Prisons always tell stories, whether their governments like it or not. Dr. King and
Nelson Mandela had a lot to say that move millions of people to grasp the reality of
their struggle. Even guilty stories of bad treatment can close a jail like Alcatraz and the
infamous prison in Morocco that had used torture daily. Prisons tell good and bad stories.
Usually in prisons, there is a difference made for those that used violence and those who
have not, but are still deemed corrupt. Those who disrespect life demand carefulness in
prison because after their trial; they got nothing to lose. Those prisoners who are still in
the process of challenging their non violent convictions have a lot to lose or win.
The former president of Taiwan, Mr. Chen, fits this latter category. Convicted of
nonviolent crime, he has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for taking/using money
in illegal ways. Chen and his many supporters believe that his conviction was political
because, after four years of trials, he has been cleared four of six cases. Of the two
convicted cases, two prominent judges wrote articles to point out flawed procedures;
government influence and biased judicial discretion (see links below).
After 50 years of Japanese colonization of Taiwan, it was followed by a long history of
Taiwan being stuck with the losing soldiers of China under the corrupt dictatorship of
Chiang Kai-shek and his son. Today, 80% of the Taiwan look upon themselves a people
determined to keep free of another big power dominating them. 20% of the nation feels
they want to nonviolently unite with Beijing and create a seamless unity ala Hawaii to the
USA. This split is real and highly contested. Chen who was president for 8 years favored
moving away from Chinese power. The new president wants to get closer to China.
When President Chen was convicted for taking bribes, he was dumped into a 5 by 12 cell
with another prisoner and a smallish toilet. For four years, his health was neglected, and
his needs were ignored. A tumor was discovered in early March and a second one was
discovered in late April in his prostate, and yet, two months later, he still has not received
a biopsy or treatment. He has been denied access to his basic human rights by his former
countrymen. Chen has been turned into a scapegoat for those who believe Taiwan should
resist the yoke of China's power.
For 4 years, he was treated like a moaner and a groaner, rather than a prisoner with
legitimate complaints. This is where Chen's story gets to be a tale. The anger of the
government now lead by President Ma against Chen seeps into the prison. Chen's non
violence conviction is treated like he was a violent criminal. His health was not dealt with
properly and this is where the story morphs into an epic. The politics of Taiwan become
the cruel jailer. Those interested in getting closer to China listen to those voices and those
voices from China. Chen's tenure in prison then is seen by 80% of the nation as a symbol
of animosity, not just to Chen but to the large majority of the nation.
Thus, the 80% with a flawed and convicted leader tries to tell Chen's story to the world.
No one is listening because growing might of the communist/capitalist nation near by
with debatable roots in Taiwan. One person, Mr. Chen, thus becomes a soccer ball in
this historical and important debate. It would not be urgent if his health were good. It
is not. The neglect of his health as well as the conditions he has been kept in reflect a
determined government, hell bent on destruction of the symbol of keeping away from
In the USA, few have helped. A couple of Republicans like Lungren and Joyce but not
the Human Rights Commission of Tom Lantos chaired by Wolf and Mc Govern. Chen
was an ally of the USA as a president of Taiwan but no former or present US President
has helped him or spoken out. The power of China crosses even oceans now. Silence
helps destroy a legitimate symbol of the majority of Taiwan citizens. Thus, a simple
prison story becomes a tale not on the prisoner but on his jailers, at home and abroad.