Photo/IllutrationHana, shown in the foreground, attends a monthly "No Drugs" gathering in which former drug users share updates as well as problems with each other. It was held at the Metropolitan Police Department’s Ikebukuro Police Station in Tokyo in late June. (Chiyaya Inagaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

What a train wreck of a life.

She was physically abused by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. She was forced into prostitution by her mother when she was a little older than 10 and became a drug addict after a "john" enticed her to try stimulants.

The 25-year-old woman, who goes by the pseudonym of Hana, is now taking steps toward living "decently" after her encounter with a police detective named Yoshiharu Hachiya, 62.

In January 2016, Hana found herself in an interrogation room at the Metropolitan Police Department’s Ikebukuro Police Station in Tokyo with Hachiya, 62, who handled narcotics cases.

When he requested a urine sample, Hana flew into a rage, asking, “Who do you think you are? Show me a warrant.”

Hana was subsequently arrested on suspicion of drug use, along with a man she was sharing a hotel room with when he passed out and she called emergency services for an ambulance. They were both accused of violating the Stimulants Control Law.

The man’s urine tested positive for stimulant use when he was in hospital.

Through much of the initial questioning, Hana remained silent with an icy expression on her face.

Hachiya tried to break the ice by broaching the topic of “rakugo,” a form of Japanese sit-down comedy.

“Are you familiar with rakugo?” He asked. “No,” was the curt reply.

Hachiya performed one of his favorite rakugo tales in front of her. When he revealed the plot, Hana inadvertently laughed.

A subordinate was in charge of the investigation, but Hachiya dropped in from time to time in a nonchalant manner and started performing other rakugo skits.

Hachiya knows all-too-well how drug use can ruin a person's life, as he runs an unofficial monthly workshop called "No Drugs" with other police officers to get users to kick the habit.

Over time, Hana came to feel that he could see straight through her. She gradually began opening up about her life.

When she was very young, Hana lived with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Her grandmother was a chronic shoplifter and her mother was a prostitute.

Hana's childhood was anything but idyllic. Her mother struck her repeatedly.

“I wish you had never been born,” her mother screamed one day.

But her great-grandmother always tried to protect her by throwing herself over the child as a shield against the physical abuse.

Hana attended elementary school, but only for three years.

Before long, she was using cannabis at the prodding of an older neighborhood acquaintance. Hana gradually found herself becoming irritated when cannabis was not available. By then, she had become a habitual user.

BECAME A CHILD PROSTITUTE

After her grandmother and great-grandmother died, Hana's mother forced her into prostitution. She was only 11 or 12 at the time.

When she was 14, a man who had paid to have sex with her in a hotel room brought out what appeared to be ice grains. The man, a member of a yakuza gang, said, “These will make you beautiful and make the sex all the more exciting.”

After he injected her with a substance, her breathing became disordered for a moment or two. Then she experienced goose bumps all over her body and her limbs became cold.

The effects of the stimulant were taking hold, and Hana begged him to give her another injection “just one more time only.”

Before long, she found it impossible to go a day without an injection of the stimulant. Some days, she used it twice.

Back in the interrogation room, Hachiya scolded Hana when she refused to cooperate. But he never forgot to commend her when he found something praiseworthy, such as her neat handwriting.

Hana gradually opened up to him, as she had never met anyone like Hachiya before.

But she still refused to reveal how she obtained the drug or name her dealers and other users, as she feared losing contact with them. She lied when she was asked about them.

Hachiya patiently listened to her answers and scrambled to verify whether her accounts could be corroborated.

“Detectives conduct an investigation on the assumption that what you say is completely true,” he told her.

Their exchanges convinced Hana that she can never outsmart him.

The Tokyo District Court found Hana guilty and sentenced her to an 18-month prison term suspended for three years.

Hachiya was in the courtroom when the ruling was delivered in March 2016. She wished Hachiya could have been her own father.

After the ruling, she returned to the apartment where she lived with her mother as she did not want to part with her pet cat.

Her mother stayed with her boyfriend in his home most of the time, but occasionally came back to the apartment with him, only for them to take turns hitting her.

Hana eventually found work at a welfare facility. Although it paid only 75,000 yen ($696) a month, her supervisor told her, “You should be grateful to us for hiring somebody like you.”

In frustration, she began returning to haunts where drug addicts gathered. She felt good when she ingested large doses of a mood-altering drug that was prescribed to her by a hospital.

SHARED DIARY WITH POLICE OFFICERS

Still, Hachiya did not give up on her.

“The job of a detective is not just to arrest a suspect, but also to assist them in becoming self-reliant,” he told her one day.

They ate boxed lunches together in a room of the Ikebukuro Police Station and chatted about a range of topics, including the perils of drug use. They also engaged in small talk.

Eventually, Hachiya, other police officers and Hana began sharing a diary to work through her problems. In one entry, she wrote that she still had a strong urge to take drugs. In another, she said she ended up working around the clock at the welfare facility one day due to a manpower shortage.

The diary allowed Hana to unload her feelings candidly as she jotted down her daily experiences.

In response, the detectives always heaped words of praise and encouragement on her, such as, “To your credit, you managed to show great patience” and “You should hang in there as we are always cheering for you.”

One day in 2016, Hachiya took her to his No Drugs workshop, where former drug addicts and their relatives share their problems and talk about the progress they are making. Initially, Hana was reluctant to go as she is shy about meeting new people.

But after attending the monthly sessions, she came to find her appetite for drugs was lessening.

She was hugely touched when one of the female participants presented her with her clothes and a necklace.

The woman also helped Hana apply makeup to cover bruises on her face inflicted by her mother's boyfriend.

The other participants showed they deeply cared about Hana's health and livelihood.

The exchanges at the session proved to be a life-altering experience.

For the first time in Hana's life, no one was demanding money or sexual favors from her. Her new friends were unlike other adults she had met.

“I want to live decently as so many people are rooting for me,” she recalled thinking.

Her dream is to work as caregiver. She feels that would be one way to repay her great-grandmother who left her with happy memories, including having a soft drink together at a coffee shop and talking animatedly about pop idols.

Hana has set her goals. She is working at a hospital, aiming to become a certified care worker. She also aspires to go to college. To begin with, Hana is re-learning elementary school arithmetic to pass a high school equivalence test.

At a session of No Drugs held in late June, Hana handed Hachiya a piece of paper. It was certificate stating that she had completed her practical training, taking her a step closer to becoming a certified care worker.

Holding up the certificate, Hachiya said to the others, “She's done it!”

This was greeted with an outpouring of applause, and Hana for once looked abashed like a teenage girl.