Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Takashi Hoshizaki Interview
Narrator: Takashi Hoshizaki
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Jim Gatewood
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 28, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-htakashi_2-01-0026

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: So, so you get your sentence, three years. So what happens next? Where did you go?

TH: Then they split the group up and the older people, I guess maybe they split it at age twenty-six or whatever, somewhere around there. The older people then went to Fort Leavenworth and the younger set like myself then went to McNeil Island in the Puget Sound. And we then went by train from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I don't remember too much of the trip, to a place called Steilacoom, which is across the bay, across the Sound from McNeil Island, and I don't remember how long it took. A few of the guys, maybe two, maybe three, went with the marshals in the car because the marshals apparently had to (...) be there to officially transfer us to the federal penitentiary. And Yosh Kuromiya recalls when we got off the boat that there was a Japanese fellow -- I missed that -- guy named Mikami who was really happy to see a bunch of Japanese people coming on the island, and we got to know him pretty well while we were there.

TI: And he was there under different circumstances?

TH: Yeah. He was a much older person, and the story I got was that he had apparently murdered someone, I think it was in Alaska, so then he was serving a life sentence. But he was later, after we got out and the war was over, he was (...) released and he went back to Japan.

TI: When you went to McNeil Island, which is a federal penitentiary, how was that different than the other places you were incarcerated? I mean, going from essentially a county jail, I guess, to a federal penitentiary, what was that like?

TH: Well, the county jails, the facilities were, the total facility is much smaller. Casper, Wyoming, had apparently just finished their county jail, so it was a nice, clean jail. Cheyenne, Wyoming, was much older and it was, I felt it was probably never really cleaned, and so when all of us were (...) stuck there before the trial, volunteered to clean it up and (...) so we (asked) the guards to give us a bunch of rags and scrubbing (brushes) and then we scrubbed the whole place clean. So for the rest of the time we had a halfway decent place to sleep. In fact, some of us were sleeping on the floor because we were just jammed in there. But then contrasting that to the federal penitentiary. The federal penitentiary was really kept in, I'd say, controlled and also healthy conditions, but, again, these large buildings (were) your old standard, what you see in the movies, the bars and cells and so on, and we stayed there a week, two weeks. I don't remember. As we were being processed through and being checked health-wise, and I guess they also decided... we were able to (give) some more background as to who we were and what we could do, and then we were, since we weren't hardened criminals, we were then sent out to the minimum security area, which was the farm. There we lived in dormitories. No barbed wire. Doors were open and slept in a large (...) dorm, and when we first arrived it was double-decker beds that we shared. Two stories (in the building). And so the conditions were much, much better than the county jails and much better than the, what we called the (big) house, the main penitentiary.

TI: It's interesting, so I live in Seattle and so most of the people in Seattle went to Minidoka, and so I've interviewed some of the draft resisters from Minidoka and I think they had to stay in the, in the big house. They had to stay in the...

TH: Yeah, we... I didn't know too much about that, and then later on I thought about hey, those people were sentenced and where were they? And then someone says they were kept in the big house. Now I don't know whether... see, by the time we left, and I can't really think of why, but the minimum security facility became overcrowded and so they had to build two extra barracks on the (slope) next to the main facility, and so it may have been, and I'm just guessing now, that there were just too many people. And I guess also maybe the authorities were a little afraid and just kept us separated. But when I think about it, says, yeah, where were those people?

TI: So any particular memories about your time at McNeil that you want to talk about?

TH: Well, it was, to me, kind of interesting because it was wartime so we had conscientious objectors. The Quakers are in there, also the Jehovah Witnesses. We also had guys who were hijacking trucks of liquor and whatever else (...) and bank robbers in there, but these are minimum (and less dangerous criminals). We were mostly, I guess mostly what you would call political prisoners at that time, so the (farm population was different from the main prison), and they, especially the conscientious objectors were college-educated. (...) They would have seminars and I would go there and sit down, and so it became almost like being at a university with all these people there, and got to know a little bit more about literature and then more about political aspects going on at the time. So to me it became an educational period, and I started taking a correspondence course in math when I was in the main prison. And the fellow, (the teacher) was a Filipino who apparently had, was sentenced to life for spying for the Japanese, and so he ended up in McNeil. And as I was going through (the prison) literature I find they had a correspondence course in mathematics, so I says (oh great), so I signed up. But when we went out (...) into the farm, I was able to continue the course as a more or less (...) correspondence course, so I learned (...) my math and I was able to get about two years more math training. And then I ran into a guy that I heard was, apparently played the piano, black fellow, and I was interested in playing the piano so then I took lessons from him and when he left, (one of the) Jehovah Witnesses (...) came in and (...) saw me trying to play the piano, so he became my teacher. By the time I got out, I could play a few tunes.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.