16 October 2000

Middle Camp Fuji Brig

Al Loreth 
Master Sergeant, United States Marine Corps, (Retired)

In 1956, I was assigned as a prison guard/chaser at the infamous Middle Camp Fuji Brig.  It was a no sitting, no talking brig, where a 30-day sentence was the maximum.

This brig was so tough, that Marines standing before a summary court martial, who had the possibility for being sentenced to two weeks restriction to the base, would ask/beg for a sentence in excess of thirty days just on the off chance that they might be sent to the Middle Camp Fuji Brig.  Any sentence of over 30 days would be served at the Hardy Barracks Stockade, AKA: Rest Home, located in Tokyo.

Within the Butler Building brig was a cage that contained about 16 double-bunks.  There were two cells for solitary confinement along one bulkhead outside the cage.  These two cells had gold painted footprints on the deck.  Any prisoners sentenced to these cells were required to stand on two gold painted footprints.  There were no lights in the cells.  The deck near those two cells was carpeted so that a prisoner was unable to hear a guard approach.  There was a rectangular cut about six inches by three inches at eyeball height in the cell door.  If a prisoner was found to be off the golden footprints, he was brought before his commander for additional punishment.  Usually restricted rations for three days.  This consisted of a small box of rice cereal without sugar, served three times a day with all the water one could drink.  Today, I believe that the same sentence would keep the prisoner from eating cake and ice-cream.

All meals were consumed in the mess hall while standing at parade rest.  Everything served had to be eaten with the exception of bones and paper products.  

After the morning meal, prisoners broke rock with sledgehammers until the noon meal.  Following lunch, they were back out to the rock pile until the evening meal.  

If the event of inclement weather, the prisoners performed lockstep, close order drill in the caged exterior of the Butler Building.

After showers, all prisoners stood at parade rest in front of their bunks reading the Guide Book For Marines until lights out at 2100 hours.

On Sundays, the prisoners had the opportunity to attend chapel.  Not surprisingly, 100% did.

When a prisoner finished his sentence, we never saw him again. There was no recidivism in the Middle Camp Fuji Brig.  Every released prisoner was practically Squad Leader material.  They found discipline, physical fitness, and knew the Guide Book for Marines from cover to cover. 

The above was a far cry from the "Correctional Institutes" later adopted where prisoners were able to take out their frustrations by throwing feces and urine at prison guards. 

One of the former prisoners wrote a Broadway play called, “The Brig.”  The Los Angeles Times reviewed the play.  Part of what they had to say was, "The Brig is a modern inferno.  The men who enter it abandon all hope of mercy, striving only to find within themselves the strength to preserve their sanity against what seems impossible odds.  Here, hell is a Marine Corps prison . . . etc." A little overstated, but the fact remains that the entire regiment never had more than a dozen or so prisoners at any one time; far less than any other infantry regiment of the times.

The Vietnamese have a good term for all of this:  "Binh nang, thuoc mang,"  Big illness, strong medicine.