum-security prison and the farm. Did you hear of anything like that or sort of...

GA: Passing things between the maximum security...

LH: Sort of like trading goods or something like that...

GA: Unless you were a real, real criminal that knew how... that was real strict, but what we did out on the farm was a different story. We'd go out and like I wound up working a turkey farm and they'd send me out to herd the turkeys off the road and get 'em back on the field where they belong and they also had the hog farm, the chicken farm, all that. My brother wound up working at a chicken farm, I think it was, and over there they have a lot of surplus stuff, Army Navy surplus, canned, canned rationing, canned beef, all that, powdered ice cream, they all feed it to the hogs and they kinda tested it out to see if it's edible and they found out, hey, this is pretty good. So they started to pass that out.

And also in the, like, in the middle of the night, all the bed count, everybody go to bed and the guards come around counting our heads on each bed to make sure we're all there. After he's gone, we're in a big dormitory, I see somebody come along and nudge me and he says, "Take this," so I reach out and take it. Gee, it look or feel like a big pop bottle. I pick it up, a great big drumstick, turkey drumstick. He said, "Eat it," and he leaves it and takes off. Well, I eat my share of it and I pass it on to another guy and so on so forth until we get it eaten up. The guards know because they probably go to the wastebasket and find a big bone in there and they found out that a lot of times they found out that we were just young kids and we weren't bad.

Another case is one fella says, "Kind of cooking, this is not good for us. We gotta have rice on the table. We gotta have tsukemono on the table." So he says, "I'm gonna volunteer to work in the mess hall." Sure enough, they made tsukemono where all the white people were sitting on by themselves, we'd be sitting in our group and what happens? We see a dish of green cucumber come over and sit on our table. "Hey, this is good." [Laughs] So we had tsukemono to eat where the other people, they didn't know what was going on, the white people. I imagine they did know, but then nobody, nobody turned any complaint about what we had done. And through all this experience they had found out that we were just young kids that's very innocent, that we had meant no harm.

SF: You were with these, at least with some hardened criminals. Did any of the Niseis ever, the Heart Mountain guys, Minidoka people, ever fall under a bad influence supposedly or become... some guy said, "Okay, when we get out, I'll take care of you," or something like that. Did anyone ever do anything like that?

GA: Not to my knowledge. No, I don't think so. Our upbringing is quite different and we all knew right from wrong so we wouldn't be influenced by anybody. If they did, pity them.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.